Jurong ulu no more

Suburb to become commercial, leisure lakeside heaven

DUSTY. Industrial. Out of the way.

Such words may spring to your mind when asked about Jurong. But come 2020, the home of the Bird Park and the Science Centre will evoke a whole new vocabulary.

Try on for size: Lakeside haven. Billion-dollar business buzz. Holiday hub.

This will be the new Jurong Lake District, after it undergoes an ambitious transformation into the largest commercial hub outside of the Central Business District (CBD) – complete with 2,800 new hotel rooms, a number which rivals that of the entire hotel belt at the Singapore River.

At the heart of the district – bounded by Yuan Ching Road, Ayer Rajah Expressway and the MRT line running through the Jurong East, Chinese Garden and Lakeside MRT stations – will be the 70-hectare Jurong Lake and its sprawling greenery.

Tourists will be enticed with a laidback experience at the lakeside F&B village and hotels. The lake itself will be deepened for water activities such as kayaking and dragonboating, and new waterways carved out and an elevated walkway built to “bring closer” the MRT station and bus interchange. Visitors taking the 10-minute “seamless” walk can stop and shop at retail and F&B outlets along the way.

Another old neighbourhood icon will be revamped, too – the Singapore Science Centre will be relocated next to the Chinese Garden MRT station.

This leisurely atmosphere will also have a cutting-edge buzz to it.

Equalling the size of Marina Bay, the new commercial hub is expected to attract investments worth billions of dollars. It incorporates the Jurong Gateway precinct, a high-rise commercial and a retail hub around the Jurong East MRT station that will boast offices, hotels, food and beverage outlets and entertainment venues.

Within the district, land to build 1,000 private homes will be available as well.

Describing Jurong as “a gem that has yet to be uncovered and refined”, National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan acknowledged that Jurong – earmarked from its birth in 1961 as an industrial estate – has struggled to shake off the unflattering associations.

“Many of us still see Jurong East as a suburban residential area, far away from the city centre – quite ‘ulu’ (remote), in fact. It is rarely thought of as a major leisure destination,” he said.

But in truth, it has plenty of potential, with a population catchment of more than a million residents, including those from nearby towns Clementi, Bukit Batok and Jurong West.

Moreover, the area is home to more than 3,000 companies. Its proximity to the tertiary institutions and research hubs means Jurong East is “an ideal place for businesses dealing with research and cutting edge technology”, said Mr Mah.

He announced the Jurong makeover on Friday as part of the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) Draft Master Plan. Since 1991, the URA has embarked on projects to build regional centres in areas such as Tampines and Woodlands, to ease congestion in the CBD. Plans are in the pipeline for Bugis and Kallang also.

Even as the Government has deferred $2-billion worth of construction projects, Mr Mah said the Jurong makeoever was given the go-ahead after taking into consideration the effects on the construction crunch.

Residents need not fear major disruptions to their daily routines, but there will be “some inconveniences”. “We are not going to close the entire lake to people but will do it in stages,” said Mr Mah.

They can also look forward, in the next few years, to the redevelopment of the Jurong East Entertainment Centre, which will house Singapore’s first Olympic-sized ice-skating rink.

Already, Propnex chief executive Mohd Ismail expects prices for both public and private housing in Jurong East to go up by five to 10 per cent in the next two years.

Traditionally, the area’s flats command prices similar to those in suburban Hougang and Choa Chu Kang, but pale in comparison to mature estates — a 5-room flat there costs $90,000 and $135,000 less than a similar flat in Bishan and Toa Payoh respectively.

Resident Liang Guet Keow, 49, said she looked forward to a more vibrant Jurong East offering the same facilities as estates such as Bedok and Ang Mo Kio. “It’s about time,” said the accounts executive.

Member of Parliament (MP) Halimah Yacob told TODAY that she and her fellow Jurong GRC MPs have been pushing for Jurong to be redeveloped.

She said: “It would greatly enhance the living environment. Jurong is in need of rejuvenation — that part is clear.”

And while some residents continue to worry about air quality down the road, Mdm Halimah reiterated that the air in Jurong is not hazardous to health. “It’s just that because Jurong has a lot of industries, people may have the sense that the air quality is poorer compared to other estates. But if you look at it from the safety point of view, it is not worse than other parts of Singapore.”

Source : Weekend Today – 5 Apr 2008

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