Speech by Minister Lawrence Wong at the Launch of the “Underground: Singapore’s Next Frontier” Exhibition

May 30, 2018 20:00


I am very happy to join everyone this afternoon at the launch of our “Underground: Singapore’s Next Frontier” exhibition. Singapore has always taken a long-term approach to urban planning, so as to provide a high quality living environment for our people. Today, we are admired internationally and Singapore is ranked highly in international surveys as one of the most liveable cities in Asia and the world. We also know we cannot rest on our laurels, and the work in building our city is never complete. 

We continue listening to Singaporeans and learning from other leading cities to do even better. We continue looking for ways to expand the use of our limited land resources to provide more options for our future generations.   This is why we are now embarking on plans to better use our underground space. It is very appropriate for the title of this exhibition to be called The Next Frontier where there are many possibilities for development. 

Singapore’s approach to underground development


Exploration into underground space is not something new in Singapore. We started this journey decades ago – with underground utility cables, and water and sewage pipes. In 1965, the first large-scale underground car park in Singapore was officially opened at Raffles Place. Later on, we added underground MRT tracks and stations, as well as underpasses. Deeper underground, we built Southeast Asia’s first underground cavern for oil storage, and the world’s most advanced underground ammunition facility. Together, these underground developments saved us 360 hectares of land. That is roughly the size of today’s Marina Bay.

While we have been using underground space over the years, there’s still much more we can do. We are still far from maximising the potential of underground space in Singapore. 

We’ve studied how other cities like Tokyo, London, and Helsinki use their underground spaces – not just in terms of what they build underground, but also how they go about planning for it. And today, we would like to share these learning points with all of you, and to encourage Singaporeans to think about how we can better explore and develop our next frontier.

Accurate data

The first learning point is the need for accurate data to minimise the hassle, uncertainty, and risk of building underground. 

Singapore today does not have a centralised platform that collates different types of information for underground planning such as utility plans, building records, and geological data. We have long heard feedback from industry that this creates difficulties and challenges for them. For example, you have to purchase separate utility plans from different utility providers, and this can be a frustrating and time-consuming process. If a particular type of utility is accidentally overlooked during the planning and design process, there could be damage to the system during construction and potentially cause blackouts and burst pipelines, all of which are avoidable.

So I am very happy to announce that by the end of this year, the industry will be able to purchase these underground plans from a single, consolidated platform – Singapore Land Authority’s (SLA) INLIS, or the Integrated Land Information Service. With INLIS as a one-stop portal for all underground utility plans, we can increase the industry’s productivity, and minimise inconvenience to the public during construction. 

From July this year, SLA and the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) will also share the geological information collected from government projects on INLIS. This will be freely available on the website, as a reference for site investigation and construction works. This is our first step forward in providing more accurate data to facilitate underground development.

3D technologies

Next, we will do more with digital and 3D technologies. By tapping on them, agencies are better able to share and visualise data for better planning.

This is why BCA is developing a 3D model that will show Singapore’s geological formation in detail. This repository of data was gathered painstakingly, so that duplicative work can be avoided in future. 

Separately, URA is also working on the 3D Underground Master Plan.  Today, you can take a look at some of the visuals that have been included in the exhibition, which give a sense of what an underground map might look like. It will show what is already there in the ground, what we plan to build in the future, and the regulations and requirements for industry. All of these can be updated whenever things change on the ground. With an accurate 3D map, we can look at safeguarding underground space for future use, so that we do not miss out on major opportunities. We can also plan more holistically for aboveground and underground possibilities, to ensure they are compatible, integrated and seamless. 

Master-planning

Finally, I am sure there is a lot of interest in the details that will be in the Underground Master Plan. That is still work in progress and URA will share the Underground Master Plan for selected pilot areas by next year. 

Some people have asked if we are planning for homes to be located underground in the future. Let me be very clear that we have no intention of putting residential spaces underground. 

Instead, our priority is to locate supporting infrastructure underground – utilities, storage facilities, and transport infrastructure. These are infrastructure needed to support and serve our metropolis, and there are many of them to go underground. There is a lot that we need to plan for.   

For example, we have housed utilities in specialised underground spaces like Marina Bay’s Common Services Tunnel. It removes noise, dust, and traffic disruptions when maintenance works are carried out, because workers do not have to dig up pipes or cables under the roads. We are now actively looking to have Common Services Tunnels in other areas such as the Jurong Lake District. These strategies allow us to free up surface land for more homes, more amenities, and more green spaces – things that matter to Singaporeans, and that can improve the quality of life for everyone.  

In line with these priorities, I am happy to share this afternoon that SP Group will be building Singapore’s first 230kV underground sub-station at the former Pasir Panjang Power District. This will be integrated with a new commercial building above it, and we will free up three hectares of land.
 
We are in the process of drawing up plans to rejuvenate the area, and this additional space will mean that there are more opportunities for development. Three hectares may not sound very much to you – three hectares is just about larger than three football fields, but this is for just one sub-station and we have many more sub-stations, storage facilities and transport infrastructure all over Singapore. If we combine all of that and progressively locate many of these facilities underground, there is tremendous potential for us to start thinking about the possibilities for future development.  

Conclusion

We have tried to put all these together in today’s exhibition to reflect on Singapore’s underground journey so far, and how we can continue to learn from best practices and leverage technology to do even more. 

It is an attempt to raise public awareness on the underground work that is taking place within the government, and to encourage collaborations with private sector professionals – people who have ideas and effective solutions on how we can take our work forward. 

We are on the lookout for partners with specialised expertise from all fields, and we are even prepared to look at providing funding support for R&D and feasibility studies, to support innovative ideas that make full use of technologies to push the boundaries of underground space.

That is how we can work together to further improve the living environment for Singaporeans and to build a better Singapore for the future. On this note, I declare the exhibition open, and I hope all of you will have a fruitful and exciting journey exploring our next frontier.