New developments in history-rich Sembawang share space with nature

/ EdgeProp Singapore |
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SINGAPORE (EDGEPROP) - Sembawang is the northernmost planning area in Singapore, and tends to get overlooked by locals, given its status as a non-mature residential estate. But efforts to revitalise the area are shining the spotlight on this verdant corner of Singapore, while the recent development of the Canberra residential estate is injecting new life into it. (See also: UOL to preview Watergardens at Canberra on July 17; prices start from $1,380 psf)
Like most parts of Singapore island that were not settled in and urbanised by the British in the 19th century, the area we now know as Sembawang was mostly plantation land. According to HDB, the area is named after the pokok sembawang — a Southeast Asian riverine species of tree that grew in the area. These trees can still be found in Sembawang Park.

Naval heritage

The first mention of the area appears in the Raffles Town Plan, an urban development map drawn up in 1822, and by the early 20th century, the area was the site of the Nee Soon Rubber Estate. The opening of the Singapore Naval Base by the British in 1983 gradually led to further urban development around Sembawang. In 1968, it was converted into a commercial dockyard now known as Sembawang Shipyard.
Echoes of the area’s nautical past can still be found throughout the area. Most of the major roads in Sembawang are named after various dockyards and warships. It is a lasting reminder of the impact the former British naval base on the area.
untouched nature and green spaces - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
Canberra is a unique neighbourhood in Singapore, given its proximity to untouched nature and green spaces. (Picture: Samuel Isaac Chua/The Edge Singapore)
The most prominent roads are Admiralty Road West and Admiralty Road East, which are named after a large floating drydock, while roads such as Canberra Link, Wellington Circle, Montreal Drive, Queens’ Avenue, Gibraltar Crescent and Cyprus Road reflect Singapore’s historical connection to the rest of the British Commonwealth.

The north’s nature gifts

Extensive land reclamation throughout Singapore over the years has left Sembawang with one of the last natural beaches in the country — the Wak Hassan Beach at Sembawang Park.
Although most of the marshland and primary forests that used to cover the area have been removed to make way for the shipyard and residential developments, this northern region of Singapore is still connected to a significant portion of relatively untouched nature.
In particular, the Sembawang Springs and Sembawang East planning subzones that make up the relatively new Canberra estate have only recently seen new developments. Thus, the region around Canberra borders the protected Mandai catchment area and the Simpang planning area, which is still a reserve site.
One of the largest untouched nature parks in Singapore is the Khatib Bongsu Nature Park, which stretches from the mouth of Lower Seletar Reservoir along the north coast of Singapore to Sungei Simpang Kiri in Sembawang.
Khatib Bongsu Nature Park - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
The Khatib Bongsu Nature Park is a nature maze of mangrove creeks, and a popular spot for kayakers. (Picture: Samuel Isaac Chua/The Edge Singapore)
This inaccessible pocket of mangrove swamp and forest is a natural maze of waterways and lagoons. But this alluring part of the nature reserve has also made it a popular destination for recreational kayakers who are keen to rediscover the canopied creeks and rich mangrove habitat.
Proximity to pockets of greenery and lush vegetation makes the Canberra area one of the unique neighbourhoods in Singapore — one that is still relatively free of the dense urbanisation prevalent throughout other mature housing estates.
One of the most popular parks close to Canberra is the Sembawang Hot Spring Park located off Gambas Avenue. The natural hot spring was spruced up and reopened in January 2020. It features new cascading pools and a water collection point with enhanced accessibility and educational panels for visitors to learn about the area’s history and geology.
Sembawang Hot Spring Park - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
A refreshed Sembawang Hot Spring Park enhances the area’s connection and appreciation of nature. (Picture: Samuel Isaac Chua/The Edge Singapore)
The constructed rustic environment tries to mimic what a kampong environment could have looked like in the 1960s. This includes fruit trees, edible plants and flowers, as well as naturalised streams that flow from the hot spring that mimics a freshwater swamp landscape.

Heritage places

Besides its verdant natural attractions, the area around Canberra shares many historical links with the neighbouring Yishun estate. During the colonial era, many gambier and pepper plantations started around the Seletar River in Yishun before extending northward towards Sungei Sembawang.
The oldest neighbourhood centre in Yishun is Chong Pang City. It was named after a Chinese pioneer and businessman, Lim Chong Pang, and there used to be a village near Sembawang MRT Station called Chong Pang Village.
Chong Pang City was one of the first neighbourhood centres in Yishun New Town when it opened in 1984. Most of the original shopkeepers were former residents of nearby displaced villages, and they formed the Chong Pang City Merchant and Hawker’s Association.
A distinctive landmark of Chong Pang City is the two Chinese-style gateways that can be found at the two entrances to the marketplace, near Block 105 and Block 104, Yishun Ring Road.
One of the Chinese-style gateways at the entrance to Chong Pang City. (Picture: Samuel Isaac Chua/The Edge Singapore)
The settlement of a British naval presence in Sembawang also added to the architectural heritage of the northern region, particularly the “black and white” colonial era bungalows that were built by the British from the 1920s to the 1930s. Most of these bungalows are located off Sembawang Road, on roads named after Commonwealth names, places and countries. These include Canberra Link, Wellington Circle, Montreal Drive, Queen’s Avenue, Gibraltar Crescent and Cyprus Road.
These bungalows housed Commonwealth personnel working at the Naval Base and other nearby military installations at the time. The bungalows in Sembawang and Canberra also constitute the bulk of the bungalows built during the last phase of the “black and white” architectural style that flourished in colonial Singapore from the 1900s to the 1930s.

Canberra new town

Over the past few years, Canberra has been the focus of new public and private residential developments, spurred by the completion of the Canberra MRT Station in 2019. The addition of the new station between Sembawang and Yishun MRT Stations opened up development plans for a new housing estate in Canberra.
The completion of the Canberra MRT Station in 2019 spurred the development of more residential projects, both public and private. (Picture: Samuel Isaac Chua/The Edge Singapore)
The neighbourhood is anchored by new public amenities to serve the growing population. For example, Canberra Plaza is a neighbourhood centre built by HDB that is also linked to Canberra MRT Station. The development has three commercial floors with a supermarket and a food court, as well as a sheltered ground floor area for community activities and events.
Several new Build-To-Order HDB developments have already been launched and completed, as well as two executive condos — The Visionaire and The Brownstone. (See: Find HDB flats for rent or sale with our Singapore HDB directory)
Canberra Plaza, completed in 2020, is an important neighbourhood centre for Canberra residents, facilitating community events, amenities and transport links. (Picture: Samuel Isaac Chua/The Edge Singapore)
But the first private residential development to preview in the area is The Watergardens at Canberra, a 448-unit condo development on Canberra Drive. The project is a joint venture (JV) between UOL Group, Singapore Land and Kheng Leong Co. The JV was awarded the Government Land Sale site in March last year after submitting a top bid of $270.2 million ($650 psf per plot ratio).
In July, the developers previewed the development with the intent of launching the project by the end of the month, but the launch was postponed, in view of the return to Phase Two (Heighened Alert).
The Watergardens at Canberra, a 448-unit condo development on Canberra Drive by UOL Group and its consortium partners, is expected to open for preview after Aug 18. (Picture: Samuel Isaac Chua/The Edge Singapore)
However, the entrance of The Watergardens at Canberra into the nascent residential Canberra market is a sign that home buyers and developers are keen to tap into the growth potential of the area. At the time of its preview, the developers had priced The Watergardens at Canberra to start from about $1,382 psf.

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