Singapore’s government has a will to propel the country into being one of the most advanced countries in the world, and when it says it will build something, it does it.
Over the past six years, it has expanded its rail network significantly, increasing the amount of track by 30% and adding 41 new stations.
Through the SG$1bn (£560M) Bus Service Enhancement Programme and Bus Contracting Model, it has added new routes and injected greater capacity into the bus network while raising service levels.
The government plans to continue to invest £11.2bn in new rail infrastructure, £2.24bn to renew, upgrade and expand rail operating assets, and another £2.24bn in bus contracting subsidies over the next five years to improve public transport.
Singapore overview 2
It means that, to advocates of infrastructure investment at least, Singapore’s governance structure makes a lot of sense. The People’s Action Party, with prime minister Lee Hsien Loong at the helm, is the only political party and the government controls nearly every aspect of life in the country.
Evidence seems to suggest it is a policy that works. The country bucks the trend when it comes to the undesirable traits usually associated with this form of political governance.
In the 2016 UN report on human development, Singapore ranked fifth. And in stark contrast to the UK, its stable government has allowed it to produce fully integrated masterplans for land use and infrastructure 20 to 30 years ahead. In the UK, the National Infrastructure and Construction Pipeline is a welcome addition but as yet does not even stretch 10 years into the future.
Pressure on land
Much of the investment is driven by geography. The country is effectively a large city. Nineteen square kilometres houses a growing population of around 5.5M people, and as a consequence, relieving pressures on land use is one of the main drivers for many of the projects in the masterplan.
A new central business district (CBD) with housing, schools and social infrastructure to make travelling between areas unnecessary is being created in Jurong in the west of the country. For those areas in the north, east and west which need connecting to the CBD a new, modern and integrated public transport infrastructure system is being built at a rapid pace.
“The government is willing to push the boundaries and it has been quite visionary and forward looking when it comes to planning the future,” says SNC Lavalin-owned consultant Faithful & Gould’s director of Asia Pacific and head of corporate real estate and technology René Hillig.
A goal to cut car use, starting with a target of halting growth by February next year, is a reflection on the lack of space available and a bid to improve air quality. Today, 12% of Singapore’s total land area is taken up by roads. In view of land constraints and competing needs, there is limited scope for further road network expansion.
The plan is instead to invest in public transport with the aim to more than double the total length of the rail system from 160km to 360km by 2030. This will give 80% of Singapore’s population access to a station within a 10 minute walking distance. Over the next 13 years, it will build two completely new lines, and extensions to three existing lines. Much of these new lines will be underground.
Limiting car use
In the meantime, car use is being controlled by limiting the number of cars available to buy on the market each month with growth currently capped at 0.25% per annum.
This rule is about to get tougher still, with the Land Transit Authority announcing in October that the growth rate will be frozen at 0% from February 2018.
Prospective car owners must also buy a certificate of entitlement (COE), costing up to £28,000 for each car, increasing the total outlay dramatically. The COEs last for 10 years and owners of cars older than this face higher charges still.
As part of the drive to make efficient use of the space, the government is going to great lengths and expense and it is pushing boundaries above and below ground to free up valuable land for development.
“There is definitely a large emphasis now being put on how to better plan and co-ordinate underground space, and then how to make it better when you’re down there,” says consultant Arup’s Singapore office leader Tan Yoong Heng.
In downtown Singapore, four existing ports in Pasir Panjang, Tanjong Pagar, Keppel and Brani are being moved in a multi-stage, £4.5bn plan to rehouse them in a new mega-port at Tuas on the west coast. This will free up a reported 1,000ha of prime land for a new waterfront development, three times the size of the neighbouring Marina Bay area.
Three storey train depot
Consultant WSP is designing a three storey train depot, in a highly complex, £1.3bn project, freeing up 44ha of land. At the same time, a vast rock cavern, 100m underground is being excavated to store 1.47M.m3 of petrochemicals at a cost of £535M, freeing up 60ha of land above ground.
To carry out these projects efficiently, the government is pushing engineering companies to go digital.
Britain is seen as being a world leader when it comes to building information modelling (BIM). The UK roll out of BIM, making Level 2 mandatory for all public contracts, set an example to countries around the world, which are now springing into action to catch up. Singapore is no different and is now driving the agenda with characteristic vigour. Companies are taking heed and upskilling and expanding their digital departments.
Consultant Mott MacDonald global head of digital projects Derek Murray says that what Singapore currently lacks in the structured Level 2 approach, is made up for with a “can do” attitude and a drive to push rapid changes within the industry.
“Level 2 BIM isn’t about the software it’s about collaboration and the process,” says Murray. “In Singapore, BIM has been focused on design. The UK is ahead in standards but it is perhaps more about the theory rather than the practical application. Singapore is like a living lab. It’s a unique environment, and because of the massive support which the government gives, you’ve got the chance to do great things with technology.”
It is this openness to new ideas that has made Singapore popular with companies wanting to try out new ideas before rolling them out across the wider Asia Pacific market.
“Because it’s a small city state, it’s an incubator for new technologies,” adds Hillig.
Being an engineer in Singapore
Within the broader civil engineering sector, there has been a well held view that being an engineer in Singapore is harder than in the UK. Public sector work comes with a price to pay. The Public Sector Standard Conditions of Contract (PSSCOC) are onerous.
It is likened by one engineer to the ICE 5th Edition of contract in the UK, which was phased out due to its uncollaborative nature. Unlimited liability clauses, penalties for delays and milestone payments subject to matters out of engineers’ control mean long hours, with high pressure and demanding work.
But it is hoped that with more international players coming into the market, procurement will change in favour of a more collaborative form of contract. It is these international companies and engineers the government is trying to attract.
Like the UK, Singapore is facing a skills gap. The government acted to address this in 2016 by increasing the starting salary of public sector engineers by a reported 20% to £25,500 in a bid to attract more engineers into the industry. This has had a knock on effect.
“The industry has had to follow the benchmark set by the government. It’s a measure which has a quick impact and it’s sending a message to the people that engineering is cool,” says Yoong Heng.
Despite the hard work, ICE representative for Singapore Kok Hui Heng says working in Singapore was inspiring. “I can see we as an engineers have helped to develop this country,” says Hui Heng. “Ten to 15 years ago in the Marina Bay area there was nothing, now it’s filled with iconic structures and they make Singapore a more prominent place.
“I enjoy a lot of what the country can offer, and as engineers, we are the ones to build these iconic structures and we should be very proud of that.”
The observation wheel was designed by consultant Arup and construction started in September 2005, opening to the public in April 2008. On opening it was the world’s tallest wheel, standing at 165m. Severe wind conditions in Singapore led to extensive wind research and dynamic testing of the structure to ensure passenger comfort and safety.
Gardens by the Bay
Gardens by the bay trees
The reported £560M Gardens by the Bay project has transformed the southern tip of Singapore. Eighteen, innovative “super-trees” ranging from 25m to 50m tall, create a home for 162,900 plants and over 200 species. The structures were designed by structural engineering consultant Atelier One and were opened to the public in 2011.
Marina Bay Sands resort
Marina bay sands cc marcin konsek
Another Arup project, the pinnacle of the resort is the iconic Marina Bay Sands hotel. Although the structure is not ground breaking in its height, three separate towers are linked at the top by a giant and complex bridging and cantilevering structure complete with its famous infinity pool overlooking the city below.
Singapore Sports Hub
The £730M Singapore Sports Hub is a 55,000 seater stadium on a reclaimed area of the Marina Bay area in the south of the country. The complex 310m diameter domed roof, supported by 10,000t of steel trusses, was designed by Arup Sport with temporary works by consultant Tony Gee & Partners.