Friday, 6 January 2017

Raffles Country Club to make way for KL-Singapore High-Speed Rail

Second golf club to make way for high-speed rail
Raffles Country Club land will also be used for MRT; site to be handed over by July 31, 2018
By Christopher Tan, Senior Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 5 Jan 2017

Raffles Country Club, a 36-hole golfing venue in the west of Singapore, will make way for a massive depot and stable for the upcoming Cross Island MRT line and the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high-speed rail (HSR) project.

The plot - the single largest to be acquired by the Government in recent years - is more than twice the size of Jurong Country Club, which will make way for the HSR terminus.

The Singapore Land Authority (SLA) served the 143ha club an acquisition notice yesterday.

The club will have to hand over the site owned by JTC Corp by July 31 next year.

The SLA and the Land Transport Authority (LTA) described the club site as "the most suitable location".

LTA deputy chief executive Chua Chong Kheng said: "Given its size and location, there really isn't any other option for us."

The HSR link between Malaysia and Singapore will take the form of a high bridge to be built west of the Tuas Second Link - a stone's throw from Raffles Country Club. The bridge will run 25m above the water for 3km across the Strait of Johor.

From there, the tracks will continue on a flyover across the Ayer Rajah Expressway onto Raffles Country Club, a plot measuring 2km end to end.

Within the existing club grounds, the tracks will go underground towards a passenger terminus on the site of Jurong Country Club.

The Raffles Country Club site will be able to house a spare HSR train, and will allow trains to cross from one track to the other when operations commence by the end of 2026.

To optimise land use, the LTA said a western depot for the upcoming Cross Island MRT line - slated to open in 2030 - will be built on the Raffles Country Club site too.

In addition, there are plans for a train-testing facility to be located there. Mr Chua said that such a facility will allow new trains to be tested more thoroughly before they are put into service.

Current testing is limited by the short time available between operational hours, track maintenance requirements and space constraints within existing depots.

The SLA said Raffles Country Club will be offered "compensation... based on market value".

The club's 30-year lease on the land expires on Oct 31, 2028. It has two 18-hole courses and about 2,600 members.

Some of them were taken aback by the news that the club would have to surrender its entire plot of land. "I was expecting only a portion of the land to be used for this development," said Ms Maria Teo, a retiree in her 40s who plays at the club four times a week.

The HSR spans 350km between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.

Express service trains will cruise at 300kmh, shortening land commutes between the two cities to 90 minutes, from four hours by car.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak sealed an agreement on Dec 13 to build the line, which is targeted to open by Dec 31, 2026.

Golf club perfect fit for rail needs
Plot offers suitable size and location near Second Link for high-speed rail, MRT projects
By Christopher Tan, Senior Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 5 Jan 2017

Alternative sites could have been chosen for the new depot and stable facilities for the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high-speed rail (HSR) and Cross Island MRT line, but none is as suitable as the Raffles Country Club.

The golf club, which occupies an elongated plot measuring 2km end to end, is right next to the Tuas Second Link, offering both the right size and location needed for these facilities, said the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and experts.

HSR trains will cross from Malaysia into Singapore via a high bridge west of the Second Link before going underground towards a passenger terminus in Jurong East.

Mr Rajan Krishnan, chief executive of the KTC construction group, said that because of the high bridge - which is built 25m above the water - "much more land on our side is needed for trains to approach the tunnels on a gradual gradient".

"The construction cost (of a bridge crossing) is much lower than going undersea, but it requires higher land take," he noted.

The golf club's site is also close to the western end of the proposed Cross Island MRT line (CRL).

Mr Krishnan said this made it doubly efficient for a CRL depot to be located there as well.

"I am a golfer, but given the choice, I would pick Raffles Country Club over, say, the industrial and commercial sites in the vicinity (to acquire)," he added.

Raffles Country Club golf manager Dennis Ee said there are other alternative sites, but he could see why the club was the more suitable choice.

"There is Safti (Military Institute) and Tengah Airbase for instance, but those are crucial defence installations," he said.

"There are industrial plots on the other side of the road, but the Government would have to deal with a lot of stakeholders, versus only one in the case of Raffles Country Club."

Still, Mr Ee said that the whole 36-hole golf club being acquired came as "a surprise".

"We thought only nine or 18 holes would be acquired," he said.

Raffles Country Club is the latest in a string of golf clubs that will go - entirely or in part - in the next few years as Singapore reprioritises its land use needs.

The Republic has among the highest concentrations of golf courses in the region, with 17 clubs occupying 1,500ha.

Even so, Singapore Land Authority chief executive Tan Boon Khai said yesterday: "We are not targeting golf courses for acquisition."

Facility boasts two 18-hole courses
The Straits Times, 5 Jan 2017

Raffles Country Club (RCC) boasts two championship 18-hole golf courses sprawled across 143ha of land.

Opened in 1988, the club also has facilities such as swimming pools, tennis courts and a fitness centre.

It has also hosted golfing events organised by the Singapore Professional Golfers' Association, among others.

News reports estimate that membership cost $40,000 when the club launched.

Membership brokerage Singolf currently lists the RCC membership cost for locals at $34,000 on its website. The fee for foreigners is $55,000.

The club, which currently has around 2,600 members, spent $9.5 million on renovations for a new wing which opened in 2011 after two years of refurbishment.

In 2013, members rejected a plan for a $26 million upgrade due to uncertainty over the renewal of the site's lease.

Members shocked by scale of acquisition
Many had expected only a portion of land to be affected; others express disappointment
By Ng Huiwen, The Straits Times, 5 Jan 2017

Members of Raffles Country Club (RCC) had been bracing themselves for the Government to take some of their club's land, especially after the nearby Jurong Country Club was gazetted for acquisition in 2015.

Plans to renovate the club were put on hold and the management had asked the authorities about plans in the area for a few years.

But yesterday's announcement by the Government that it would acquire RCC still came as a shock to many because of the scale of the acquisition.

"I was expecting only a portion of the land to be used for this development... Do they really need so much land?" said Ms Maria Teo, a retiree in her 40s who plays golf at the club about four times a week.

The Land Transport Authority said it would need RCC's entire 143ha plot in Tuas to house facilities, including at-grade tracks for the 350km Singapore-Kuala Lumpur high-speed rail, as well as the Cross Island Line's western depot.

The site will also hold the tunnel portal leading to the underground tunnels that will take the high-speed rail to the Jurong East terminus, as well as crossover tracks and a siding facility to temporarily house trains near the border.

"It is a big disappointment. There won't be any more golf courses for us in the west," said Mr T.C. Tan, 64, who paid about $90,000 to join the club more than 20 years ago.

Said Mr S.W. Lee, a 63-year-old retiree who has been a member for more than 20 years: "It is such a pity to see one of the most scenic clubs in Singapore go. I love the views of nature here."

RCC, which has two 18-hole golf courses and about 2,600 members, will have to hand over the land by July 31 next year.

Members said they were waiting for compensation details before deciding on their next move. Some said they are now more cautious about buying golf memberships.

Ms Agnes Tay, a retiree in her 50s who has been a member for 17 years, said: "I was also a member of Jurong Country Club for about five years. Now I have no confidence to join another club."

Said 64-year-old retiree P.K. Tan: "It is a hard decision. Perhaps I will need to go over to Malaysia to play golf now."

The club's general committee members met yesterday afternoon to discuss the announcement but could not be contacted to provide details.

RCC general committee president Paul Singh, however, said before the meeting that he was "deeply disappointed", adding that the committee needed time to work out compensation details for members.

Also concerned about the acquisition were employees of the club.

Fu Lin Men Chinese Restaurant and Fukuya Japanese Restaurant, owned by The Passion Group, moved their operations from Jurong Country Club only about a year ago.

The group, which also runs the western LakeFront Restaurant and Pub on the first storey, has about 50 employees in total at the club.

Said the group's owner Tam Suk Ling: "I was not expecting this. Some of my staff were reallocated here from Jurong, and now, I will probably have to arrange for them to work at our other restaurants near Chinatown. The planning will be a headache."

Transview Golf shop manager Peter Soh said he had only recently transferred some stock from another outlet at Jurong Country Club to RCC, and he will now have a "second problem" when the shop has to vacate in the near future.

"I have three other staff working here too. I hope the club will help them get another job, maybe at another country club."

In a Facebook post yesterday, Attractions, Resorts and Entertainment Union executive secretary Desmond Choo said the union will work closely with the RCC management to help the affected workers.

This includes ensuring that the workers are fairly compensated if they are to be retrenched, and also providing job placement assistance and retraining to them.

Additional reporting by Abigail Ng

Fewer options for local golfers
By Zhaki Abdullah, The Straits Times, 5 Jan 2017

Local golf is feeling the squeeze after yesterday's announcement about the acquisition of Raffles Country Club (RCC) further reduced playing options for golfers here.

RCC is the second golf club here to be acquired for the development of the high-speed rail project, following the acquisition of Jurong Country Club two years ago.

Coupled with the closures of Keppel Club and Marina Bay Golf Club when their leases expire in the next 10 years, there will be only 13 golf clubs in Singapore by 2030, down from 17 currently. This is also down from 22 clubs in 2001.

About 15 per cent of the land now occupied by golf courses - about 219ha - will make way for housing and other amenities after their leases expire.

Singapore Golf Association (SGA) president Ross Tan said the acquisition is disappointing for golf in the country. There are currently about 36,000 golfers with a handicap here. "My reaction is one of disbelief. SGA's duty, as a national sports association, to grow the sport, will be badly affected," said Mr Tan.

Singapore Professional Golfer's Association president M. Murugiah said he was "very sad" to hear the news. "Golfers here will have to go to Johor or Batam to play instead as more clubs close."

Memberships there can be up to 90 per cent cheaper, said observers.

"In Johor Baru, club memberships can go for around $3,000 to $4,000," said Ms Madeline Choo of brokerage Active Golf Services, adding that green fees for these courses are just about $60 on weekends.

This contrasts with membership prices at even middle-rung clubs such as RCC currently going for between $32,000 and $37,000. Green fees here are also much higher.

Many Singaporeans are deterred from snapping up memberships in Malaysia by the prospect of encountering jams at checkpoints and paying toll charges, said Ms Choo.

Others, however, might venture even farther afield to play the game.

China, Thailand and the Philippines are increasingly popular destinations for golfing holiday packages, said Ms Lee Lee Langdale, director of brokerage Singolf.

Those who want to play regularly, however, will have to go with a local membership, she said, adding that they may choose to go to clubs with cheaper memberships such as the Warren Golf Club.

At the higher end, club memberships here can cost as much as $210,000, the current price of a Sentosa Golf Club membership, according to figures from membership broker Tee-Up Marketing Enterprises.

Fewer options may mean a slight increase in membership prices in the coming years, said Ms Choo.

Ms Fion Phua, a Tee-Up broker, believes that given the scarcity of land here, freeing up land currently used for golf courses is a necessity.

"There really are a lot of golf courses here for such a tiny island," she said, adding that golfers make up a small percentage of the population.

Some golfers might even choose to do without club memberships.

Ms Choo said: "It doesn't make sense to pay so much for a membership only to have the land taken away in a few years."

One golfer might even give up the game.

Said Ms Theresa Ng, 55, a retiree who has been a member of RCC for more than 20 years: "I have a group of golfers whom I play with on weekends, some whom I first got to know through the club. I will miss meeting them a lot, and it won't be the same at another club. I may just accept the compensation and retire from golfing."

Surprise land acquisitions not likely to go on, say experts
KL-Singapore high-speed rail a recent development; most land demands here are planned for in advance
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 6 Jan 2017

Golfers might feel hard done by following the acquisitions of Raffles Country Club and Jurong Country Club, but such surprises are not likely to continue, said experts.

The two golf clubs are making way for the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high-speed rail (HSR).

Long-term planning might not have included the need to set aside land for this relatively recent development, hence the "last resort" of acquisition, said private sector urban planner Sarah Lin.

"The (HSR) plans were only finalised in recent years," she noted.

The bilateral agreement for the HSR was inked last month following a memorandum of understanding in July, with the express service between both cities expected to be running by end-2026.

In contrast, most demands on the country's land resources are known and planned for in advance, so land acquisition should not usually be required, said Ms Lin.

So, for instance, Keppel Club's golf course, which will see its lease expire in 2021, occupies land that has been zoned for residential use in the Urban Redevelopment Authority's (URA) 2001 Concept Plan.

Land-scarce Singapore has long had to grapple with competing needs. And going ahead, as it looks to build long-term infrastructure for a growing population, eyes are on what land can be tapped.

Experts identify various sources: For instance, 800ha of land freed up by the relocation of Paya Lebar airbase and underused pockets of industrial land across Singapore.

More golf courses are also getting the chop.

In 2013, the Government indicated that it was looking to redevelop golf course land for other uses such as housing. Then, there were 18 courses occupying about 1,500ha. In 2014, the Ministry of Law announced that 219ha of land will be made available from 2030, when the leases on golf courses expire.

On Wednesday, Singapore Land Authority chief executive officer Tan Boon Khai stressed that golf courses were not being targeted for land acquisitions.

But development plans are taken into consideration when golf clubs' leases are reviewed, he added.

R'ST Research director Ong Kah Seng said in cases where push does come to shove, golf courses are probably low in priority.

Housing, infrastructure, economic and industrial uses will all take priority over lifestyle uses such as golfing, he added.

National University of Singapore Associate Professor Ho Kong Chong noted that golf courses are a low-intensity and inefficient use of scarce land.

Ms Lin said that besides golf courses, there are other nodes of land for further development, such as reclamation and redevelopment - not least from the relocation of Paya Lebar airbase.

Former chief planner Liu Thai Ker said: "When we developed the 1991 URA concept plan, we deliberately kept a bit of land undeveloped while outlining further reclamation efforts from the sea."

Existing land use can also be intensified, he added, citing industrial land in areas such as Jurong and Eunos. "We used to build cheap factories - single-storey shophouses with workshops. We can rebuild them and free up the space for other development. We can also look at intensifying building upwards."

Fewer golf greens, but more greenery from parks and trails
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 6 Jan 2017

A few golf courses are lost to development, but that does not mean Singapore's green coverage is shrinking. More green spaces are on the way, with the amount of land dedicated to parks and nature reserves slated to increase from 5,700ha in 2010 to 7,250ha in 2030.

This is according to the Ministry of National Development's Land Use Plan, released in 2013.

Golf courses are classified separately under community, institution and recreation facilities.

The building of new golf courses has threatened nature areas in the past, with activists successfully protesting against a proposed golf course at Lower Peirce Reservoir in 1992.

Now, the projected increase in Singapore's greenery will come mainly from more parks in public housing estates, the development of former railway land into the 24km Rail Corridor and more green trails. For instance, the 150km Round Island Route is a continuous walking and cycling trail that will link existing park connectors.

And as public housing estates proliferate, so will parks. The aim is for 85 per cent of residents to live within 400m of a park by 2030.

But nature experts note that from a conservation standpoint, it is not just the quantity of greenery that matters, but the quality.

Preserving existing greenery, especially forests, is key, said Dr Ho Hua Chew, vice-chairman of the Nature Society (Singapore)'s conservation committee. "There are a lot of unprotected wild green areas, not gardens and parks, which deserve protection," he said.

Citing patches of secondary forests such as one near Lentor, he noted that these provide crucial habitats for native wildlife.

Soil works for rail link begin at Jurong club
By K.C. Vijayan, Senior Law Correspondent, The Straits Times, 6 Jan 2017

Soil investigation works at Jurong Country Club started on Tuesday, as the authorities prepare to convert the site into a terminus for the high-speed rail linking Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.

A Land Transport Authority spokesman added that the major construction and systems tenders for the project will be called later this year.

The 67ha club - which included an 18-hole golf course, three swimming pools and eight tennis courts - closed on New Year's Day to make way for the terminus and a collection of commercial and residential developments around it.

Only a small group of employees are left to tie up administrative loose ends and wind down operations. This includes processing the first tranche of compensation payouts to members, said the club's golf captain Ross Tan.

He said the final New Year's Eve party at the club was an emotional affair, especially when the club flag was lowered to mark the closure.

"The feelings were mixed. We were supposed to celebrate the new year, a happy occasion, but we were sad to mark the club's end," said club member Victor Yew, 50.

He added that the club was a place where members met regularly and became friends.

Another member, Dr Tan Cheng Bock, wrote on Facebook that the club had been rated one of the best in South-east Asia. "Like all good things, (it) must come to an end (and) we must make way for progress," wrote the former MP.

Mr Ross Tan said no decision by members has been taken to close down the club, which will continue to exist as a registered club until possibly after the issue of compensation has been settled. Discussions on closure or alternatives will then be held.

The club is appealing against the $89.8 million awarded by the Collector of Land Revenue as compensation for the land acquisition.

The club had sought $168 million based on the work of its own valuation consultant, and has hired lawyers from Rajah & Tann for the case to be heard in due course.

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