Choice of Jurong East for rail terminal sparks immediate buzz

20150506-bt-reserve-site-jurong-sparks-buzz-pic A RESERVE site in Jurong East is seen as a potential location for the Singapore terminal of the high speed rail (HSR) link with Malaysia.

After Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong ruled out Tuas West and the city centre - two earlier possibilities - and identified Jurong East as the location of the terminal, consultants homed in on the region and combed it for potential sites.

Most believe the terminal could be built on a 1.02 million square feet reserve site currently occupied by JTC's iHUB, Jurong Country Club Golf Course, and the Science Centre and Omni-Theatre.

A reserve site is an area whose specific use has not yet been determined. The plot was re-zoned from sports and recreation in the Master Plan 2008 to a reserve site in the 2014 Plan. It is bounded by Jurong Town Hall Road and Ayer Rajah Expressway (see map). The entire site is state land, owned by JTC.

What led consultants to this conclusion was their belief that the site will have to be near an existing commercial hub and transport node. The land also has to be large enough to accommodate amenities such as an arrival hall, ticketing facilities, space for luggage and cargo handling, waiting lounges, food and beverage outlets, and carparks.

Matching these criteria, Jurong Gateway is well-served by two MRT lines (with another Jurong Region Line coming), a bus interchange and two major expressways. It is also the biggest commercial hub outside the Central Business District (CBD), and boasts retail, office and hotel offerings. Genting Hotel Jurong is due to open later this month, for example.

The plot is also fairly large and can be expanded should the Ayer Rajah Expressway stretch between Yuan Ching Road and Jurong Town Hall Road be shifted, as was earlier announced, said Christine Li, research head at Cushman & Wakefield. For perspective, the Taiwan High Speed Rail Station is about two million sq ft. Its Taoyuan counterpart is about 900,000 sq ft.

The plot is not without problems, though. Besides finding a place for the terminal, there is also the problem of finding a huge tract of land for the rail lines. If the terminal is to be located here, the rail lines will at some point cut into HDB and industrial estates, SLP international executive director Nicholas Mak pointed out.

"Some of these industrial land have 15-30 years left on their lease. And it's not one, but a whole series of factories," he said.

Still, it is widely agreed that the Jurong East locality is the best "meet-in-the-middle" compromise between having it in Tuas West and the city centre.

PM Lee had explained on Tuesday that it would be difficult and expensive to bring a train from Tuas into the city centre above ground, given the existing built-up developments and the limited space underground. Tuas, conversely, is not a centre of activity and business. Jurong East, on the other hand, is a developing regional centre with offices, hotels, shops and restaurants, as well as factories that are not so far away.

He added that the latest plans dovetails with Singapore's intention to make Jurong East the second CBD.

With this, consultants are expecting a huge multiplier effect on the economy of the Jurong Gateway area - greater commercial and retail activity, for starters.

"This could be the most important and final piece of the puzzle to seal Jurong Gateway's status as a regional commercial hub, the same way that Tampines has the airport and Woodlands the Causeway link," said Desmond Sim, head of Singapore and South-east Asia at CBRE Research.

JLL national research director Ong Teck Hui added that increased commercial activity will go on to boost land and property values above the suburban levels that Jurong East is currently at.

"Developers and home buyers who have invested in Jurong East in the last few years will be rejoicing; it will be 'Boomtown Charlie' for them," he said, using a local slang that means "striking it rich".

Donald Han, managing director of Chesterton Singapore, believes there will also be higher residential rental demand and more economy hotels springing up to tailor to Malaysians coming to work in this new business district.

More companies with dealings in Kuala Lumpur might also set up office here. According to Ms Li, Jurong Gateway will become the most ideal suburban location for company headquarters for firms in the business services, education and science and technology sectors that have or will have businesses in Malaysia.

Not everyone is as optimistic, though. Mr Mak does not believe that the HSR terminal alone will raise property values in its vicinity, "just as Changi Airport, Tenah Merah Ferry Terminal and the Singapore Cruise Centre did very little to boost the values of residential real estates nearby".

Rather, it is the other real estate developments built near the HSR terminal, such as commercial buildings and transport infrastructure, that will increase the values of nearby real estate, he said.

He also thinks the terminal will likely be located on vacant state land as large as five million sq ft, that is also near other vacant plots to allow for future expansion of the terminal and construction of infrastructure.

The one million sq ft plot that other consultants are pinning their expectations on is too small and in too built-up an area, which poses problems, he added.

Source: Business Times, 6 May 2015