KL-Singapore HSR termination: a chance for govt to re-examine Jurong plans

4 Jan 2021

Artist's impression of the HSR terminus in Jurong East crop

Experts see this as an opportunity for Singapore to review its plans for Jurong as a second CBD amid the changing work culture in a post-COVID-19, climate-changing world.

Analysts believe the termination of the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High-Speed Rail (HSR) project provided the Singapore government the opportunity to review its plans for Jurong.

Savills Executive Director of Research and Consultancy Alan Cheong noted that the concept to build a second central business district (CBD) in the area may be “passe” as telecommuting will likely become part of the national work culture amid the COVID-19 pandemic, reported TODAY.

Without the HSR, Singapore now have time to review its plans for Jurong rather than “rush headlong” into executing them, he said.

The government, for instance, could set aside land for high-tech farming if it wants to better position itself for a post-COVID-19, climate-changing world, added Cheong.

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Despite the change in plans, Cheong does not expect property prices within the area to be significantly affected as the market had over two years to digest the possibility of the HSR project collapsing.

The project’s fate had long been put into doubt when the Najib Razak administration, which signed the HSR agreement in 2016 with Singapore, had been overthrown in May 2018. 

Then prime minister Mahathir Mohamad wanted to cancel the HSR project as part of measures to reduce the national debt of Malaysia.

However, he later said the project would be deferred instead. In September 2018, the two countries agreed to postpone it until 31 May 2020, before further postponing it to 31 December 2020.

On 1 January, Singapore and Malaysia announced that the project will be discontinued as the HSR bilateral agreement lapsed on 31 December 2020. This comes as the two countries failed to reach an agreement relevant to the proposed changes by Malaysia.

Singapore initially planned to have the HSR terminus at the heart of the Jurong Lake District, which is set to house the second CBD. The government had even acquired the former sites of Raffles Country Club and Jurong Country Club to make way for the project, reported TODAY.

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Then-National Development Minister Lawrence Wong had explained in Parliament that the transformation plans for Jurong will proceed even when the HSR project falls through, with some details adjusted.

He revealed that the plans include building up to 20,000 new homes, developing a commercial precinct and setting up a major transport hub that connects upcoming MRT lines with existing ones.

ERA Realty Head of Research and Consultancy Nicholas Mak expects the government to keep the land set aside for the HSR project vacant for at least two years until the “dust settles”.

Chris International Director and Key Executive Officer Chris Koh said the land that had been set aside for the rail project can be further rezoned and used for other purposes. 

“The plans for the Jurong Lake District will still continue even without the HSR. Such plans aim to make Jurong a more vibrant town,” he said as quoted by TODAY. 

“Eventually, Jurong will become a nicer place to work, play and live in Singapore.”

Read more on the upcoming BTO launches in the Jurong region: Feb 2021 Tengah BTO and May 2021 Tengah BTO

Meanwhile, other observers described the termination of the project as “unfortunate” since they considered it a game-changer due to its ability to slash travel time between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to 90 minutes.

Maybank Kim Eng Senior Economist Dr Chua Hak Bin said the discontinuation was a “big disappointment and setback for greater regional integration”.

He believes the HSR would have allowed Singapore to tap a bigger hinterland and talent pool, while Malaysia would have benefitted from the creation of higher-paying jobs for its skilled workers.

Singapore University of Social Sciences Associate Professor of Economics Dr Walter Theseira, on the other hand, said the HSR would have offered a “superior” transport link between the two countries since it would be more reliable and environment friendly than the present air links.

With the HSR, there would have been “much better prospects of firms in Singapore or Kuala Lumpur doing projects, businesses offering services in the other city”, he added.

“Much greater economic integration and cooperation would have been possible among workers, firms and investors.”

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