2 Bills pave way for city beneath city

As land-scarce Singapore looks to develop more underground space, legal amendments were tabled yesterday to pave the way for this city beneath a city.

Two Bills were introduced in Parliament to clarify ownership rights to underground and above-ground space and to allow for the acquisition of this space.

The main focus for now is below ground. Landholders will be deemed to own the space down to 30m below a level known as the Singapore height datum (SHD) - a flat islandwide plane not varying according to land contours and pegged to the mean historical sea level - unless stated otherwise in the land title.

Land more than 30m below the SHD will belong to the State and developments at such depths are "unlikely" to affect the owner's property use, said the Ministry of Law. Most basements here, for instance, go no deeper than about 15m below the SHD.

The changes will bring clarity to an existing law that stipulates only that ownership applies to a depth that is "reasonably necessary for the use and enjoyment of the property". Piling works are unaffected by the changes.

The move follows a proposal by National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan last September to lay out an underground master plan. This includes possible underground pedestrian links, cycling lanes, shopping areas and public spaces. The Jurong Rock Caverns is the deepest underground project here, at 150m below the SHD. So far, Fusionopolis in one-north is the deepest commercial project, at 15.8m below the SHD.

A second Bill means the Government would be able to acquire strata space below or above ground to develop public projects, without owning the surface land.

An example of above-ground use of space might be a flyover.

For underground space, land owners will be compensated for the acquired stratum at "market value", or for any subsequent damage to the surface development.

Though it is unclear how underground space will be valued, a ministry spokesman said compensation will be "site specific" .

"The boundaries of all surface land are precisely marked out," said the spokesman. "What we are trying to do is clarify the boundaries for the vertical plane of this space as well."

The Bills will not change laws that allow for compulsory acquisition of land by the Government.

The Rochor Centre housing and commercial complex in Ophir Road, for instance, was acquired to make way for a segment of the new North-South Expressway.

Mr Robson Lee, a corporate lawyer, said of the move: "The Government is planning for the future, and will need to have legislative backing to give legal basis to do what it needs to do."

This article was first published on February 13, 2015.
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