Wednesday 13 May 2015

Jurong Country Club to make way for high-speed rail terminus

Golf club to make way for high-speed rail terminus
Hotels and retail facilities will also come up on Jurong Country Club land
By Jessica Lim, The Straits Times, 12 May 2015

JURONG Country Club will have to make way for the terminus of the high-speed rail (HSR) which will link Singapore to Kuala Lumpur.

Spelling out project details yesterday, the authorities confirmed that the club will have to give up its 67ha plot - the size of more than 80 football fields - by November next year.

The terminus will sit about 600m from the current Jurong East MRT station. It will account for some 12ha, or about 20 per cent, of the site, which is bordered by the Ayer Rajah Expressway and Jurong Town Hall Road.

The remaining area will be redeveloped into a mixed-use precinct including offices, hotels, retail, family entertainment facilities and possibly residential units.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority's chief executive, Mr Ng Lang, said the site was chosen for its size, its connectivity with public transport and proximity to Jurong Gateway, which includes Westgate mall, the Ng Teng Fong General Hospital and the new Genting Hotel Jurong.

Mr Ng, who announced the location yesterday with Land Transport Authority chief executive Chew Men Leong and Singapore Land Authority chief executive Tan Boon Khai, said the HSR terminus "cannot exist in isolation".

"You need supporting infrastructure and amenities... to allow us to benefit from the economic opportunities of having a station," he said. "Having a sizeable piece of land around it will allow us to do that."

Mr Chew said MRT stations, present and upcoming, as well as nearby developments will be readily accessible from the HSR via several multi-level linkways.

Much of the infrastructure for the HSR will be built underground, he added, but did not confirm if the terminus would be underground.

The Jurong Region Line, slated to be operational by 2025, and Cross Island Line, to be ready by 2030, will also be close to the site.

Options to connect commuters from the HSR to Changi Airport will also be considered, while a future integrated transport hub at Jurong East, where MRT lines and the bus interchange are connected via air-conditioned links, will be ready later this year.

The authorities also said the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine complex will be located inside the terminus, with passengers needing to go through only a single border checkpoint either on the Malaysian or Singapore side.

Mr Ng said the plot, which was the only one considered in Jurong East, will be developed as a seamless extension of Jurong Gateway and fulfil the planning vision to develop the district as a new growth centre.

Plans to transform the 360ha Jurong Lake District - about the size of Marina Bay - into Singapore's second Central Business District have been in the works since 2008.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak have called the HSR project a game changer which is expected to shorten travel time to about 90 minutes. There will be seven stops in Malaysia. The 340km line is estimated to cost $30 billion to build.

After Jurong Country Club returns the land to the Government, soil investigation work will be done.

Detailed planning and technical studies will also be carried out, including the drawing up of a site masterplan, and conducting an engineering study to finalise the station footprint, its design, and alignment to the track.

More details will be announced in due course but it is likely that the 2020 deadline will have to be reassessed, said Mr Chew.

A new deadline for the completion of the project should be announced at the end of this year.

Additional reporting by Adrian Lim

Mixed-use development around the station
By Rennie Whang, The Straits Times, 12 May 2015

THE development of the High Speed Rail (HSR) terminus will go hand in hand with the transformation of the surrounding Jurong Gateway business precinct, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) said yesterday.

The terminus is expected to take up about 12ha of the 67ha plot the Singapore Land Authority will be acquiring.

It is a sizeable site as the HSR will not exist in "isolation". Supporting infrastructure and amenities are needed, said URA chief executive officer Ng Lang at a briefing. He said URA would develop around the station an "attractive mixed-use development precinct for businesses", with office, hotel, retail and entertainment space.

"The site is very unique and special, fronted by water bodies and greenery. We envisage putting aside some space on the waterfront to develop family-friendly facilities that can complement what we are already planning for Jurong Lake Gardens and the new Science Centre."

However, it will take some time for the urban design to be shaped up, he noted. A master plan will have to consider the site's connectivity to Jurong Gateway and to the rest of Singapore and the greenery as well. "How the area will evolve... depends on the needs of the community and market," he said.

According to the Master Plan 2014, Jurong Gateway has land for about 500,000 sq m of office space, 250,000 sq m for retail, food and beverage and entertainment uses and a further 2,500 hotel rooms. Another 1,000 or more homes are to be added as well. The vision for the precinct was first announced in 2008.

Given these plans, the Jurong Gateway still has plenty of room to grow, said Cushman & Wakefield research director Christine Li.

Current office stock, for example, is just 20 per cent of that amount, while retail is at about 58 per cent. In terms of hotels, only the 557-room Genting Hotel Jurong has opened so far, yet the Master Plan 2014 allows for a cluster of them, said Ms Li.

Residential needs will be partly met when the 738-unit J Gateway, which is fully sold, is completed next year.

More homes could be added, she said.

Prices of private residences and Housing Board resale flats in Jurong East and Lakeside are likely to be boosted by up to 10 per cent closer to the completion of the HSR, with increased leasing demand as well, said R'ST Research director Ong Kah Seng. There could even be a positive spillover effect into Jurong West and Bukit Batok.

Demand could come from more Malaysians working in Singapore and looking to rent rooms here, he said.

While the URA said yesterday that HSR plans "dovetail" with plans to turn the district into a second central business district (CBD), demand for offices in the area is hard to predict, said Savills Singapore research head Alan Cheong. Banks are giving up space in the CBD and even finding business park space in Changi expensive. But there could be demand from manufacturing companies looking to expand here, perhaps reducing their operations in Malaysia at the same time, he said.

Office space in the area has seen decent uptake. Westgate Tower is over 91 per cent committed and joint owners Sun Venture and Low Keng Huat are in talks with a few tenants for the remaining space, Sun Venture managing director Alvin Teo said.

The Ministry of National Development has taken up a master lease at Jem's office tower, while the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore and the Building and Construction Authority have already moved in. About 19 per cent of the building remains vacant.

Ms Li expects the business mix to ultimately be more diverse than in the CBD. "Legal and finance companies may have to be in the CBD due to their client base, but other companies like tech players consider decentralised locations."

Yet, the fact remains that a number of regional centres will be up and competing for occupants at the same time - including Woodlands and Paya Lebar - and the Government will still have to pay attention to vacancy rates in the CBD, added Century 21 chief executive Ku Swee Yong. "There are many contentious issues."

Country club members caught by surprise
Compensation is a major issue; no alternative site for golf course
By Adrian Lim And Gilaine Ng, The Straits Times, 12 May 2015

SO CONFIDENT were members that the 40-year-old Jurong Country Club (JCC) would stay on its current site for a long time that they splurged $24 million on a makeover.

As the club, with its 18-hole golf course, prepares to vacate its 67ha site by November next year for the high-speed rail terminus, it faces several questions.

How much the club will be compensated for the land and how much each of the 2,700 members will receive is still unclear.

The club's president, Mr Bobby Wee, said: "Right now, we've put together a task force comprising five committee members to work with the authorities. We'll see where we can go from here."

He added that they were notified by the Government only yesterday morning.

A meeting with the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) is expected to take place in about two weeks' time, said a source from the club who did not want to be named.

While the SLA said yesterday that it will not be providing the club with an alternative site for a golf course, it has not ruled out offering it a site to host a club without golfing facilities.

Now, 60 per cent of the club's members are golfing members and the rest are social members.

Given that the club's lease for the site is till 2035, the acquisition announcement yesterday no doubt came as a shock to key executives and members.

Mr Ross Tan, the club's captain, said: "It's too sudden. We know that the club is standing in the way of prime developments in the future. But we never expected this to happen so soon."

Most members interviewed said one reason why the club members supported a $24 million renovation in 2010 was the club's long lease.

Noting that there were further proposals to build a new clubhouse lobby and golfers' terrace, and to refurbish changing rooms soon, Ms Shelley Yeo, 61, a housewife, said: "I was actually looking forward to the upgrades."

Other members were concerned about the compensation amount they might receive.

Retiree Bob Wong, 68, who had paid about $150,000 some 30 years ago to be a member, said he will be losing out and hopes to get some form of compensation.

Dr Wilson Chew, 44, who bought his membership for about $50,000 three years ago, said: "Proceeds from the land acquisition should be distributed to the members. I hope the compensation is fair to all members."

Another member, who wanted to be known only as Mrs Sin, said her family owns two membership with debentures.

These are memberships costing a premium over the market rate which promise a payout when the club land lease expires. For the 58-year-old administrative manager, each membership that costs around $65,000 would have paid out $120,000.

"We thought it's good, we can keep it for our children. I'm very upset," she said.

Declining to reveal the number of members with debentures or how they will be compensated, general manager Farrock Ebrahim said: "JCC will definitely seek the best remuneration and arrangement for our members."

This is not the first time golf clubs have been made to relocate. Warren Golf and Country Club was made to move from Folkestone Road in Dover to Choa Chu Kang in 2000, after its land lease was not renewed.

The Singapore Island Country Club, which began as the Singapore Golf Club at the old Farrer Park race course in 1891, also relocated to Bukit Timah in 1924.

Trading in club memberships hit by news of site plan
By Jessica Lim, The Straits Times, 12 May 2015

TRADING in Jurong Country Club (JCC) memberships screeched to a standstill yesterday after the Government announced that the club's plot will be acquired to make way for the high-speed rail terminus.

Golf club membership broker Fion Phua said she received 30 calls from frantic JCC members yesterday afternoon, asking her to sell their memberships. Four members even turned up unannounced at her doorstep.

"There is just no market for it (JCC membership). It cannot be traded any more," she said, adding that the club's 2,700 members have only one option and that is to wait for compensation.

The 67ha plot will be returned to the Government by November next year, ahead of its 2035 lease expiry date.

The news, said golf club membership brokers, is another blow to a market still reeling from recent government decisions to reacquire land from several other golf clubs.

One of Singapore Island Country Club's two courses at its Bukit location will be turned into a public golf course after 2021. By 2030, 200ha will be cut from the current 1,500ha of golf course land, after the leases for Marina Bay Golf Course and Keppel Club and Orchid Country Club end.

Ms Phua, 45, said she started getting calls to sell as early as last week - after it was announced on May 5 that the high-speed rail terminus would be located in Jurong East. Within a week, JCC membership prices dropped from $43,000 to $40,000, she said.

Ms Lee Lee Langdale of another brokership Singolf said: "If there's only one year left (on the membership), who will buy?"

In the short term, brokers expect membership demand for the other golf courses to spike as JCC members look for alternatives - especially that for the nearby Raffles Country Club. But in the longer term, buyers will become more tentative about investing in such memberships, said brokers.

According to data from Tee-Up Marketing Enterprises, a brokerage that sells club memberships, membership prices of the 11 clubs here with transferable memberships fell by as much as 30 per cent year on year in April.

Ms Phua said: "When the Government starts to reacquire land before leases are up, people realise it is risky to invest in such memberships."

Jurong club halts trading in memberships
It follows news that property will be acquired for high-speed rail terminus
By Jessica Lim And Adrian Lim, The Straits Times, 13 May 2015

JURONG Country Club (JCC) has stepped in to freeze trading in its memberships, a day after it was announced that its 67ha property would be acquired and would make way for the high-speed rail terminus linking Singapore to Kuala Lumpur.

The club's decision to halt trading was aimed at preventing membership sales to unsuspecting buyers, said JCC president Bobby Wee. "It's not fair that somebody coming to join, maybe, unknowingly buys this membership. He'll say, 'How come nobody told me?'" said Mr Wee.

"The club has got a responsibility to suspend (trading) until such time, when the whole market knows about it."

He added that club officials will meet government agencies on Friday to discuss the details of the acquisition.

The club has appointed a land valuer and is in the midst of getting a legal adviser on board.

"We will take advice from them on what the course of action is, and what we need to discuss with the authorities," he said.

"Let's see how we can negotiate and get the best compensation for the club."

Such a move to halt trade is above board as the club's general committee reserves the right to approve or reject the application for transfers, said Mr Wee. This was confirmed by membership brokers that The Straits Times interviewed.

Even as JCC blocked all trades, a handful of speculators were keen to snap up the club's memberships, in the hope that they would make a windfall from the potential payout.

While details are still unknown, the Government will compensate JCC at market value. The club's lease had been signed till 2035.

Golf club membership broker Fion Phua of Tee-Up Marketing Enterprises said speculators called her hoping to snap up 11 memberships among them - mostly the lower-value social memberships at less than $3,000 per piece.

"They wanted to hedge their bets and take advantage of the lower JCC membership prices now. They think the compensation will be more than what prices are now," said Ms Phua.

JCC has 2,700 members and 60 per cent of them hold golf memberships while the rest are social members who have access to all facilities except the golf course.

Meanwhile, membership prices of the two clubs in the same price category - Seletar Country Club (SCC) and Raffles Country Club (RCC) - have risen, said Ms Phua.

Tee-Up's figures show that RCC membership prices rose to $34,500 yesterday, up from $32,500 two days ago. SCC membership prices are now $41,000, up from $39,500.

Sentosa Golf Club continues to lead the market in club membership prices, at $222,000.

Ms Lee Lee Langdale of brokership Singolf said that membership prices of all the other clubs will go up gradually.

"Already, we see membership holders of other golf clubs here asking for higher prices," she said. However, she added that such sudden reacquisitions are only hurting the demand for memberships in the long run.

"This move has definitely shaken up the market. Many golf members are upset and worried that the land will just be taken away any time. That's not a positive thing for buyers," said Ms Langdale.

Low-cost airlines ‘likely to bear brunt of HSR’s impact’
TODAY, 13 May 2015

With the Malaysian authorities giving an indication of the ticket prices of trips on the coming high-speed rail (HSR), experts yesterday said low-cost carriers (LCCs) plying the same Singapore-Kuala Lumpur route could feel the brunt of the competition, given the similar fare structure, and suffer the same fate as domestic airlines in countries where high-speed railways have been built.

Mr Mohd Nur Ismal Mohamed Kamal, Malaysia’s Land Public Transport Commission chief executive, was yesterday quoted by the country’s media as saying that tickets would be priced at less than RM200 (S$74) for a single trip. “We foresee a much lower average price to make the HSR project feasible,” he said in the business pull-out of the New Straits Times.

However, the Singapore Government has said that no discussions on the matter have taken place. Responding to TODAY’s queries, the Ministry of Transport said: “We have yet to discuss with Malaysia anything related to the fare structure for the high-speed rail.”

A flight from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur takes less than an hour. In comparison, travel time between the two cities via high-speed rail is about 90 minutes, but commuters will spend less time waiting and boarding.

Transport analysts said the high-speed rail could give LCCs in the region a run for their money. In terms of capacity, the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur flight path is the largest international LCC route in the world. There are around seven airlines operating more than 240 weekly flights in each direction between Singapore Changi Airport and Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

“(LCCs) are already charging fairly inexpensive rates, leaving little room to readjust their fares any further,” said Professor Lee Der-Horng, a National University of Singapore (NUS) transport expert.

Mr Brendan Sobie, chief analyst at the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation in Singapore, added: “LCCs will inevitably need to redirect some of their capacity from KL to other routes. While this is more of a long-term issue, the potential challenge is obvious.”

Associate Professor Michael Li of Nanyang Technological University said that in China, the popularity of its high-speed railway, which in 2013 carried nearly twice as many passengers as domestic airlines, has hurt domestic flights there.

LCCs such as AirAsia, Jetstar and Tigerair fly the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur route.

Tigerair said that at the moment, it was hard to quantify the impact of the high-speed rail, “given that it will be ready only in about seven to 10 years”. “That said, the Singapore-KL service constitutes only a small part of Tigerair’s network, hence the impact should not be too significant,” the carrier said.

AirAsia and Jetstar did not reply to media queries by press time.

Apart from flying, many Singaporeans and Malaysians travel between the Republic and Kuala Lumpur by coach. There could be some impact on coach services when the high-speed rail starts operations, but the bus services can be complementary to the rail’s, said tour bus agencies and analysts.

Demand for coach buses could suffer initially, as customers would be drawn to the novelty of the high-speed rail, said Mr Leong Ying Ken, manager of Golden Coach Express, which makes five trips to Kuala Lumpur daily. Each trip takes about five hours.

But he was confident that his customers would return to taking buses, as the tickets are cheaper, at only S$28 a trip.

NUS’ Prof Lee pointed out that the high-speed rail was not likely to operate round the clock. In comparison, the timings of coach services are more flexible. He added: “The coaches are not constrained by tracks. They can visit different kampungs … and provide door-to-door service.”

The new terminus for the high-speed rail to Kuala Lumpur will be built in Jurong East on the plot of land currently occupied by Jurong Country Club. As the area develops into what is envisioned as Singapore's second Central Business District, The Straits Times speaks to 40 residents and businesses on what they look forward to or fear about changes to their neighbourhood.


More leisure choices for residents
By Danson Cheong And Look Woon Wei, The Straits Times, 13 May 2015

WITH the high-speed rail (HSR) terminus being built in their backyard, residents of Jurong East are excited that a trip to Malaysia will soon be as convenient as going shopping in Orchard Road.

For Mr Salrizuan Salman, taking his three young children for a holiday to Malaysia will be a lot easier. "I want to take them to places like Malacca and Kuala Lumpur, but you know young children, they cannot keep still on buses. If there's a train, it won't be so tiring for them," said the 31-year-old port worker.

The Jurong East resident currently travels to Johor Baru every week by bus to visit his in-laws.

Frequent travellers like him are cheering the move to situate the terminus in Jurong East.

Technician V. Sankaranarayanan, 47, said: "Travelling to Malaysia will now be so much easier. You can just say, let's go to KL for a meal, and be there in 90 minutes."

The 12ha terminus will be built on a 67ha space now occupied by the Jurong Country Club (JCC). The terminus will sit about 600m from the current Jurong East MRT station and be developed along with a mixed-use precinct that includes offices, hotels, retail and family entertainment facilities, and possibly residential units.

Although the terminus will be ready only after 2020, MPs for Jurong GRC said the announcement is still cause for excitement. "(The HSR) will further add buzz and life into the Jurong town. Over the years, there has been much development in Jurong... Residents can leverage on these enhanced amenities for work and leisure," said MP David Ong.

MP Ang Wei Neng said: "The greater traffic will benefit businesses in the area, and on top of that, residents can benefit from more variety (in amenities), job opportunities and enjoy the convenience of going to KL."

Property analysts also noted that prices in the area would rise.

"A bulk of the homes in the area are HDB flats. It's quite a given that HDB resale prices will go up with the new terminus," said Mr Ong Kah Seng, director of R'ST Research. He said that prices might go up by about 10 per cent before the station is completed. He added, however, that prices will not rise by much after that.

"If prices keep increasing, tenants and buyers might find it'll breach their affordability."


Retailers jittery about competition, commuters fear crush
By Yeo Sam Jo And Gilaine Ng, The Straits Times, 13 May 2015

IT'S not all cheer for the new high-speed rail terminus in Jurong East.

Some businesses, for example, are concerned about the potential competition from new commercial entities that will pop up in the area.

"If they build more shops there, it would definitely take away our business," said Ms Lisa Ching, 46, owner of clothing store Lisa Lisa in JCube mall.

Owners of retail shops at Housing Board blocks are particularly jittery about this. Already, they are feeling the heat from the opening of new shopping malls Jem, JCube and Westgate in recent years.

Ms Su Ya Mi, 40, owner of health supplement store Value Wellness Organic at Block 130, Jurong Gateway Road, said: "People would rather shop in malls where it is comfortable and air-conditioned."

On Monday, the Government announced that the high-speed rail terminus will sit on a 67ha plot which will also include offices, hotels, retail and family entertainment facilities, and possibly residential units.

"More people will come here, but that doesn't always translate into more business for us," said Mr Alfred Chee, 55, who owns Wiseland Contact Lens and Optical Centre in Jurong Gateway Road.

"People might be in a rush to catch the train to Kuala Lumpur."

For residents, the main concerns about the high-speed rail are congestion and the strain on current public transport options, in particular the Jurong East MRT station which serves as an interchange between two trunk lines.

In 2011, a third platform was opened at the station to ease crowding there. But while that helped for a while, commuters are back to complaining about the crush during rush hour.

"It's already very crowded and very inconvenient. To add more people will only make things worse," said housewife Cindy Chua, 42, who has lived in Jurong East for about 30 years.

Retiree Wong Chin Tong, 57, who lives in a three-room flat with his family, said: "I'm worried things will get more expensive. Nowadays, it's difficult to even get a meal for $3."

Another group of residents who are upset are those who are members of Jurong Country Club, which will give up its land for the new high-speed rail. The club's members, whose median age is 55, include many who are retirees.

"Many of us come here because it's convenient, and have old friends... It's a community of friends and long-time golfers," said a club member of 35 years, who wanted to be known only as Mr He.

"Where will we go?" said the 71-year-old retiree.

Don't make golf clubs take a sad stroll to finishing hole
The authorities should provide more clarity on land use plans to those that could be affected some years down the road.
By Ven Sreenivasan, The Business Times, 13 May 2015

MEMBERS of Jurong Country Club (JCC) were shocked on Monday afternoon to learn that they will lose their newly renovated course in late 2016. And even more distressing to the 2,700 members is the fact that they will not be offered any alternative site after their 18-hole course and vast clubhouse are taken away.

The Singapore Land Authority simply announced that the club's 67 hectare site would be acquired to make way for the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur high-speed rail (HSR) terminus. Although the project itself would occupy only about 12 ha - or around 18 per cent - of the total area, the remaining land will be transformed into a mixed-use development comprising offices, hotels, retail and residences.

The club - whose land sits on a lease which still has some 20 years to run - will be compensated. But whether this will be enough for the club to afford another clubhouse elsewhere remains to be seen. But any new facility will have to do without a golf course.

This is a bitter pill to swallow for a club which just two years ago coughed up some S$24 million to refurbish its course, leaving its balance sheet somewhat weakened.

It is also unclear if any of the compensation JCC receives can be redistributed to members. While some lawyers argued that a case can be made for such in-specie distribution of funds, others note that existing laws specify that unused monies must go to a national charity.

The JCC chapter is just the latest in an uncertain story facing Singapore's golf clubs. Within the next five years, at least three golf courses will lose some or all of their property.

Keppel will be the first to go as its Bukit Chermin land will be taken over by SLA for mixed-use development. The club, which has 4,700 members, will not get any compensation as its lease expires in 2021, and will not be renewed. And like JCC, it has not been offered any alternative site.

The popular public course at Marina Bay will also make way for development. But in this case, it will get a new site in the form of the Singapore Island & Country Club's Sime Course at the club's Bukit location. That means SICC will be left with just three 18-hole courses after 2021 - the Bukit Course next to the Sime Course and the Island Course and the New Course at its Island location in Upper Thomson.

But the story does not end there.

By 2030, SICC could also lose its Bukit Course. That is also the year when the union-owned and operated Orchid Country Club will lose its 27-hole property in Yishun. Given the timing and Orchid's status as a quasi-public course, there is speculation within the golfing fraternity that it could end up being given the Bukit Course.

If so, that would leave SICC with its two 18-hole Island location courses.

Meanwhile, over at Tanah Merah, the 27-hole NSRCC course has lost its 9-hole Airforce Course. Across the road, the Tanah Merah Country Club's once-challenging Garden Course has had to give up precious land to the Changi Airport extension project, leaving it a simple and short par-70 18-hole course.

Developments over the past year have shaken the Singapore golfing fraternity and the golf market. And many golfers are losing serious money.

JCC membership sale is all but frozen, while prices of other clubs have fallen further.

Market insiders estimate that Jurong members would have lost some S$150 million of their membership investments. More, if recent debentures are counted.

Over at Keppel, members are resigned to writing off over S$200 million they invested in the club. TMCC's membership price has slipped from about S$175,000 to just under S$120,000 following the changes to its prized Garden course. Over at SICC, the value of membership has fallen from about S$220,000 a year ago to under S$185,000 now.

All this has had the predictable impact on the morale and confidence of the golfing fraternity here.

While one cannot argue with the needs of development, the relevant authorities should strive to provide more clarity on land use plans to clubs that could be affected some years down the road. Which golf courses around the island could lose their land in, say, 20-30 years? Which ones will be allowed to renew their leases, and for how long. And at what cost? Which locations - if any - around the island will be permanently designated for the sport?

These are useful planning parameters for an industry that employs several thousand people and has attracted S$3 billion in investment and membership fees.

As it stands, the sad reality for the Singaporean "weekend warrior" - many of whom are already pushing 50 or 60 - is that the outlook is as clear as a misty morning on the first tee. In the absence of any clarity, it could be a sad stroll to the finishing hole for many of the 35,000 club members here.

No earlier notice to JCC ‘due to market-sensitive info’
By Valerie Koh, TODAY, 15 May 2015

The authorities have responded to the maelstrom that an 18-month notice is inadequate for its acquisition of Jurong Country Club’s (JCC) site to make way for the terminus for the high-speed rail link, saying prior notice to the club was impossible given that such information is market-sensitive.

As with all compulsory acquisitions, land owners can only be notified on the same day of the announcement published in the Government Gazette, the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) said today (May 14) in response to a TODAY Voices letter.

“This is to ensure parity of information flow and transparency in order to prevent undue speculation or use of privileged information prior to the announcement of acquisition via the Government gazette,” said Ms Julie Sim, deputy director (corporate communications) at the SLA.

Under the Land Acquisition Act, there is no minimum notice period, said lawyer Fong Wei Li of Fortis Law Corporation.

After the acquisition was announced on Monday, JCC membership prices fell and members have been up in arms for various reasons, including the money the club invested in renovations recently. On Wednesday, TODAY reader Tong Hsien-Hui said in a Voices letter that members were justified in feeling aggrieved.

The high-speed rail linking Singapore and Kuala Lumpur was first announced in February 2013, with three locations — Jurong East, Tuas West and the city centre — shortlisted for the Singapore terminus one year later.

Last week, it was announced that Jurong East was picked. The authorities later said the 67ha land parcel the JCC sits on was the only area considered.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority and Land Transport Authority told TODAY that the November 2016 acquisition date was set because the high-speed rail is a “major and complex” project.

“For the high-speed rail to be implemented expeditiously and without delay, we will need to begin work on the acquired land by around end-2016,” the agencies said. “This would include site survey, soil investigation and other site preparatory works to facilitate the construction and timely completion of the high-speed rail terminus.”

Infrastructure works and comprehensive redevelopment will also be progressively carried out, she added.

In its letter today, the SLA stressed that acquisitions are not undertaken lightly, adding that it understands these can be difficult for the affected parties.

“(We) do so only after careful study and consideration of all other alternatives. The acquisition of JCC is necessary as the land is needed for both comprehensive redevelopment and to build the terminus for the high-speed rail link to Kuala Lumpur,” wrote Ms Sim.

She reiterated that the land authority would work closely with affected parties “to facilitate the transition and mitigate the difficulties as far as possible”. SLA will meet with JCC management tomorrow.

Despite the explanations and reassurances, JCC members remain unsoothed. The 40-year-old club has 2,700 members, of which the majority are golfing members.

A JCC member for seven years who asked to be known as Mr Tan said members are at a loss as to what to do. “I’m pretty upset that I’ve to find somewhere else (to play golf) now, because I thought I had 20 years left on the lease,” said the 38-year-old banker, who called for fair compensation.

A timeline of three to five years to vacate the land would have been fairer, he added.

Golf club membership broker Fion Phua told TODAY that she has received numerous queries from JCC members since the news broke. She felt that to curb speculation of memberships, the authorities could have easily stopped the club from doing transfers.

Another member, retiree Loke Loo Pin, said it “made no difference” whether the land was returned earlier or later but wanted higher compensation for the short timeline.

“The compensation should be higher, so that you can play in a public course or use the money to buy another club membership,” the 72-year-old said.

Lawyer Amolat Singh feels there is no reason to treat JCC any differently from other acquisitions. He cited Pearls Centre owners and tenants were also given a similar timeline — two years — to move out for the construction of an MRT station.

“SLA has a point. This kind of thing is done overnight. It’s almost the same as the share market,” he said. “The whole idea to give everybody the fair share of equal misery.”

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