Kranji Industrial Estate and its Little Enclave of Eateries and Shophouses

Tucked at the corner of Kranji Industrial Estate is this little cluster of shophouses and eateries that has been present since the late eighties.

In the late sixties, shortly after independence, Singapore focused on developing industrial estates at different designated parts of the island. For Kranji, it underwent reclamation between 1965 and 1970, after which the Jurong Town Corporation (JTC) established the Kranji Industrial Estate. Kranji, along with the neighbouring Sungei Kadut, was positioned to become Singapore’s manufacturing centre for wood products.

Dozens of sawmills, woodworking and timber factories were set up. They played important roles in Singapore’s early exports of wood products to the United States and Europe, as well as supporting the local industries in the making of furniture, wooden cases and small boats. The timber and wood products, along with rubber, textile and petroleum products, became the top channels of revenues for Singapore in the late sixties and early seventies.

One of the pioneering foreign companies at Kranji Industrial Estate was Bork from Denmark, which set up a $2.5 million factory in 1970 to produce and export high quality sliced veneers (woods that are sawed parallel to the logs’ cut lines) to Europe. Bork Singapore was later acquired by Inchcape Berhad in 1984 for $12 million.

By 1972, almost 270 acres (about 4,000 square metres) of land at Kranji Industrial Estate were allocated to 25 sawmilling and woodworking factories.

To supply water to the new Kranji and Sungei Kadut Industrial Estates, the Kranji/Pandan Water Scheme was implemented in 1972. A dam was constructed across the mouth of Sungei Kranji to convert the body of water into an impounding reservoir. Kranji Dam and Kranji Reservoir were completed in 1975 at a total cost of $75 million.

In 1978, a $1.4-million 53m-long concrete bridge was built across the small river of Sungei Pang Sua. With the bridge, Kranji Industrial Estate became linked to the western parts of Singapore, where drivers, motorcyclists and cyclists could travel between Kranji/Sungei Kadut and Lim Chu Kang via the bridge and Kranji Dam.

Kranji Industrial Estate’s cluster of eateries and shops not only supplied the necessary provisions to the growing working population at Kranji, but also became another choice of meals and drinks, other than the hawker centre at Neo Tiew Estate (closed in 2002), for the residents and workers at Lim Chu Kang, Neo Tiew and Ama Keng. It also acted as a stopover for short breaks for those travelling to Lim Chu Kang. As Kranji’s light industrial estate boomed in the eighties and nineties, the eateries and shops enjoyed brisk businesses from the crowds.

Do you know Kranji has the least magnetic interference of all places in Singapore? This was the reason Japanese compass manufacturer Nunotani Nautical Instruments chose to set up a factory and testing centre at Kranji Industrial Estate in 1981 for the production of magnetic compasses and nautical instruments.

Kranji’s status as the top wood-based industry in Singapore probably peaked in the mid-eighties. Singapore, by 1984, had a veneer mill, six plywood mills, seven laminated plywood mills, 36 sawmills, three particle-board and woodchip manufacturers, two wooden pallet manufacturers, four timber preservation plants and 27 kiln-drying plants; most of these mills and plants were located at the Kranji Industrial Estate. The entire timber industry employed 14,000 workers, and raked in a total of $964 million in exports in the previous year of 1983.

However, the industry faced a decline after that, and many sawmills were left idle. The Trade Development Board (TDB) was tasked to improve and upgrade the industry through trade missions, fairs, seminars and courses. TDB was formed in 1983 after the merger between the Department of Trade and Timber Industry Board. It was restructured into the International Enterprise Singapore (IE Singapore) in 2002.

Kranji’s industries were diversified when JTC built an engineering centre in 1986 for the repair of heavy vehicles. The $3.8-million centre, made up of 30 workshops, also aimed to ease the traffic congestions along Woodlands Road, which were largely caused by the unauthorised truck and lorry repair kiosks that the authority wanted to remove and relocate.

More than half a century later, the Kranji industrial area is looking at another big change in its history. The vicinity is expected to be part of the new Sungei Kadut Eco-District in the near future. This was unveiled in the masterplan exhibition at the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) Centre held in 2020. The new Sungei Kadut Eco-District shall consist of Sungei Kadut North (including the current Kranji Industrial Estate), Agri-Food Innovation Park, Sungei Kadut Central and Sungei Kadut South.

With the leases of the tenants at Kranji Industrial Estate expiring in 2025, many have already moved out. At this little corner of shophouses and eating houses, many, too, have shut down and vacated their units. The once-busy enclave has now become an almost dead town, awaiting their eventual fate of demolition.

Beside the shophouses and eateries is the Chek Chai Long Chuen Temple (七寨龙泉庙). The humble Chinese temple is the merger of Chee Chea Temple (七寨庙) and Long Chuen Temple (龙泉庙), two old temples that previously existed in the older days of undeveloped Kranji and Sungei Kadut.

Chee Chea Temple was established before the Second World War at Woodlands Road 12½ milestone, where it was a popular temple among the villagers living at Kranji, Sungei Kadut and Lim Chu Kang. Long Chuen Temple was founded in 1943 at Kranji Village. Both temples had been active in using the donations from their devotees to sponsor schools and community centres in the Kranji and Lim Chu Kang areas.

The two old temples’ sites were acquired during the development of the new industrial estates. After they agreed to merge as one united temple, the new Chek Chai Long Chuen Temple was granted a site at Kranji Loop and was officially opened on 29 October 1986. Now almost 40 years later, the temple may have to move yet again by another redevelopment project.

Published: 29 May 2022

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3 Responses to Kranji Industrial Estate and its Little Enclave of Eateries and Shophouses

  1. Jan says:

    Thanks for documenting this before it’s history!

  2. Jensonslog says:

    Very informative post, thanks for this.

  3. Al says:

    It’s also been a popular rest stop for weekend cyclists for many years. Going through Sungei Kadut these days is an eerie experience, with decaying industrial structures together with going concerns. There’s a lot of character in the industrial area which will soon be wiped out.

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