Singapore’s approach to land use and conservation is “quite different” as a city-state that needs to balance the demands and trade-offs of between different needs such as housing, offices, community facilities and green spaces, said Minister for National Development Desmond Lee on Monday (1 February).
Responding to questions on the Government’s approach to conservation sparked by the recent public outcry to conserve Clementi Forest and Dover Forest after it was revealed that the two green spaces had been zoned for residential development.
Mr Lee spoke at length about the various factors that land-scarce Singapore takes into consideration in development planning which has to cater everything from residential areas to as airports and seaports, air bases and military training ground, reservoirs, incineration and power plants, agriculture and more.
He said, “We’ve always taken a long-term view towards land use planning, with stewardship and sustainability as core long-held principles.”
“Given our small size we have been and have to be judicious in stewarding our scarce land resources to support Singapore’s development as well as in our aspiration to be in a city to be a City in Nature,” said the Minister, adding also that the nation’s land use needs have evolved over the years and will continue to do so.
Mr Lee then used the example of public housing to illustrate this evolution.
“Today, we continue to see a high demand for new HDB (Housing and Development Board) flats. In 2020, the overall application rate for BTO [Built-to-Order] flats was 5.8 times. This means that for each BTO flat, we broadly get between five and six Singaporean applicants,” he said.
The minister cited marriage and family formation as the driving factor behind this increase, adding that the government expects a higher demand for BTO flats from the “echo baby boomer” cohort born in the late 80s and 90s.
Mr Lee went on, “We built an average of 16.200 new HDB flats each year over the same period to cater to BTO demand by all buyer groups and not just newlyweds,” adding that the demand for public housing is also driven by the growing trend of smaller households.
After all that, Mr Lee went on to assure members of the House that the MND is “committed to stewarding and protecting” the country’s green spaces. Even so, he stressed the need for further development of green spaces.
“But given our physical constraints and scarce land area, there will be some greenfield sites that we might have to develop to meet our land use needs,” he said.
Though he also reiterated what he had said last week that “any decision to proceed [with development of greenfield sites] is made only after detailed study of the trade-offs and alternatives including the assessment of ecological and biodiversity value.”
Where development cannot be avoided, “we proceed we care,” he added.
Touching specifically on the Clementi Forest, Mr Lee repeated his statement in Parliament in January when he said that the land was rezoned as residential “subject to detailed planning 23 years ago since the Master Plan 1998”.
He added, “While there is no immediate need to develop the site for housing, We will retain the zoning of the site for now.”
“This will give our future generations the options of deciding whether to use it for housing as intended by Generations gone by or to review its land use if the need arises.”
The same goes for Dover Forest—also known as Ulu Pandan by the HDB—which was rezoned as “residential” in the 2003 Master Plan, also subject to detailed planning.