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Plan for 10 million population: former HDB chief

Liu Thai Ker 1

In remarks which will surely raise howls of protest from the public, the former chief executive officer of the Housing and Development Board (HDB) has suggested that Singapore plan for a population of 10 million, instead of the 6.9 million mentioned in the population White Paper released in 2013.

Mr Liu Thai Ker, who was HDB CEO from 1969 to 1989 and oversaw some half a million flats built during his tenure, said the 6.9 million figure was “an interim figure and projection and obviously Singapore is going to grow beyond that.”

Mr Liu was speaking at the “Building a Nation: Tomorrow, Challenges and Possibilities for a Liveable Singapore” seminar on Thursday.

“The question is: How long do you want Singapore to exist as a sovereign state?”, Mr Liu asked. “Certainly beyond 2030, so we should plan for the longer term and for this 10 million figure as we cannot curb population growth after 2030.”

According to the Business Times:

“Mr Liu explained that it was necessary for Singapore to plan for the longer term than for the 17 years it had planned for in the White Paper. He suggested that even though Singapore has a lot of land to be reclaimed and there is a lot of land set aside for industrial purposes that can be converted for other use, it is still better to plan for the long term so that there is a better estimate of the amount of land that is required.”

“So if we need to reclaim more land from the sea,” Mr Liu was reported to have said, “we can plan for it and do so.”

While Mr Liu acknowledged that Singaporeans may be uncomfortable with a much larger population – 10 million would be double the existing size of the population –  Mr Liu said it was better for Singapore to plan for a larger population so that any necessary adjustment in future would be smoother.

“If you look at from 1960 till now,” he said, “Singapore’s land density has tripled but even with that, we have built a good environment through more skills and knowledge. So if we can do it then, Singaporeans should believe that we now have the ability to solve these problems and that we will have a good environment even though population density may increase.”

This is the first time that a 10 million population figure has been suggested.

In 2012, Singapore former chief statistician, Paul Cheung, suggested that Singapore planned for a 8 million population.

“We must always plan for the upper limit,” Dr Cheung said then. “We have to be creative and have in mind urban infrastructure for a much larger population.”

In October 2012, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Singapore could accommodate a population size of “6 million or so” people.

However, former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, said in 2008 that he is “not quite sold” on a larger population of 6.5 million.

He projected an “optimum population size of five to 5.5 million for Singapore.”

“I think there’s an optimum size for the land that we have,” Mr Lee said then, “to preserve the open spaces and the sense of comfort.”

The issue of population has been a lightning rod since the Government revealed its “planning scenario” of a 6.9 million population.

Singaporeans have been up in arms and several protests have been held against a larger population, especially doing so through the influx of more foreigners which currently number some 2 million out  of a population of 5.4 million.

Mr Liu’s remarks about Singapore having to plan for a 10 million population will no doubt fuel the debate once again.