Speech by Minister Desmond Lee at East Coast Park Habitat Enhancement Event and "Long Island" Announcement
Nov 28, 2023
Habitat Enhancement at East Coast Park
1. Good morning everyone. I am glad to be here today, to join grassroot leaders, colleagues, and stakeholders to plant coastal trees to enhance East Coast Park.
2. For those of us who are old enough to remember, the land we are currently on used to be the sea. Land was reclaimed from the sea, from here all the way to Marine Parade Road.
3. This was called the “Great Reclamation”: it was an ambitious reclamation project along the south-eastern coast of Singapore that our pioneer leaders embarked on, shortly after our independence. Full-scale reclamation work started in 1966, and over twenty years, we gradually added over 1,500 hectares of land, equivalent to 2,100 football fields, stretching from Tanah Merah Besar all the way to Telok Ayer Basin. Now this created additional space for Singapore, to build schools and homes, and to create job opportunities.
4. Our pioneers also envisioned that this reclaimed segment would be, “a principal recreational lung for the whole island”. East Coast Park was opened in the 1970s on this reclaimed land, and we have gradually added new recreational facilities and green spaces over the subsequent years and decades.
5. We will continue to improve East Coast Park. For example, my NParks colleagues will create a 15 km nature trail along East Coast Park over the next eight years. The trail will connect existing and upcoming recreational and green spaces in the park, and bring you closer to greenery and to nature. Our tree planting efforts later this morning will contribute to this new nature trail.
Coastal Protection at East Coast
6. Let me now speak a little bit about coastal protection here at East Coast. When our pioneers embarked on the reclamation of East Coast more than 50 years ago, they were not only addressing immediate and pressing challenges that Singapore faced at that time. They were looking very far ahead, imagining what the future might look like, and creating space and opportunity for future generations of Singaporeans.
7. We must continue this discipline of long-term planning. Thinking about future generations, and not just about ourselves.
8. One major area of work for us, is preparing for the long-term impact of climate change. As a low-lying island state, rising sea levels poses an existential threat to Singapore. Mean sea levels around Singapore are projected to rise by up to 1 metre by the end of this century. When high tides coincide with storm surges, sea levels could rise by up to 4 to 5 metres above mean sea level (AMSL). This is a very serious problem, because around one-third of our island is below 5 metres above mean sea level, and at risk of being inundated by the sea. While it may seem quite distant from today, we have to start planning and preparing now.
9. The East Coast of Singapore is low-lying and faces a high risk of flooding. We have already experienced flooding along this stretch. In January this year, some parts of East Coast Park were flooded for around two hours.
10. We need to put in measures to protect our homes and livelihoods in this area, and have been studying various coastal protection measures and options.
11. One possible measure is to build a sea wall along the entire coastline from the City to East Coast. You can call it a “Long Wall” approach.
12. Under this option, we will need to build a continuous sea wall that is up to 3m in height along the entire waterfront of East Coast Park, from Marina East to Tanah Merah. We will also have to build 12 tidal gates and pumping stations along each of the existing outlet drains along East Coast Park to keep the sea out and to pump rainwater out, when heavy rain coincides with high tide. Many of you would have seen the tidal gate and pumping station at the Marina Barrage which serves this same function. So imagine a smaller version of this tidal gate and pumping station, and having 12 of these along East Coast Park to provide coastal defence for the entire stretch of coastline.
13. This option is technically feasible, but it is really not ideal for East Coast Park. This is because, we will need to close off large stretches of East Coast Park from the public when constructing the sea wall and the tidal gate. After construction is complete, the sea wall will permanently limit park users’ access to the waterfront for recreation and sports. The 12 tidal gates and pumping stations will also take up a lot of space within East Coast Park, around the size of 15 football fields. So you can imagine if we adopt this “Long Wall” approach, a lot of existing greenery and recreational facilities must go. In essence, this approach means we implement coastal protection along the existing East Coast Park, but lose significant portions of the park and recreational use of the coastline.
14. A more optimal solution that we have been studying is: to integrate coastal protection measures with our future reclamation plans for the area. This idea of “Long Island” was raised by Prime Minister during the National Day Rally in 2019, and showcased at URA’s Long-Term Plan Review (LTPR) exhibition in 2022.
15. We received a lot of feedback and suggestions on the “Long Island” concept, during the Long-Term Plan Review, as well as PUB’s “Our Coastal Conversations”. For instance, while people recognised the vital importance of protecting low lying areas, they wanted to retain unimpeded access to the waterfront. The area also holds fond memories for many Singaporeans, and many hoped that we could preserve the heritage and recreational spaces along our coast.
16. We have taken many of these pieces of feedback onboard. So let me take this opportunity to update you on the latest concept, the latest thinking, behind “Long Island”: The concept of “Long Island” is to project coastal protection seawards, by reclaiming three new tracts of land, at a higher level, away from the current coastline. This will allow us to retain the existing East Coast Park, largely as it is. It will also create an enclosed waterbody, preserving the waterfront character of the original East Coast Park. Over time, the waterbody will become a freshwater reservoir, which the public can use for water activities such as canoeing and dragon-boating. The reservoir will also add to our water supply. There will be two large tidal gates and pumping stations on the reclaimed “Long Island”, as compared to twelve smaller ones along East Coast Park in the other option that I spoke about earlier. These tidal gates and pumping stations will also be much further away from existing residential and recreational spaces. Here is an artist’s impression of how “Long Island” might look like from the existing East Coast Park.
17. While we are still working out the details, the reclaimed “Long Island” may potentially be around 800 ha, about twice the size of Marina Bay. This creates opportunities for future generations of Singaporeans. They could build homes, create jobs, develop services and amenities that they need, and add around 20 km of new coastal and reservoir parks, extending from the current East Coast Park. This would triple the length of the existing waterfront area along East Coast Park today.
18. Let me show you an artist impression of what “Long Island” could potentially look like when it is finally completed.
19. So, in essence, “Long Island” will help us to achieve a number of objectives: (a) primarily, protect us from rising sea-levels, (b) second, preserve the existing East Coast Park for park users, (c) third, enhance our water resilience, (d) fourth, develop more waterfront for outdoor recreation, and (e) fifth, create land optionality and opportunity for future generations of Singaporeans.
Technical Studies and Public Engagement
20. Because “Long Island” is a very major undertaking, the planning and implementation will take decades. We are still at a very early stage in this journey. The pictures you have seen are just artist impressions, examples of what might be possible. The final shape and form of “Long Island” will evolve over time, and we must wait for the studies to be undertaken. As a start, we will need to kickstart extensive environmental and engineering studies to see if the conceptual reclamation profile is feasible, and formulate innovative and cost-effective nature-based solutions to reclaim and develop “Long Island”. We expect the studies to take around five years. These studies will need to begin now, so that “Long Island” can be realised in time to protect the area from rising sea levels.
21. In parallel, we will also be engaging residents and stakeholders, and collecting more feedback and ideas from Singaporeans. We want to hear from as many of you as possible – the general public, residents, businesses in the local area, the nature and heritage community, sports and recreational interest groups and many more. Join us to explore the possibilities. When we complete the technical studies, we will also engage you on the design and masterplanning for “Long Island”.
22. In closing, “Long Island” holds tremendous opportunities and possibilities for Singaporeans to come together, and lead the way in showing what can be done and what be possible in dealing with climate change and rising sea levels.
23. As we protect our homes, infrastructure, livelihoods, and our cherished East Coast Park, we will collectively create new opportunities for quality living and recreation, for the benefit of Singaporeans today and for our future generations.