When Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced in his 2013 National Day Rally speech the government’s plans to relocate Paya Lebar Air Base, few could have foreseen the impact – both good and bad – it would have on so many Singaporeans, from the east of the island to the west. We look at the history of the airbase, and what effects the proposals will have to the different parts, and communities of Singapore.
Paya Lebar Airbase (PLAB)
Building work, on what was originally known as Singapore International Airport, began in 1952 with its official opening being on 20 August 1955. As well as being a hub for Malayan Airways and the birthplace of Singapore Airlines, the airport was most notable for its being a destination for Concord between 1979 and 1980, when British Airways flew there from London Heathrow.
The airport’s location – it was hemmed in by established housing estates, meant that it was always going to struggle to compete in a rapidly expanding air industry. By 1975 the number of passengers going through the airport had risen to 4 million, more than twice the number of just 5 years before, but a new airport was beginning to be built not far away in Changi. When that opened in 1981, Paya Lebar was closed for civil aviation and became a purely military airbase, a transformation that had begun several years earlier.
The closing of the airbase – scheduled to take place from 2030 – will be the final chapter in its short but colourful history.
What the Move Means for Paya Lebar…
First and foremost, the move will free up a massive swathe of land – up to 800 hectares. To put it into context, that is larger than Ang Mo Kio or Bishan. In an island the size of Singapore, that is very significant, coming in the way that it has, and in the area it sits. The prime minister promised that that land would be used to build new homes, offices, factories, parks, living environments and communities.
Another consequence of PLAB’s closure is that the current height restrictions that cover large sections of that part of Eastern Singapore will be relaxed. This will pave the way for the possibility of current low-rise buildings being redeveloped.
…and for Tengah Airbase and its Surroundings
Two existing airbases will take up the slack from the closure of PLAB. Changi Airbase East will have a new base built on its grounds, as well as a fourth runway. It is at Tengah Airbase in the West of Singapore where most disruption will occur however.
The government will acquire 106 hectares of land – approximately the size of the Marina centre – which includes several private lots. These include three fish farms, a nursery, an egg farm and an orchid farm. Nearby Choa Chu Kang Cemetery will see a third of its land taken, meaning that 45,500 Chinese and 35,000 Muslim graves will have to be exhumed.
The expansion of Tengah Airbase, will also mean a section of Lim Chu Kang Road will need to be moved, including almost 2 kilometres of its heritage road section.
New launch condos near Paya Lebar
New Launches near Tengah Airbase