Punggol renewal

As published in The Straits Times
20 Dec 2009 (Sunday)

By Tan Yihui

To many Singaporeans, Punggol is the new town that has never really got on the map.

But more than a decade after its first masterplan was unveiled, the former swampland is at last taking shape as a waterfront haven that will offer a sophisticated lifestyle for heartlanders.

The unveiling last month of Punggol's waterfront public housing project - Singapore's first - marked a milestone on the long road to transform the once sleepy backwater on the north-east coast.

In a striking move away from the usual Housing Board units, the 1,200 flats have design features including sky terraces, roof gardens and panoramic riverside views of the upcoming 4.2km Punggol Waterway.

The HDB hopes to offer flats in the 4.9ha project for sale next year.

Indeed, 2010 onwards marks a watershed for the new Punggol that has risen where pig farms and chilli crab restaurants once stood.

Other projects that are transforming Punggol into a recreational resort area as well as desirable residential space include the $16.7-million 4.9km Punggol Promenade, expected to be completed by March 2011.

And some stages of two activity clusters along the Punggol Promenade will be finished by then, including a horse-riding centre, a place for sports activities and food-and-beverage outlets.

They are part of a long list of recreation and lifestyle facilities that have just opened or which will spring up over the next few years in Punggol.

Other goodies in the pipeline include a proposed rustic park at Coney Island, which lies opposite the promenade, and a golf range.

Punggol veteran and businessman Goh Chee Koh, 65, says: 'Although much is still under development, we can see the future and are excited.'

He is also chairman of the Punggol Central Citizens' Consultative Committee and, having spent over 60 years in the area, is one resident who has seen it all.

'This was all kampung with no electricity and water supply back then. It has come a long way.'

However, there has been a lot of water under the bridge since the initial vision for the area's transformation was announced in 1996 under the Punggol 21 vision.

About 155ha of land was reclaimed along the coastline from 1997 to 2001 for development but the 1997 Asian financial crisis resulted in the town's development stalling.

Ms Doris Yew, 38, a financial consultant, owns a five-year-old five-room flat with her husband in Punggol Field.

However, the mother-of-two goes there only on weekends as she lives with her in-laws in Lorong Ah Soo, which is closer to Hougang.

She has not given up hope, though, and was heartened by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's Punggol 21-plus vision in his 2007 National Day Rally speech, renewing the promise of a waterfront town of the 21stcentury, complete with homes along recreational waterways and eco-friendly flats.

She expects that with PM Lee's latest mention of the vision, development will pick up.

She says: 'I like Punggol because its environment is friendly for kids, with play spaces between blocks for them to run around.'

Other residents and property experts say the renewed activity will ensure greater confidence in the area's potential.

The first HDB flats in Punggol were built in 1998 and the town has since expanded to 17,000 housing units with shop clusters and a commercial centre at Punggol Plaza.

Punggol is served by the North-east line and LRT stations. Expressways such as the Tampines Expressway and Kallang-Paya Lebar Expressway link drivers to other parts of the island.

The main housing appeal, according to residents, is the refreshing designs of Punggol flats.

Estates are landscaped with lush heliconia and canna bloom plants.

Blocks of flats look more like condominiums, with coordinated shades of colour and gleaming bay windows.

Punggol currently has 58,700 residents in public housing and about 400 residents in landed units.

According to the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), the area will eventually consist of 96,000 housing units with a private and public housing mix when fully developed.

Member of Parliament Charles Chong for the Pasir-Ris Punggol GRC says he recalls Pasir Ris being the town of envy for residents in other estates back in 1991 because of its unique designs and landscape.

He adds: 'I thought that was the best that public housing could achieve but I was wrong. Will Punggol be the apex of housing development in Singapore? In its time, for sure.'

According to property agent Gaz Aspar, HDB prices in the area have risen by up to 35 per cent over the past four to five years. A four-room flat can fetch between $310,000 and $360,000 on average.

He adds: 'Prices might stabilise for a while before rising again when new developments are ready. '

Then there are those who cannot wait.

Permanent resident Anthony Dayrid and wife Jo Anne, both 30, are some of Punggol's newest fans. The couple moved into their five-room unit in Edgedale Plains with their two daughters, aged five and one, a few months ago.

Quiet and accessible

Mr Dayrid, an IT engineer, says: 'It's quiet here and not crowded, plus it's only a 25-minute train ride down to my workplace in town and schools for my kids.'

While, like many other Punggol residents, he would like to see more malls and recreational options, he enjoys kite-flying at the empty fields around his place and hopes that once the promenade is ready, he can take his girls and kites to the seaside.

However, once the Dayrids, who are from the Philippines, get their citizenship and become eligible for housing grants, they intend to move to a bigger place.

So where will that be? 'Oh, it will still be in Punggol of course,' says Mr Dayrid with a chuckle.

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