Speech by Minister Lawrence Wong at the Opening Ceremony for Paya Lebar Quarter

Oct 24, 2019

I am very happy to join you today at the official opening of the Paya Lebar Quarter, or PLQ. I was here last year at the topping out ceremony. It is very good to be here again, to witness the completion of the PLQ, which marks a new chapter in the development of Paya Lebar.

All of us would recognise that we are living in an age of disruption – it is impacting businesses across all sectors of the economy, and it is also happening to the way we think about residential, office and retail spaces. We used to have such spaces compartmentalised and separated from one another, and sometimes with long commuting times between them. But now, with the push towards greater sustainability and liveability, we are now increasingly moving towards integrated mixed-uses, to live, play, work and shop all within walking distances. Even within these mixed-use precincts, the concept of retail is changing, and malls are also evolving and reinventing themselves. With the rise of e-commerce, you no longer need to come to a mall to shop. Malls are also changing, and it is not just about shopping, but increasingly about offering experiences. It is about offering a value proposition to consumers, and a level of leisure and entertainment that cannot be satisfied online. All of us as consumers can relate to that – because I am sure that all of you are happily buying stuff online, and even ordering food online, and you are asking yourself why do I need to go to a particular place to shop or dine, when I have all of these at my convenience. 

I am happy that Lendlease is taking the lead on these innovative changes, and taking this mixed-used concept further in PLQ, to seamlessly integrate work, live and play at a single location. PLQ Workplace is already home to firms like SMRT headquarters, CBRE and Jones Lang LaSalle. I understand that Park Place Residences is quickly filling up – just one unit left, so they have done very well. PLQ Mall had a soft opening just about a month ago, and it is already creating a lot of buzz. There is a more interesting mix of unique tenants, a wider range of F&B dining  and entertainment options, including a cinema, children’s playground, and even a fitness centre.

Of course a big part of the experience is achieved through place-making – in coming up with events and activities that draw people and inspire them to stay here. This is why the Government has put in place pilot projects for Business Improvement Districts or BIDs, where both the public and the private sector can come together to activate public spaces, organise community events and festivals, and shape the precinct’s character and identity. I am glad that Lendlease, or PLQ, is one of the key stakeholders involved in the BID at Paya Lebar.

There are many exciting opportunities to bring this whole area, to activate the places here, and make it come alive.  This place here is within walking distance of Geylang Serai, a place close to the hearts of our Malay community, with a distinct cultural identity. It organises many festivals and events including the Ramadan bazaar – which is one of the biggest bazaars in Singapore. In multi-cultural Singapore you have opportunities for other festivals, you have Deepavali coming, you can celebrate Christmas, Chinese New Year, a whole range of festivals. Even festivals that are non-local which we have now adapted like Halloween at the end of the month. There are many opportunities to activate these spaces through festivals and events. I would encourage you to work together with the other stakeholders around the precinct, build on the distinct culture and identity of the area, and make it a vibrant place – one that is open and inclusive, diverse and multi-cultural, and a place that all Singaporeans will grow fond of, and be proud of. 

I spoke about disruption earlier and how it is impacting businesses. Disruption is happening also at the city and the country level. That’s why, in Singapore, we are always looking at ways to re-make and re-invent our city for the future. 

In many ways, Paya Lebar is a microcosm of the broader transformation of Singapore that has taken place, and will continue to take place. This year happens to be our Bicentennial – 200 years since the founding of modern Singapore by Sir Stamford Raffles.  In the early days of our history, Paya Lebar was swamp land. In Malay, “paya” is “swamp” and “lebar” is “wide”, so it literally was called “wide swamp”. After the Second World War, the British colonial government wanted to build a new airport, because the previous airport, in Kallang, was inadequate. Modern aviation had come in, and they needed a new airport and they decided on Paya Lebar as the location because of proximity to the city. So in 1955, we opened the Singapore International Airport, as it was called then. Some reports then called it amongst the finest airports in Asia. But shortly after that, because our needs grew and demand grew, even that airport became inadequate. By then, Singapore had become independent and the Government decided yet again to move the airport in 1981, this time to Changi Airport; and then Paya Lebar Airport became a military airbase. Along the way, we looked at developing the land around the area. Around the airbase we started earmarking land for industrial development. In 2008, when we put out the Masterplan, we designated Paya Lebar Central as a commercial centre, given its good connectivity at the intersection of the East-West and Circle MRT lines and location at the edge of our city. 

It has been just over a decade since our Masterplan in 2008, where we designated Paya Lebar as a commercial centre. If you look around us, it is shaping up nicely as a vibrant commercial centre. You have Paya Lebar Square and Lifelong Learning Institute, which draw a steady stream of office workers, shoppers and people who attend courses. SingPost Centre has been redeveloped and it has added to the range of amenities in the area. And today, we have the opening of PLQ. 

But we are not done yet. In fact, this is just the start of the larger ever-continuing story of the transformation of Paya Lebar. Paya Lebar Airbase itself will move out, from 2030s onwards – not that far away. With this, 800 hectares of land will be freed up for redevelopment. That is about the size of Bishan town, one of our housing estates. There are other benefits too – because the surrounding industrial estates can also be redeveloped. The redevelopment footprint is larger, it is in fact, equivalent to 2.5 times the size of a Bishan town. But even that, it does not accurately capture the redevelopment potential, because we can build higher. The buildings around Paya Lebar today are all not very high because of airplanes. There are height restrictions, and when the airbase moves out,  we will lift the height restrictions, and many of the buildings around us which are 10 to 15 storeys can easily double in height. This will provide many more opportunities to redevelop – not just in terms of land – but upwards as well.  There will also be the benefits of improved transport connectivity – because if you are living in the Eastern part of Singapore, and you want to get to town, you will know that you will have to literally skirt around the airbase, it adds to travelling time. When the airbase moves out, and we redevelop the area, it will provide more direct transport routes, and we can stitch Paya Lebar better to the adjoining areas. 

This is just a very brief summary of all that we can do in the future, from 2030s onwards. All in all, it is a tremendous  opportunity for us to reimagine and remake Paya Lebar for the future, and even for the next century. We are working with architects and planners on these many possibilities. We certainly welcome stakeholders and partners like Lendlease, to give us inputs and ideas, so that we can continue to build our future together. This is the essence of the Singapore story. It is one where we are constantly adapting and changing, constantly innovating and improving for the future. 

I must thank Lendlease on delivering this major project for Singapore, and being part of our transformation story. Thank you to everyone in Lendlease and all the people who have been involved in this project. Because the story continues, there are many more opportunities for you to be part of this transformation story; we do not want the story to end. In fact, the transformation must continue, there will be many more opportunities as I have described, going beyond the next few years to the next few decades. We look forward to continuing this partnership with all of you, to build our future Singapore together. Once again, congratulations to Lendlease, and to everyone who has been part of this project, on this very successful opening! Thank you very much, please enjoy the rest of the day.