SINGAPORE: Punggol once conjured images of a dark, quiet and inaccessible estate, but much has changed since the first blocks went up in 2002. Residents said that more bus services ply the area, there are more attractions to visit, and more malls and supermarkets to shop at.
The transformation into an even more desirable place to live will likely get another boost over the next few years.
The area is set to get more accessible, with a new MRT station, Punggol Coast, set to open by 2023. The station was originally slated to be ready by 2030, but plans were brought forward to support developments in Punggol North such as new estates at Northshore District, Punggol Point District as well as the Punggol Digital District. The new station will come with the construction of a 1.6-km extension on the North-East Line (NEL), which aims to cut travelling time to the city by 15 minutes. Currently, it takes about 45 minutes to get from Punggol North to City Hall.
Residents who moved into the area when it was new said that it is hard to imagine Punggol as it used to be.
“Previously, it was unusual to even see people walking around. Now, it’s a lot more lively,” said Mr Glen Hor, 29, who moved to the estate in 2002 from Simei as a teenager.
He recounted taking the one feeder bus service - the 83 - which plied the area when he first moved in, and said that public transport has improved tremendously. Now, several bus services criss-cross the area, taking residents to places like Woodlands, Changi Village and Bedok.
While the Punggol MRT station was already open on the North-east Line, he said that he chose to take the bus as it was cheaper. Mr Hor had to travel to Bedok and back every day for school, and for that, he would walk to Sengkang, take bus service 27, then transfer to bus service 31.
Going out to meet his friends in the city was such a chore that Mr Hor would sometimes just not go. If he decided to go to his friends’ homes and stay till late, he would stay over so as not to incur the midnight charge after 12am.
“People used to think Punggol is like Tuas, far, and with little to do, but it’s different now,” said the network engineer.
MORE POPULATED ESTATE NOW FACES TRAFFIC JAMS
In fact, Punggol’s population has increased by over 44 per cent over the past two years, said MP for Pasir-Ris Punggol Sun Xueling who oversees Punggol West, which includes Punggol Way and Punggol Field. It is set to increase by a further 30 per cent. The increase in population is showing, with jams clogging roads in the morning and evening peak hours.
Tutor Xylver Soh, 40, said that when he moved into the area with a friend 10 years ago, the drive to Changi Business Park would take just 10 to 15 minutes. But seven years later, the same trip took 50 minutes, he said.
“There are three or four entrances into Punggol, but no matter which route I’ve tried to take, it shows up red on Google Maps,” Mr Soh said, referring to the indicative colour on the map that shows a road is congested.
He was so frustrated that he decided to sell his car. “Drivers can get tired with these long journeys. I’m so relaxed now, I can listen to music on my headphones on the bus,” he said.
In response to what is being done about such traffic jams, Ms Sun said that in eastern Punggol there will be a major road extension at Lor Halus to allow traffic to flow in and out of Kallang-Paya Lebar Expressway and Tampines Expressway.
She added: “The other advisers in Punggol and I have been providing feedback to the government agencies on creating more arterial roads into and out of Punggol. In fact, we just had our latest meeting with them three weeks ago. We are also exploring what can be done for the western part of Punggol Town.”
Ms Sun said there are other plans to increase connectivity, like a linear park which connects pedestrian traffic from many of the residential blocks to the main amenities and transport nodes in Punggol and an expansion of Punggol’s bus interchange with more bus services.
A task force made up of grassroots volunteers has also been set up to coordinate among the different wards in Punggol so as to look at overall transport needs in Punggol Town and coordinate requests to the government agencies, she said.
IMPROVEMENTS IN INFRASTRUCTURE, CHILDCARE FACILITIES
Transport is not the only area that has become better. Ms Sun said that childcare places have increased by about 31 per cent in the past two years and will continue to rise. This comes as good news for residents as Department of Statistics numbers show that Punggol has the highest proportion of residents aged four and below in Singapore. As of last year, 14,490, or 11.1 per cent, of Punggol's more than 130,000 residents were in this age range.
Ms Sun added that she has personally appealed and looked into the construction of two additional pedestrian crossings after identifying pedestrian traffic areas which young families with prams have difficulty accessing. Also coming is an overhead bridge as well as some other road extensions, a result of feedback received from residents.
The opening of Waterway Point shopping mall and Punggol SAFRA in 2016 have also added to the buzz in the area. Many of the improvements came about after soliciting feedback or receiving feedback from residents, Ms Sun said.
RESIDENTS ENJOY RELATIVE QUIET, SEA VIEWS
Some residents told Channel NewsAsia that they knew when they wanted to move into a new estate that Punggol was the place to be. Delivery driver Chua Peng Kwang, 44, moved into the estate two years ago, after living near the bustling People’s Park his whole life.
“I have to drive everywhere, and I have driven here to Punggol also. It’s not crowded, it's quiet, and it’s new. So I knew I wanted to live here,” he said.
He said he appreciates Punggol SAFRA and Waterway Point. Mr Chua, however, lamented a lack of open carpark spaces in Punggol to park his lorry.
Madam Maria AB Ghani, who moved to Punggol three years ago, said that she was attracted to the area for its proximity to water. Now, she goes for a stroll at one of the scenic areas like Punggol Point Park whenever she can. Madam Maria moved out of her Tampines home as she wanted to downgrade to a smaller flat from a maisonette.
Punggol, she said, was a natural choice because many of her family members live nearby, either in Punggol or in neighbouring Sengkang.
“The sea is nearby, there is Waterway Point, this place is ‘happening’. It’s not too quiet, and it’s not too crowded,” she said.
It seems like it’s not just residents who have taken a liking to Punggol. Ms Sun said she was pleasantly surprised when she overheard diners at a coffeeshop in the East Coast area talking excitedly about how beautiful Punggol is and asking their friends if they have visited Punggol to see the Punggol Waterway park, the new flats and the overall openness and greenery in the area.
“I was so happy to hear them speak so excitedly about Punggol,”she said.
RESIDENTS SAY PUNGGOL STILL LACKS FOOD OPTIONS
However, some residents who spoke to Channel NewsAsia lamented the lack of coffeeshops.
Mr Soh said that for every four hawker centres or coffeeshops in one area in a mature estate, Punggol may have one. Even the food courts that have been built only have five to seven stalls, as opposed to others which may easily have 20, he added.
“It’s hard to get seats, especially during dinner time,” he said. Mr Hor also said that there is little diversity in the food options.
Madam Maria said that it is especially hard to find halal food options, and there is only Indian food that is halal. She still makes trips back to Tampines to get her share of the large variety of halal food options there, she said.
Where there are requests from residents and the void deck space is available and usable, they have piloted small coffeeshops to provide dining options for residents, Ms Sun said.
She added that residents and MPs alike are looking forward to having a town hub for Punggol by 2021. The town hub is expected to have a library and a hawker centre. Coming up next year is a polyclinic. If they have their way, a regional sports hub will also make its way to Punggol.
As a new town that is growing and developing, not all the facilities that residents need may be available at one go, Ms Sun said, adding however that there is an opportunity to work with residents to understand their needs and to work with the agencies to translate those needs into solutions.
“There is a lot happening in Punggol. There is always construction ongoing and many plans are in the works. I believe that residents who live in Punggol can see and feel the change that is happening around them.”