Saturday 4 July 2020

Misleading headline: Did Nikkei Asian Review report that URA plans to build underground infrastructure for 10 million population? No

Amid the 10 million population imbroglio, you may have seen this screenshot going around:

At first glance, you may think, wow, an independent foreign media outlet such as Nikkei Asian Review said that Singapore is planning for a 10 million population? So maybe it's true?

No, it's not.

Only half the headline is true. Yes, the Government has plans to build an underground infrastructure to maximise space, as reported by Nikkei Asian Review.

But the Nikkei Asian Review report did not mention anything about a 10 million population at all.

The screenshot is of an article by The Online Citizen published on April 4 last year:
On Wednesday (3 Apr), the Nikkei Asian Review reported that Singapore has plans to build underground infrastructure below its existing land and buildings in order to maximise space. Singapore was compelled to do so, it noted, because of large population growth. Also, land reclamation is deemed to be impractical after Cambodia banned sand exports.

Taking reference from a master development plan released by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) on March 27, the Nikkei Asia Review noted that the new master plan now includes additional mention of underground infrastructure. Underground infrastructure was never mentioned in an earlier 2014 master plan.

“The plan comes as an expanding population shrugs off the country’s geographic constraints and with land reclamation becoming impractical,” Nikkei said.

“So with lateral and vertical options all but exhausted, the country’s new master development plan calls for tunneling below.”

According to URA, the government intends “to free up land for people-centric uses by relocating utilities, transport, storage and industrial facilities underground”.

The URA said that this would be done by tapping “on 3D technology to facilitate upfront planning for underground space”.

Currently, three districts have been identified and the underground planning will be expanded to more areas in the future. “We are [also] studying the feasibility of using caverns for utility, storage and industrial uses at areas like Tanjong Kling” it added.

The URA also said that they are “developing a planning tool to identify areas with potential for cavern development based on compatibility with above ground uses and suitable geology.”

PM-designate Heng Swee Keat welcomes more “foreign talents”

Just last week, Finance Minister and Prime Minister designate said at a forum in NTU that Singaporeans need to be open and understanding of foreigners.

He quoted former chief planner Liu Thai Ker, who felt that Singapore’s population density is not excessive and that Singapore should plan for 10 million people in order to remain sustainable in the long term.

It has been observed that “foreign talents” and migrant workers continue to stream into Singapore. As at Jun 2018, the population stood at 5.64 million while the government wants to increase the population to 6.9 million by 2030 according to a Population White Paper written by the National Population and Talent Division in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Meanwhile, more Singaporean PMETs who were retrenched and couldn’t find suitable work are resorting to driving taxi and grab.

NUS Prof: Living underground has its risks and technical challenges

In any case, there are challenges living underground.

According to Civil Engineering Professor Yong Kwet Yew from NUS, the technical challenges include the “uncertainty of the geology and ground conditions” and “potential damage to above ground buildings”. In addition, there is also the difficulty of evacuating “people in the event of an underground fire”.

Of course, moving underground may be one way to accommodate Minister Heng’s vision of 10 million population on our little island. But would Singaporeans want such living conditions for their future generations?

What TOC did was combine two reports: the Nikkei Asian Review one and a bit from the now-infamous Straits Times report about what DPM Heng Swee Keat said at a forum.

There's nothing wrong with combining multiple stories per se, but in this case, there are three major problems.

First, the Heng Swee Keat part is not attributed to The Straits Times, which leaves the impression that it's part of the Nikkei Asian Review report.

Second, the conclusion that Minister Heng has a "vision of 10 million population on our little island" from the ST excerpt is a leap of logic that has since been discredited (I hope).

Last and most misleading of all, the headline "URA releases plan to build underground infrastructure ready for 10 million population" doesn't reflect the Nikkei Asian Review report but TOC's own fallacious conclusion.

A Pofma notice has since been issued to a few sharing the screenshot, including the Sin Rak Sin Party.

Another 10 million population thing going around is this meme involving HDB CEO Cheong Koon Hean:

SDP posted this regarding Dr Cheong:

The Government has since responded:

But despite all this, it seems many still can't let go of the notion that the Government wants a 10 million population.

EARLIER: How the projected 6.9 million population became 10 million: It's not a target