Retiree Pang Toon Chee, 58, and housewife Tan Geok Hoon, 55, moved into the township of Sengkang two years ago.The name Sengkang drew sniggers because people thought that it was too far from town. But it was precisely the peacefulness of the area that Mr Pang liked.A few evenings ago though, the quiet of his estate was shattered by a revving car roaring down the roads late at night. It was such a racket that Mr Pang thought that the F1 had come to Sengkang.
He recalls: ‘Someone was driving a modified car down the road. It’s getting noisier here already.’
While some might think that the Pangs are lucky to have just an isolated incident of deafening noise, it shows how Sengkang, located between Punggol and Hougang, is changing.
Once known as Kangkar, the name Sengkang – meaning ‘prosperous harbour’ in dialect – comes from a road called Lorong Sengkang, off Lorong Buangkok.
The area was home to sparse settlements such as fishing villages and plantations scattered along river banks.
Development started in 1995 when the Housing Board (HDB) began construction of blocks 133 to 140, completed in 1997.
The plan was to create a new town in Sengkang that will eventually house 90,000 public and private housing units in the long term, a size comparable to larger and more mature new towns such as Jurong West and Tampines.
Yet there have been numerous newspaper reports of new HDB flat applicants shunning flats in the area.
Residents, businesses and Members of Parliament declare that Sengkang’s ‘ulu’ tag is out of date. This town in the north-eastern part of Singapore, now 60 per cent developed, is bustling with life.
Case in point: SBS Transit has experienced a 20 per cent increase in train ridership ‘for the Sengkang North East Line station over the last few years’.
The transport operator runs 19 bus lines, the North East MRT Line and 14 LRT stations in the area. In 1999, it ran just eight bus services.
With more amenities and increased appeal also comes better property values for Sengkang HDB units. Some flats are worth almost $100,000 more than the original price owners paid about 10 years ago, say property experts.
LifeStyle spent a day in Sengkang, and found the area buzzing. This is especially so in the more mature estates such as Rivervale and Anchorvale, as well as main mall Compass Point, which opened in 2002.
Ms Mazlinda Osman has been a Rivervale resident for over a decade. The 37-year-old housewife says: ‘Previously, I went down to Hougang for my groceries. Now, of course, it’s much more convenient.’
She adds that her five children go to schools around the area, and there are expressways such as the KPE which links them to the city.
A resident of decade-old Anchorvale estate, Mr Steven Peh, 38, who is self-employed, says: ‘It’s easy to get to town with just a 20- to 30-minute train ride. For groceries, my wife and I go to the Sengkang NTUC supermarket. It doesn’t feel that ulu, actually. ‘
North East District Mayor Teo Ser Luck, who is also MP for the Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC which covers the eastern part of Sengkang, says: ‘The ‘ulu’ tag is just a label. The name Sengkang itself might not sound very ‘in’. It could be due to the fact that, in the past, Sengkang was more associated with remote fishing areas.
‘Today, it’s different. It’s almost like an earlier Bishan, Toa Payoh or Tampines. The place is maturing, from the transport system to other amenities. All these are part of a growing town cycle.’
Dr Lam Pin Min, who is MP of Sengkang West ward in Ang Mo Kio GRC, adds: ‘Much has changed over the past three to five years. Sengkang West has transformed into a vibrant and interesting place.’
He points to infrastructure changes such as the new Anchorvale Community Club, Sengkang Sports and Recreation Centre, and Sengkang Riverside Park among others, while listing upcoming developments such as a central wet market.
Named Kopitiam Square, it will be a wet market cum food centre, managed by the Kopitiam Group, which has up to five outlets spread throughout Sengkang and Punggol.
The gradual public mindset change towards Sengkang also translates into rising property prices.
According to Mr Chris Koh, a director at realty firm Dennis Wee Group, an average four-room unit can fetch up to $340,000, compared with $250,000 five years ago. General demand in the area has also increased by 22 per cent, he says.
Propnex property agent Gaz Aspar adds that while it took up to two months to secure a buyer for a Sengkang flat four years ago, it now takes only two to three weeks.
But there is still room for improvement, say young couples such as Mr Terence Chan and wife Ashley Neo.
Mr Chan, 28, who works in the marine industry, will be moving into his unit at Fernvale Court – one of the newer Sengkang estates – by the end of this year, but adds that his original choice was in Toa Payoh, close to his father. The couple applied for a Toa Payoh flat twice but was unsuccessful.
Mr Chan says: ‘It would be good if they had a cinema here, more NTUC supermarket branches and more bus services, including Express buses like those in Toa Payoh.’
His wife, also 28 and an auditor, adds: ‘We do like this environment because it’s more peaceful and there are a lot of young people like us.’
Urban planning expert from the Nanyang Technological University, Associate Professor Wong Tai-Chee, sums it up: ‘Given some 10 to 15 years, Sengkang will become a mature new town on the outskirts of the city comparable to Tampines.’
Land area: 1,055 ha
Area developed: 60 per cent
Population: The township is one of the fastest growing – nearly tripling from 61,300 residents in June 2000 to 161,000 in June this year. The bulk of residents comprises people within the 25 to 39 age group.
Completed flats: 43,000 as of last month
MRT stations: 2 (Sengkang and Buangkok)
LRT stations: 14
Bus services: 21
Schools: More than 10
Wet markets: 2 (Fernvale Point and Rivervale Plaza)
Shoppping centres: 3 (Compass Point, Rivervale Mall and Fernvale Point)
Recreational facilities: Sengkang Sports and Recreation Centre, Sengkang Riverside Park
Source: HDB, URA, SMRT, SBS Transit, Singapore Department of Statistics
Sunday Times | 18 Oct 2009