Posted: 06 February 2013 1748 hrs
SINGAPORE: National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan says a major shift in planning and development strategy to invest ahead of demand will ensure Singapore remains a liveable city for future generations.
He said it will be a costly strategy but the government will do its best not to allow population to surge ahead of infrastructure again.
He was speaking in Parliament on Wednesday as debate continues on the Population White Paper and Land Use Plan.
In the near term, the government has promised that there will be enough flats for all as it ramps up its housing programme and clears the backlog of first-time public housing applicants.
200,000 flats will be built over the next four years, and beyond that, another 500,000.
"If fully realised, this will increase our housing stock today at a proportion nearly double the projected population growth. This is a 'kiasu' approach, to give us plenty of buffer. We may not need to build as many units as projected but we can take comfort from our planners' assurance that we will have more than enough land to build new homes for all Singaporeans," said Mr Khaw.
Given the intensive building programme, the minister said he was shocked by the opposition Workers' Party's proposal to freeze the foreign worker population immediately and for 8 years.
"That is throwing a spanner into my building plan. I will not be able to deliver the new flats as promised to 200,000 families," said Mr Khaw.
"On behalf of these families, I ask the Workers' Party to please rethink your idea and your approach, please spare a thought for them. They are our people, fellow Singaporeans too and many of them are making plans to quickly have the keys to their homes so they can set up families and have babies. Please don't disrupt their plans."
Mr Khaw reiterated that he will continue to de-link the prices of new public Build-To-Order (BTO) flats from the resale market to keep prices stable.
He cited last week's BTO launch as an example.
"A 3-room flat in Choa Chu Kang costs an average of $160,000; a 4-room flat at $260,000; and a 5-room flat at $340,000. These prices were similar to the earlier BTO launches in Choa Chu Kang a year ago. Prices are not identical as every BTO launch is unique, with some local differences. But by and large, we have kept the BTO prices steady, even though the resale prices had risen. Similar observations can be made in other non-mature estates," said Mr Khaw.
"I will continue this pricing practice until the resale market stabilises. In addition, we have implemented several rounds of property cooling measures. 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," he added.
On concerns about the quality of life and living space, with a projected increase in population, Mr Khaw painted a picture of what the future living environment could look like.
He cited the example of Punggol South, where green, open spaces and recreational facilities are integrated into the estate.
Punggol was planned based on smaller estates that consist between 1,000 and 3,000 dwelling units. Each estate has clearly defined boundaries and a centre that includes a public green lung known as a common green.
The common green is usually located next to a school field and ranges from 0.4- to 0.7-hectare in size. It provides visual and spatial relief amidst the high-rise housing environment and allows flats to enjoy views out into this open space.
Because it is located within walking distance in the heart of each estate, the common green is also the focal point for the local community to meet and to interact.
Mr Khaw said Singapore's future will not be a concrete jungle, but Punggol "multiplied many times" and even better.
For example, improved estate layout, common spaces with air flow, landscaping and connectivity between spaces.
But Mr Khaw warned that planners cannot protect every local green area. Some are slated for development and in time the land will need to give way to other uses, he said.
"It is painful for the local residents and for us too in MND (Ministry of National Development). We seek your understanding. Overall, we will maintain about 9% of our land for parks and our nature reserves. This is highly significant for a small urbanised city," he said.
Mr Khaw added the 6.9 million projected population is a stretched scenario, and it is hoped that Singapore will never reach this level.
But the minister stressed it is safer to prepare enough land and infrastructure for a larger number.
"That is why we plan long term, anticipate problems and try to nip them in the bud. That is why we put out these two reports, because we know if our demographic challenges are not dealt with properly, our children will suffer.
"We cannot simply pretend these challenges do not exist. We cannot simply pass them to future generations to deal with. That will be irresponsible, and that is not our style," said Mr Khaw.
In the long term, new technology such as going underground is also being explored.
Mr Khaw said he is chairing an inter-ministerial committee to study and coordinate underground developments to ensure authorities can seize opportunities and create the most optimal outcome for Singaporeans.
Wrapping up his speech, he said: "This government is and will always be on the side of Singaporeans. The scenarios sketched in the Population White Paper are not blindly pro-business or pro-growth. It is you - Singaporeans - who are at the centre of our planning and policies: your well-being, your security, the quality of your lives. People first, not growth first - that is the key thread which runs consistently through the two papers (Population White Paper and the Land Use Plan.)"
The minister's speech comes on the back of concerns among Singaporeans about what the future will be like. Will it be over-crowded? Will homes be smaller? Less affordable? What will the future living environment be like? Concerns which Singapore leaders say are valid.
Mr Khaw said no one can predict the future but what the Population White Paper seeks to do is create options for future generations of Singaporeans.
Many agencies are working to create such options, said the minister.
They include reclamation of new areas and recycling of existing land for other uses.
For example, after the port facilities at Tanjong Pagar, Pulau Brani, Keppel and Pasir Panjang to Tuas are decanted, large tracts of waterfront land near the city will be freed up.
Mr Khaw said this will allow planners to create yet another growth corridor, even bigger than the Marina Bay District.
He added this will further expand the city centre and free up valuable space there for housing, offices and jobs.
"It is an exciting (option), the young people like to say, 'awesome', and it is totally within our grasp," he said.
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