Why It Matters

Making more room on Tekong

Pulau Tekong - the island so familiar to most Singaporean sons - will be getting bigger by 2022. It was announced this week that a plot of land will be added to the north-western tip of the island using a land reclamation technique that is new to Singapore. About 810ha - the size of two Toa Payoh towns - will be created via empoldering, which involves building a dyke around the area to be reclaimed and draining water from it.

Compared to traditional land reclamation where infill is poured onto the seabed, this method is expected to significantly reduce costs as well as the amount of sand used. If adopted for future projects, empoldering could not only help our little red dot grow, but also tackle rocky challenges ahead.

The first challenge is Singapore's quest for more space. The National Development Ministry's Land Use Plan of 2013 specified that Singapore would need to reclaim 5,200ha of land - equivalent to nine Ang Mo Kio towns - by 2030 to meet growing population needs. Pulau Tekong, which currently spans around 2,440ha, already houses four basic military training schools where recruits go to become combat-ready soldiers. The reclaimed tract of land, called a polder, will provide more space for the Singapore Armed Forces' growing training needs, said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong.

He stressed that Singapore is "always in need of more land", be it for military, housing or commercial purposes. This expansion will free up space on the mainland for other developments.

The upcoming reclamation on Tekong will also see the Republic lowering its reliance on sand, as empoldering uses less of the material. As Mr Wong noted, sand sources can be easily disrupted, leading to uncertain fluctuations in supply and price. Given how neighbouring countries such as Indonesia have banned sand exports in recent years, this could make Singapore less vulnerable to any shortages.

Lastly, empoldering could also build up local expertise in areas such as dyke construction and coastal management. This would better poise Singapore to handle problems such as rising sea levels due to climate change, Mr Wong said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 19, 2016, with the headline 'Making more room on Tekong'. Print Edition | Subscribe