The new frontier
With a bigger population, Singaporeans
may have to get used to spending more of their time working, studying
and eating below sea levels. By Seah Chiang Nee
Sep 29, 2013
(Synopsis: As living becomes tighter, the government is planning to burrow deep down to create more space.)
DURING some imaginative moments, it is not beyond resource-starved
Singaporeans to daydream about striking oil or gold in their backyard.
The question then is: Does it belong to the people or to the state? No
sure answer there, but most would probably say, “The land-owner, of
course, if it’s freehold land.”
Apparently the government isn’t too certain, either, as it plans to
burrow deep into the earth’s bowels for more space to cater to a lot
more people to work, study and play.
The Law Ministry said it will study subterranean ownership laws of other countries for possible adoption.
Currently, the land owner is deemed to own the underground space down
to a certain depth that is reasonably necessary for the use and
enjoyment of the property.
With a planned population of 6.9 million by 2030 for Singapore, already
the second densest city in the world, the prospect of an underground
city has become real and hence the need for such a law.
The government is eyeing developing an underground version of the 2008 master plan.
The Building Construction Authority, which oversees a new agency
responsible for surveying underground, said it could become a reality
National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said the government is
mulling over drafting an underground Master Plan soon for public
Singaporeans have reacted with excitement coupled with concern that they will somehow have to pay for it.
“Such developments do cost more, especially if the cheaper alternative of using surface land is available,” said Khaw.
An engineering friend commented wryly: “Being normal over-ground is
already making us one of the world’s most expensive cities. Imagine the
costs for going underground!”
Others are worried about unsuitable soil and potential accidents as
well as impact on floods that sometimes engulf large tracts of
Yet, some Singaporeans view it as a creative, exciting way of enlarging
space, a long-time preoccupation here since independence.
When I was a trainee correspondent with an international news agency in
the 60s, one of my early assignments was to report on a new law to
clear cemeteries. It cleared the island of all non-Muslim cemeteries.
I wrote then, “On this land-squeezed Singapore, even the dead have to make way for the living.”
This was followed by a plan to build the new city skywards. Towering
residential blocks soon began to dot the landscape; people began living
stacked on top of one another.
At the same time, the government began pushing back the sea via
reclamation, which eventually increased the land size by one fifth.
After decades at it, Singapore is bigger by a whole Hong Kong island.
The government-supported The Straits Times described underground living as the “next frontier”.
Singaporeans may one day “live, work and play below ground in vast,
subterranean caverns that make today’s underground malls look like home
basements”, it said.
The proposed expansion of population by a third has stirred much public
unhappiness, compelling the government into action to tackle the
dilemma of over-crowdedness.
The ability to create space has become top priority. Pushing
underground is not new. For years now the city has been storing some of
its military munitions in this way.
Work is also ahead for similar storage facilities for crude oil and oil products.
Next could be power stations, warehouses, incineration plants, airport logistics centres and even reservoirs all below ground.
The two biggest universities are also moving big with the trend.
A reporter wrote: “Students may one day borrow books from an
underground library, attend lectures in a subterranean auditorium or
even swim in an Olympic-size swimming pool below sea level.”
Another is the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT). The relatively new Central
Circle Line has 29 stations and run some 33km underneath central
One of the stations, Dhoby Ghaut, stands out as an underground engineering feat.
The five-level subterranean station links three MRT lines and a
shopping complex and the Istana Park and will cater for 20,000 people
an hour at its peak.
Singapore is also building below-ground ring roads, more shopping complexes and a massive underground sewage system.
Creating a city underground is, of course, slow and very costly, but
less intrusive; something that goes on almost without interruption
through the years.
Two other major underground projects are still ongoing. They are:
** A S$4.8bil network of ring road below the central business district,
a concept taken from Paris that will take 10 years to build, and
** A S$9bil subterranean sewage system that comprises two highway-size
tunnels criss-crossing the island 12 storeys below ground. It could
take 20 years to complete.
So far there has been no mention about people living underground, an idea that some Singaporeans could find unacceptable.
But Singaporeans in the next generation would have to get used to the idea of working, studying or shopping below sea levels.
(This article was first published in The Star)