SINGAPORE — Malaysia's decision to pull the plug on the High Speed Rail (HSR) project will leave a gaping "hole" — all 12 hectares of it at least — in the upcoming Jurong Lake District, said property experts.
In recent years, large tracts of land have been acquired by the Singapore Government for the planned development of the HSR, and the experts told TODAY it is likely that the authorities would choose to keep the allocated land vacant for quite a few years to allow for the possibility of Malaysian leaders revisiting the project.
About a fifth of the former Jurong Country Club’s (JCC) 67-hectare site was set aside for the construction of the HSR Jurong East terminus, with the rest of the area to be redeveloped into what the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) called “an attractive mixed-use development precinct for business” consisting of offices, hotels, recreation, retail and entertainment spaces.
While JCC has already moved out of its site to make way for the development of the upcoming Jurong Lake District, a second golf club — Raffles Country Club (RCC) — that has been similarly affected by HSR development plans is still in operation.
RCC, which is located in Tuas, is required to hand over the land for its two 18-hole golf courses by July 31. Only a portion of the club’s 143-hectare land was initially allotted for the building of HSR facilities, while the remaining land will hold the Cross Island Line’s western depot.
ZACD Group executive director Nicholas Mak said: “I don’t think (the Singapore Government) will do anything with (the allocated land) for easily a whole year…If the HSR is back on, where are they going to find another empty piece of land?”
While Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has been firm in his decision to cancel the HSR given his country's national debt, he left the door open on Wednesday (May 30) — in response to a reporter's question — and indicated that mega projects such as the HSR will "definitely" be revisited when the finances improve.
The masterplan for the Jurong Lake District was first announced by the URA in 2008, five years before Singapore and Malaysia agreed to develop the HSR. It has been touted by urban planners as Singapore’s next Central Business District (CBD).
While the cancellation of the HSR could leave the Jurong Lake District with a large parcel of idle land, the experts were divided on the impact.
Mr Mak cautioned against getting “too hyped up” over the axing of the project, as he said Jurong will continue to develop well, and that there are many other “positive plans” in the works.
While Mr Ku Swee Yong, chief executive officer of International Property Advisor, noted that the concept of Jurong Lake District as the second CBD is still a selling point, it is no longer as attractive now as there are still many other locations around Singapore to offer to investors. These include the recently announced Jurong Innovation District.
NO TURNING BACK
Despite the cancellation of the HSR, RCC is unlikely to get its land back, said Mr Colin Tan, director of research and consultancy at Suntec Real Estate Consultants. He said the Government would not want to set a precedent by returning land to the club when the HSR deal is scuttled, particularly in land scarce Singapore.
He added: “It’s not often that you get a reasonable reason to compulsorily acquire (land).”
Mr Ku felt the Singapore Government “jumped the gun” when it acquired land from both clubs when they had many years left on their leases. This, as opposed to waiting till closer to the end of 2026 when the HSR was scheduled to start running.
“A golf course has a 30 year land lease… (and) each year the value depreciates,” said Mr Ku.
JCC’s lease was slated to end in May 2035, and it was acquired in Nov 2016, while RCC’s lease expiry was initially on Oct 31, 2028.
When asked how the cancellation of the HSR would affect the land acquisition of both clubs, the Singapore Land Authority repeated the Ministry of Transport’s earlier media statement that the Government is waiting for official confirmation from its Malaysian counterparts.
When TODAY visited RCC on Wednesday, a number of club members were resigned to the fact that the club will cease to exist. Others, however, see a glimmer of hope.
Mr David Wong, a 61-year-old retiree, is one such hopeful member. He has been making the journey from his home in Katong to the RCC twice a week for close to 25 years.
“It’s a very beautiful location, very natural with nice views,” he said.
Another member, who only wanted to be known as C.K., said in Mandarin that he has mixed feelings about the HSR. While the 71-year-old retiree, who was also a former JCC member, said the HSR would allow him to travel to Malaysia to play at other golf courses, he had hoped for a portion of RCC’s land to be retained.
Others, however have already given up. One 60-year-old member who declined to be named noted that the club has already begun winding down. When TODAY visited the club on Wednesday, there was a notice announcing the sale of the club’s crockery in preparation for its closure.
“Most members are just waiting to be compensated,” said the female club member.