Woodlands has undergone a remarkable transformation over the past 50 years, from its early days of kampongs and plantations, to a densely populated housing and industrial estate. Plans are now underway to develop the town into a regional centre that could rival Jurong and Tampines.
By Romesh Navaratnarajah
Woodlands is synonymous with the Causeway, which links Singapore to Johor Bahru in Malaysia, but many Singaporeans are unaware of the estate’s rich history that spans nearly 100 years.
The area around modern-day Woodlands probably got its name from the rubber plantations that dotted the landscape in the early 1920s, which existed alongside poultry farms and coastal kampongs.
Some notable examples included Kampong Lorong Fatimah, which existed until the late 1980s before it was torn down to make way for the extension of the Woodlands Checkpoint, and the flood-prone Kampong Sungei Mandai Kechil. Many of the residents living in these settlements worked as boatmen and fishermen.
Following independence, Singapore’s rapid development brought about a growing demand for new homes and industries. This led to the development of Woodlands New Town in the 1970s and 1980s.
The kampongs were replaced with high-rise public housing blocks and industrial infrastructure. By the mid-1990s, more than 22,000 HDB flats were built.
To improve transportation, Woodlands Road was upgraded, while the Woodlands MRT station and bus interchange opened in 1996. Three years later, Causeway Point Shopping Centre, which is linked directly to the MRT station, was opened. Upgrading works for the seven-storey mall were completed in 2010 at a cost of $72 million. Causeway Point now has 250 retail outlets, including Cold Storage, Food Republic and Cathay cinema.
Billy Loh has lived in Woodlands for the past 15 years. The 28-year-old foodie told PropertyGuru that there are several cheap and good eateries, some operating 24 hours a day.
Popular eateries in the neighbourhood include Hong Ji Bak Kut Teh in Marsiling Lane, which even has its own Facebook page. On average, prices are below $10 for a large pot of herbal soup, while the side dishes only cost $1.
Those craving mookata, a traditional Thai barbecue steamboat, can head down to Siam Square Mookata at Woodlands Close, which offers a buffet spread for $29 per person.
Occasionally, Loh visits Fassler Gourmet at Woodlands Terrace, one of a few wholesale food outlets in the area selling fresh seafood. “During festive occasions like Chinese New Year, you can buy fresh sashimi at affordable prices; at least 30 percent off retail prices,” he said.
Living close to the Causeway is another plus for Loh, who frequently drives to Johor Bahru to fill his car with gas and try out the various late night supper joints.
Woodlands Regional Centre
Meanwhile, as part of the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) Master Plan 2014, Woodlands is set to be transformed into a regional centre for northern Singapore, similar to Tampines in the East and Jurong in the West.
Woodlands Regional Centre will comprise two distinct precincts – Woodlands North Coast, which includes the area between Republic Polytechnic and Woodlands Waterfront, and Woodlands Central, around the Woodlands MRT station.
Around 100ha of land will be developed into new homes, offices and industrial parks. To meet the needs of future residents, the North-South MRT line will be supplemented by the upcoming Thomson-East Coast line (TEL) and North-South Corridor, which will be ready during the next decade.
In addition, there will be a cross-border rail service between the future Woodlands North MRT station on the TEL to Johor, extensive greenery linking Admiralty Park to the Woodlands Waterfront Park, and a walking and cycling network within the estate.
It will take about 15 to 20 years to fully develop the regional centre, which aims to spread out the population and bring jobs closer to homes.
Unveiling plans for the Woodlands Regional Centre at a community event in February 2013, then-National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said: “The Woodlands Regional Centre will build on the Causeway Point. But it will be many times bigger and more exciting.
“I believe this development will be a good place for our residents in Woodlands, Sembawang and Yishun. We intend the north to be a good place to live, work and play,” he added.
Genuinely affordable homes
At the same time, public housing prices in the area will be kept affordable, said Mr Khaw.
“We (the government) are the ones who set the price for the new HDB flats, it is not left to the market. We stabilise the BTO (Build-To-Order) prices, and the prices will be linked to the median income of the targeted population, so we can always make sure the new BTO prices will be affordable for new families starting up, and that is a promise which we can deliver.”
Resale HDB flat prices in Woodlands are also lower than in other mature estates. For instance, the median price for a 4-room HDB flat in Woodlands is only $360,000, compared to $510,000 in Toa Payoh and $680,000 in Queenstown, according to Housing Board data in Q1 2016.
Aside from public housing, there are more private properties and executive condominiums (ECs) coming up in Woodlands. Two EC projects have launched there in the last three years, including Forestville, which has sold 99 percent of its 653 units at a median price of $733 psf, followed by the 561-unit Bellewoods, which has found buyers for 322 units. Its developer, Qingian Realty, sold 11 units in May at a median price of $792 psf.
Riding the wave
The latest EC to launch in the area is Northwave. Developed by Chinese firm Hao Yuan Investment, the 358-unit project at Woodlands Avenue 12 comprises two- to five-bedroom units and penthouses, with sizes ranging from 678 sq ft for a two-bedder to 1,722 sq ft for the largest penthouse unit.
Ashton Chan, Senior Manager, Sales and Marketing at MCC Land, the project manager of Northwave, noted that 50 percent of the units will be patio homes. These units come with column-free L-shaped balconies and sliding glass panels. “Residents will be able to slide and fold the glass panels to enlarge their living spaces,” he said.
Marketing agents ERA Realty Network and PropNex Realty have started marketing the project, which has seen a fair bit of interest from prospective buyers, said Chan. “We are targeting buyers who will be working in the future regional centre and industrial clusters.”
In fact, the developer is offering discounts to existing Woodlands residents who may be interested in purchasing units, although details haven’t been finalised yet.
While Hao Yuan has been tight-lipped about unit prices, a source told PropertyGuru that the project’s average price is $760 psf.
“Assuming it is launched at this price, Northwave is poised to be the cheapest new EC in the North, and would be attractive to cost-conscious buyers,” the source said.
PropertyGuru understands that official prices for Northwave EC will be released two days before bookings start.
The e-application exercise runs from 25 June to 6 July, while bookings start on 9 July. The 99-year leasehold project is expected to receive its TOP in 2019.
Northwave is competing directly with recent EC launches in nearby Sembawang, including The Visionaire and Parc Life, both of which have recorded lacklustre sales.
Jointly developed by Frasers Centrepoint Limited and Keong Hong Holdings, Parc Life has only sold 71 of its 628 units at a median price of $781 psf.
Over at The Visionaire by Qingjian Realty, 185 of the 632 units (29 percent of the project) have been sold at a median price of $820 psf.
With the Woodlands Regional Centre taking shape, industry watchers expect property prices to outperform Sembawang and Yishun in future.
And given the recent hype surrounding the Jurong Lake District, Chan reckons more buyers will turn their attention to Woodlands once the government begins to push for more development in the area.
Did you know?
– Woodlands got its name from the rubber plantations that once dotted the landscape. There were also poultry farms and kampongs in the area, but they had to make way for the development of Woodlands New Town in the 1970s.
– The 12.8ha Woodlands Town Garden in Marsiling was built in 1983 by the HDB. The award-winning park contains a lake, seven Chinese pavilions and six Malay huts on stilts. There are plans to revamp the park, which has fallen into disrepair in recent years.
– The 36-acre Singapore American School moved to Woodlands in 1996. There are close to 4,000 students at the school, of whom two-thirds are US citizens. It is the largest American-curriculum school outside the US, and the largest single-campus international school in the world.
– Crocodiles and sharks are becoming a more common sight in the waters off Woodlands Waterfront Park. Several visitors to the park this year have spotted crocodiles and baby sharks swimming in the area. Recently, an angler at the jetty almost caught a three-metre long crocodile, but his line snapped.