Singapore’s new hinterland?

With a population of 6.9 million come 2030, enhanced connectivity to Iskandar Malaysia by 2018 and the ability to use your CPF Medisave for medical treatment in Gleneagles Medini Hospital, could Iskandar be the new hinterland?

View of Causeway Bay in Hong Kong. Singapore will have the highest density population per sq metre come 2013, outpacing Hong Kong. Photo: Shutterstock.

View of Causeway Bay in Hong Kong. Singapore will have the highest density population per sq metre come 2030, outpacing Hong Kong. Photo: Shutterstock.

With the Singapore Parliament approving the motion recently on the White Paper that projects a population of 6.9 million people by 2030, I was left wondering how Singapore can accommodate such a figure.

Since independence, Singapore has been trying to compete with Hong Kong as a hub for finance and commerce.

Today, the Lion City has succeeded beyond its wildest dreams – it has become a favoured wealth management destination among the wealthy, especially since the UBS banking scandal hit Switzerland in 2008.

The Boston Consulting Group in 2011 puts Singapore as a nation with the highest concentration of millionaires in the world at 17 per cent.

That’s 88,000 millionaire households – or one in six homes.

However, Singapore is also a victim of its success – rapid population growth via immigration and the most unhappy nation according to international pollster Gallup.

Singaporeans shopping in Chinatown. Singaporeans are the most unhappy people according to a poll conducted by Gallup in December 2012. Photo: Khalil Adis.

Singaporeans shopping in Chinatown. Singaporeans are the most unhappy people according to a poll conducted by Gallup in December 2012. Photo: Khalil Adis.

In addition, unlike Hong Kong which has China as a hinterland, Singapore has none to speak of.

It is only a tiny city-state with Malaysia and Indonesia as its closest neighbours.

Singapore’s current population stands at 5.3 million people.

For 6.9 million people to fit into the island, as the White Paper suggests, this begs the question on how sustainable this figure is.

Immigration policy, its effects and the political implications

Living in shoebox apartments - defined as those under 500 sq ft have become the norm in Singapore.

Living in shoebox apartments – defined as those under 500 sq ft have
become the norm in Singapore. Photo: Shutterstock.

The effects of the current immigration policy have hit Singaporeans hard with creaking public infrastructure and a city already bursting at its seams.

Talk to any Singaporeans and they will tell you of the frequent train breakdowns, high property prices, wage stagnations and a heartland that suddenly seems so foreign to them.

Our current immediate neighbours include those from China and Myanmar, some of whom are not able to speak English – the lingua franca of the nation since independence.

This has resulted in HDB re-looking into its Ethnic Integration Policy (EIP) to include foreigners who have recently become Permanent Residents or Singapore citizens.

In 2011, the public showed its displeasure with the Lee administration at the ballot box which translated to the lowest vote margin ever for the ruling PAP government during the general election.

It also led to the fall of the Aljunied GRC to the Worker’s Party – the first time ever in Singapore’s history since independence.

Subsequently, the PAP lost two by-elections – Hougang in 2012 and Punggol in 2013.

In January this year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong admitted his government lacked the 20/20 foresight and could have planned better.

“I decided that we should try and make up for lost time because you want the economy to grow. You want Singapore to make progress and you don’t know how long the sun is going to shine. As it turned out, the sun remained shining for longer than we expected. So the population grew faster than we expected, our infrastructure didn’t keep up,” he told Channel News Asia.

Therefore, it came as no surprise that the ‘selling’ of the recent White Paper to the Singapore public was met with much derision and opposition online.

The sentiment is – “If the government cannot get current infrastructure right for a population of 5.3 million people, what more for 6.9 million?”

New Singapore investments pouring into Iskandar Malaysia

Due to its small size and geographical constrains, there is only so much land Singapore can reclaim and height limit that our public housing can take.

With more and more Singapore-based companies now investing in Iskandar Malaysia, the closest Malaysian state, Johor, seems the only logical way to expand without encroaching on its territory.

Singapore companies with presence in Iskandar Malaysia include CapitaLand, Ascott Somerset, UOB, MDIS and Raffles Education.

According to Iskandar Regional Development Authority (IRDA), Singapore investments from 2006 to June 30 2012 is around RM5 billion.

Just last week, Global Capital & Development (GCD), the concession holder of Medini, announced that it has inked an investment deal worth S$1 billion in gross development value with Link (THM) Holdings Pte Ltd, a Singapore property developer to develop the Media Village @ Medini Iskandar.

For the uninitiated, Medini is a special economic zone that will be the hub for Islamic finance and creative industry.

It is also the site where Temasek Holdings and Khazanah Nasional will be jointly developing its iconic wellness centre.

The Link (THM) Holdings Pte Ltd investment will specifically result in 5.9 hectares of land to be turned into a development of mixed properties, expected to be completed in three phases, over a period of five years.

On offering will be more than 2,000 SOHO units (Small Office Home Office) and business suites of 1.2 million square feet of net saleable area.

Meanwhile, the commercial properties consisting of mainly food and beverage outlets will take up 1.1 million square feet of net lettable area.

The Media Village @ Medini Iskandar will also support the creative industries catalysed by the adjacent Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studios

Keith Martin, chief executive officer of GCD said the Link’s development of Media Village @Medini Iskandar will provide a catalyst for further business activity in Medini and complements the upcoming Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studios.

Keith Martin, CEO of Global & Capital Development, sees The Link (THM) Holdings Pte Ltd's development of its Media Village as a boost for Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studios.

Keith Martin, CEO of Global & Capital Development, sees The Link (THM) Holdings Pte Ltd’s development of its Media Village as a boost for Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studios. Photo: Courtesy of Global Capital & Development.

“Together with Singapore’s Mediapolis, we see a ‘blended solution’ where the full value chain of media services from script to final production is offered all within an hour’s drive of each other. GCD looks forward to fruition Link (THM)’s plan to create business clusters and to kick-start this new destination for the production for film entertainment in Asia,” said Martin.

A new playground for Singaporeans?

Cost of living in Singapore is a huge concern that has resulted in many to delay marriages that has subsequently led to the country’s low fertility rate.

So much so that the White Paper sees the need to bring in more foreigners to support Singapore’s ageing population and artificially boosts the replacement rate.

In 2010, the Malaysia – Singapore Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC) for Iskandar Malaysia announced the Rapid Transit System (RTS) connection that will connect from the Tuas West extension and back to Woodlands North MRT Interchange.

In May last year, it was announced that Malaysia’s Land Public Transport Commission and Singapore’s Land Transport Authority were awarded the tender for the Malaysia-Singapore RTS Link Joint Engineering study.

I wonder if this is part of the White Paper’s plan to mitigate concerns of space constrains in tiny Singapore.

For the lucky few, I have seen instances of young couples being supported by their parents and parents-in-law to purchase their first homes as both public and private properties have hit their record highs.

Some, however, are not taking their chances and have started looking beyond their motherland for greener pastures abroad, fearing for their children’s future.

Bayou Creek, located in Leisure Farm, offers a slower pace of life and freehold landed properties at a fraction of what you pay for a Good Class Bungalow (GCB) in Singapore. Photo: Courtesy of Mulpha International Berhad.

Bayou Creek, located in Leisure Farm Resort, offers a slower pace of life and freehold landed properties at a fraction of what you pay for a Good Class Bungalow (GCB) in Singapore. Photo: Courtesy of Mulpha International Berhad.

“Looking at how Singapore is rapidly developing now, I wonder how my children can afford to own their first homes. The salary of a fresh graduate can barely allow you to save for your future, what more your first property?” asked one concerned parent.

In 2010, GCD secured a landmark RM 500 million landmark deal in 2010 with Malaysia’s leading healthcare provider, Pantai Group for the development of the Gleneagles Medini Hospital in the Medini Lifestyle zone.

The hospital, operational in 2015 will benefit Singapore patients who can use their Medisave for healthcare services under the Medisave programme, enabling them to enjoy cost effective treatment in Malaysia.

With the strong Singapore dollar versus the Malaysian ringgit, enhanced connectivity by 2018 and the relatively slower pace of life, the thoughts of retiring in Iskandar Malaysia seem like an attractive proposition for some Singaporeans, if the local authorities get things right.

In the meantime, are you ready to brace an overpopulated Singapore come 2030?

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