Decades-old plan to reclaim island for housing could be updated to tackle rising sea levels

An artist’s impression of potential future reclamation along East Coast that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong presented in August 2019 as a possible coastal protection solution. PHOTO: PRIME MINISTER'S OFFICE

SINGAPORE - A plan more than three decades ago envisioning a reclaimed island along the length of East Coast for beachfront housing and leisure may morph into one that also takes on the task of protecting Singapore from rising sea levels.

Under the plan, the "Long Island" would stretch from Marina East to Changi.

A book documenting Singapore's 1991 Concept Plan said of the Long Island: "It will become not only a leisure centre by the sea but also a choice location for some housing development."

The country's concept plans, meant to guide development for the next 50 years, are reviewed once a decade. A review is currently ongoing, with plans slated for exhibition in the middle of this year.

In an interview with The Straits Times on Feb 21, the Urban Redevelopment Authority's chief planner Hwang Yu-Ning pointed to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's 2019 National Day Rally speech when asked what had become of the Long Island plan.

"That's one version of Long Island 2.0," she said.

In 2019, PM Lee had said Singapore would need to spend about $100 billion or more over a century to protect itself from rising sea levels.

He cited possible ways to protect East Coast, including empoldering - a land reclamation technique - or reclaiming a series of offshore islands there.

Through two artist's impressions, PM Lee, noting that engineering drawings had yet to be done, said the islands could be used for housing or other purposes, and the spaces between them used as reservoirs by building barrages to link the islands.

Last May, national water agency PUB started a four-year long study covering Changi, East Coast and the Greater Southern Waterfront to devise possible coastal protection solutions.

Referring to the study, Ms Hwang said: "For sure, together with the coastal protection plan, we will explore various options for the future of Long Island in relation to coastal defence, and how we configure the different dimensions (of the potential island)."

Dr Harvey Neo, a senior fellow at the Singapore University of Technology and Design's Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities, said while it is challenging to anticipate the full impact of catastrophic events such as sea-level rise, this should not stop planners from constantly seeking solutions to them.

Noting that flexible solutions that are precautionary at their roots are needed, he said the Government has shown flexibility in two ways.

First, by re-evaluating the Long Island plan before committing to such a large-scale infrastructural investment, and also by killing many birds with one stone through its possible implementation, which may increase land space, mitigate sea-level rise and increase capacity for harvesting freshwater.

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