Govt will now build infrastructure well ahead of demand, he says
The Straits Times - February 7, 2013
THE Government has made a major shift in the way it provides housing and public transport infrastructure - it will now invest and build well ahead of demand.
Complaints about overcrowding, congestion and the long wait for a Housing Board flat prompted the switch, which National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan described as "a major shift in planning and development strategy".
"We will do our best not to allow population to surge ahead of our infrastructure again," he told Parliament yesterday. "What we must do is to build infrastructure ahead of demand and where possible, we must also build in a buffer so that we can respond to unexpected developments and needs."
He said the Government had learnt "a valuable lesson" from the current problems.
"The congestion we experience today is real... We are not happy with the status quo. We are resolute in addressing these concerns... But we must also learn from this and be clear about the need to plan and build ahead of demand so that we will not be caught again with another infrastructure crunch like this one."
He was speaking on Day Three of the debate on the Population White Paper, which has drawn strong reaction for its projection of a population of 6.5 million to 6.9 million in 2030. That prospect has been criticised by the public as well as Members of Parliament.
"Many MPs have conveyed their strong sentiments. Singaporeans are upset. We know," said Mr Khaw. "Then why are we moving such an unpopular debate? Indeed, why is the Government, well aware that Singaporeans are already upset with overcrowding, still insisting on planning for a larger population?"
He pointed to the reasons given by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who explained on Monday that Singapore was heading for a crisis given its rapidly ageing population and shrinking labour force.
Mr Khaw said that having been caught wrong-footed, with an infrastructure mismatch that has been painful for Singaporeans and planners alike, the Government was now planning on a "stretched scenario of 6.9 million".
"We hope never to reach this level. However, for long-term planning, it is safer to prepare enough land and infrastructure for a larger number."
Focusing mainly on housing, his message to Singaporeans was: Don't worry. He said there will be more than enough HDB flats for everyone, prices will stay affordable, waiting times will be cut, and the quality of life preserved.
His ramped up public housing programme will add about 200,000 new homes within the next four years, with more beyond that, and building all these new homes would need more construction workers.
Taking a swipe at the Workers' Party's alternative road map, he said he was shocked by its recommendation to freeze the number of foreign workers if the local workforce can be grown.
"My housing plan will be badly affected! I will not be able to deliver the new flats as promised to 200,000 families," he said.
Urging the opposition party to rethink, he said its plan would seriously disrupt his efforts to stabilise the housing market.
Acknowledging anxiety over HDB flat prices, including resale prices, he outlined efforts to keep flats affordable and cool the market. "We are determined to tame the property market, especially the HDB resale market. We think the recent cooling measures will make an impact. If necessary, we will do more."
Mr Khaw also assured Singaporeans that the quality of life would not suffer in a more crowded Singapore. He was confident that the opposite would be achieved, with plans for parks, nature reserves, well designed neighbourhoods in new estates all helping to ensure liveability here.
Among those who spoke yesterday was former national development minister Mah Bow Tan, who called the White Paper "the most important document regarding our future since Independence".
Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong praised Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for raising the population issue for discussion now instead of leaving it for his successor to deal with.
"Singapore has succeeded only because of the courage of our leaders and people to face challenges squarely, and because of our will to succeed and our ability to work together to overcome issues of survival," he said.
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