THE GROWING NEED FOR CONNECTIVITY
According to the United Nations, 54 per cent of all people on Earth lived in urban areas in 2014, compared to just 30 per cent in 1950. The long-term projection is that 66 per cent will live in an urban setting by 2050. While all geographic regions around the world are expected to urbanise further over the coming decades, Africa and Asia are anticipated to do so at the fastest rate. As such, 64 per cent of all people in Asia are expected to be residing in urban areas by 2050. The trend is even more pronounced in Malaysia, where 80 per cent of inhabitants are projected to live in urban areas by 2030, according to the Eleventh Malaysia Plan 2016-2020 (11MP).
In part, these global trends are being driven by the emergence of new opportunities away from traditional rural settings. This is the case in Iskandar Malaysia, with its convenient location at the heart of the ASEAN community making it easily accessible from the wider Asia-Pacific region. The development of this economic corridor is generating an influx of new talent, not only from Malaysia, but also the international community, all in search of life-changing opportunities.
There is a well-established relationship between urbanisation and rising per capita income. As economic growth increases, the most efficient cities are able to attract new creativity and innovation and expedite higher levels of productivity, wealth and leading technologies. Accordingly, Iskandar Malaysia is pursuing multiple efforts to become more efficient by boosting its connectivity via the improvement of transport and digital infrastructure in an integrated and environmentally friendly manner.
Over the first ten-year period of Iskandar Malaysia, the economic region has taken shape as an emerging, dynamic metropolis. Key to its success at the halfway stage has been the development of catalytic greenfield projects and support from well-integrated multimodal, air-sea-rail-road transport logistics, and efficient information and communications technology (ICT) networks. Increasing the levels of connectivity within and between these infrastructure networks will significantly boost growth and sustainability during the second ten-year period.
The first twin lever of connectivity required to power Iskandar Malaysia’s transformation is a robust and sustainable transport infrastructure. Crucially, one of the main strengths of the economic corridor is its strategic location and ease-of-access from abroad. It is located adjacent to a prime business hub, Singapore, and benefits from integrated multimodal transport connectivity to the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, as well as other key cities in the country and across the wider region. This has facilitated the process of attracting long-term investors who are keen to enhance their trade linkages across ASEAN and around the world.
Transport infrastructure was highlighted as one of the key aspects of the national Ninth Malaysia Plan 2006-2010 (9MP) and, as such, Iskandar Malaysia received significant budget allocations to improve its intra- and inter-city transport connectivity across the economic region’s five flagship zones. As development moves into the second half of the Iskandar Malaysia initiative, ensuring new and improved transport infrastructure will become increasingly important.
Under the 9MP, the process of improving Iskandar Malaysia’s road infrastructure began. To date, this process includes a number of major highway projects that have significantly increased accessibility between several points throughout the economic corridor, with particular emphasis on improved connectivity to and from Johor Bahru. These developments are ensuring that both residents and visitors are able to enjoy a better quality of life as a result of improved traffic flow and reduction in travel times across the region.
Related to the physical integrity of the road infrastructure and the quality of life of residents, one of the goals of Iskandar Malaysia is to increase public transport usage from 15 per cent in 2005 to 40 per cent by 2025. With this target in mind, the Bas Iskandar Malaysia (BIM) bus initiative was launched in 2010, creating 26 new BIM routes. Moreover, a Bus Rapid Transit system is also envisioned that will consist of 10 lines and approximately 250 stations and stops, covering 90 per cent of transport needs for the economic region. The first phase of the project is expected to begin operations by 2020. The twofold aim of these initiatives is to improve public accessibility to transport services and, as a consequence, contribute to higher levels of social inclusion and engagement with employment and education.
One of the most notable achievements in terms of road development is the Coastal Highway, a 15-kilometre stretch of road that connects Iskandar Puteri with Johor Bahru and which reduces travel time between the two from 45 to 20 minutes. In addition, the 8.1-kilometre Eastern Dispersal Link expressway has been built to ease traffic flow between the North-South Expressway and Johor Bahru. Similarly, the construction of the Senai-Pasir Gudang-Desaru Highway links Senai Airport City in Iskandar Malaysia to Desaru in eastern Johor over a total of 77 kilometres of road, shortening the journey from two and half hours to approximately 45 minutes.
These public infrastructure developments are significantly enhancing southern Johor’s transport networks. As a result, they are also improving connectivity between Iskandar Malaysia and other cities in Peninsular Malaysia, including Kuala Lumpur, as well as to Singapore via the Johor-Singapore Causeway and the Second Link.
Seaports and Airports
To maximise the strength and future potential of its location along one of the busiest sea trade routes in the world, Iskandar Malaysia is placing considerable emphasis on upgrading its seaport infrastructure. This includes an MYR8.6 billion allocation to double the capacity of the Port of Tanjung Pelepas (PTP) to 22 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU) by 2030, in addition to the modernisation of cargo-handling and storage facilities at Johor Port.
Major upgrades have also been taking place at Senai International Airport, including runway extensions and improvements to passenger and cargo facilities. These works include the 2010 completion of the AeroMall, a standalone retail mall measuring 83,375 square feet located adjacent to the airport.
In addition to road, air and sea, rail is a critical component of Iskandar Malaysia’s ongoing development and connectivity, since it links the economic region to other destinations in Malaysia and the rest of Asia.
In order to improve its rail offering, plans are in place to begin construction of the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High-Speed Rail (HSR) in 2017. The HSR service will be a 350-kilometre network linking the two points in 90 minutes, with a transit station in Iskandar Puteri. This represents half the time it takes to travel the same distance by car. The project is due for completion by 2026.
Similarly, a Rapid Transit System (RTS) rail network has been earmarked to link Johor Bahru with Singapore over the coming years. The RTS will relieve growing levels of congestion on the two causeways that traverse the Straits of Johor and lower travel times between the two destinations as a result. The signing into force of a formal bilateral agreement to finalise the project is expected by the end of 2017.
Furthermore, plans are in place to upgrade the 71-kilometre stretch of single track that runs between PTP and Johor Port to a double track system, to accommodate cargo and passenger train services.
The second twin lever of connectivity necessary to drive Iskandar Malaysia’s growth to 2025 is the existence of a modern and innovative digital infrastructure. In response to the ever-changing landscape of the ICT environment, which demands rapid innovations in connectivity, Iskandar Malaysia has developed an Integrated Information Infrastructure (IM3i) project, the underlying focus of which is to incorporate the internet of things, mobility and big data.
IM3i is a comprehensive information infrastructure plan that maps the provision of ultra-high speed broadband through both fixed and mobile channels. As such, it will involve the establishment of a submarine cable landing station and a new data centre, as well as the laying of fiber optic cables and a 4.5G network.
The realisation of IM3i will enhance the connectivity of businesses and local communities in Iskandar Malaysia and help to facilitate economic growth. Moreover, Iskandar Malaysia as a whole will benefit from the progressive advancement of Malaysia’s national digital economy, in which, under the 11MP, the government is targeting broadband connectivity to cover 95 per cent of the country’s populated areas. Iskandar Malaysia itself has formulated a target of 100 per cent broadband penetration by 2025.
In tandem with Iskandar Malaysia’s digital connectivity aspirations, plans are in place to transform the area into a smart city as part of the wider goal to improve urban efficiency. By complementing related federal government proposals outlined under the 11MP, distinct smart city initiatives will help to accelerate the arrival of new talent and investment to Iskandar Malaysia, while simultaneously setting a new benchmark for sustainable urban development. The goal of this approach is to integrate the economic corridor’s economy, environment and distinct social aspects through the innovative use of ICT for better quality and sustainable living. Implementation of the six identified smart city dimensions will provide a distinctive edge for the smart future of Iskandar Malaysia.
THE PILLARS OF TRANSFORMATION
Iskandar Malaysia is one of the largest regional development projects in ASEAN and its progress to date has been anchored on its two broad-based plans: the Comprehensive Development Plan 2006-2025 (CDP); and Comprehensive Development Plan ii 2014-2025 (CDPii). While CDP focused on five strategic pillars, including institutional frameworks, economic growth sectors and hard and soft infrastructure aspects, CDPii prioritises five transformative interventions to further align growth with local communities. These constitute three economic interventions, including transforming Iskandar Malaysia into a regional hub for tourism, healthcare, education and logistics, and creating a centralised data centre and knowledge hub, known as Iskandar Malaysia Urban Observatory; as well as two social and environmental interventions which include prioritising inclusive wealth generation and ‘greening’ the economic region.
Consequently, its transformation since 2006 has been facilitated by this holistic planning, which incorporates both transport and digital under its focus infrastructure enablers. This approach has been fundamental to enhancing connectivity for and between all stakeholders, from local residents and business communities, to investors and government agencies.
Moving forward, the CDPii has identified five ‘Big Moves’ to help boost development to 2025. These include catalytic projects to boost the promoted sectors, enhancing physical infrastructure, such as integrating and improving Iskandar Malaysia’s ports, and helping to foster inclusive wealth generation and resource optimisation, including making the economic region a green hub. The five Big Moves are set to further consolidate its transport and digital infrastructure and thereby enhance levels of connectivity, within and beyond Iskandar Malaysia.
THE GREEN AGENDA
With ‘Greening Iskandar Malaysia’ established as one of the five Big Moves under the CDPii, focus to 2025 is on transforming the economic region into a green and low-carbon goods and services economy. Expected investment of MYR110 billion over the 20-year development period will help to realise this vision, in conjunction with its Low Carbon Society Blueprint, published in 2013.
This Blueprint envisions five core actions and is premised on active participation and consensus building between Iskandar Malaysia stakeholders in the region, including the public and private sectors, civil society and the community. These five actions form the cornerstone of the successful realisation of the economic corridor’s goal to halve carbon emissions by 2025 and create a greener, more sustainable and economically dynamic environment founded on the three pillars of the economy, community and environment. In turn, these three pillars constitute part of the key strategic building blocks that have driven Iskandar Malaysia’s transformation since its inauguration in 2006.
Transformative moves to ensure that Iskandar Malaysia becomes a physically integrated and smart metropolis are taking place. The consolidation of high levels of transport and digital connectivity, in addition to an active fostering of the green agenda, are concrete examples of how the economic region is forging an ecosystem conducive to the inclusive development of its people and economy, not only to 2025, but also beyond.
This feature was produced in collaboration with Ernst & Young Advisory Services Sdn Bhd