Land-intensive industries on floating estates

I agree with Mr Lim Soon Heng that Singapore may need to use its territorial waters to relocate some land-intensive activities offshore, thereby freeing up more land for commercial, residential and green lung uses ("Vision SG100: Floating cities in the sea"; Oct 7).

Whereas Mr Lim's solution is heavily reliant on technologies that are either in their infancy or have yet to be invented, I propose modular, floating industrial estates for our small country, which can be implemented in the near term using existing tools and techniques.

With no hinterland to develop, it is necessary for Singapore to explore sea space, with our expertise and know-how to enlarge our nation's productive area for future generations. It is fortunate that Singapore's waters are conducive for large-scale offshore construction, given the relative lack of natural hazards like typhoons or storm tides.

It would, therefore, be feasible to consider building large floating platforms offshore, similar to the pontoon facility at Marina Bay, or the large deep-sea oil-rig platforms that local shipyards specialise in.

With better materials and construction techniques, the lifespan of such large floating structures could be extended to 40 years before any major overhauls.

A modular approach for different usage is suitable for progressive development, for example, a module for offshore wind farms, another dedicated to nuclear power generation while locating water desalination plants next to high-yield fish-and-prawn farms.

We can capitalise on these offshore locations to house land-intensive activities, or facilities commonly afflicted by the "not in my backyard" mindset.

Crematoriums, waste disposal facilities, memorial columbariums and foreign worker quarters come to mind. A boost to these sectors would help to meet our nation's burgeoning energy, utilities and food production demands.

Meanwhile, the mainland would be reserved for people-intensive activities such as housing, education and consumer services.

Should Singapore cultivate experience with such projects, the possibilities for future development are astounding.

For example, according to the London-based AT Design Office, China is proposing a 10.36 sq km floating eco-city sited largely below water, served by underwater tunnels, roads for electric cars, and walkways.

Rome was not built in a day, and great leaps in infrastructure require time and determination.

It would be in our nation's best interests to get a head start in this promising field.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 20, 2015, with the headline 'Land-intensive industries on floating estates'. Print Edition | Subscribe