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Singapore should plan for population of 10m

Planning long term gives a better estimate of land needed: Liu Thai Ker

[SINGAPORE] The Republic should plan for a population of 10 million in the long term if it is to remain sustainable as a country, says the man known widely as the architect of modern Singapore. According to Liu Thai Ker, Singapore should not stop its population growth projection at the figure of 6.9 million listed in the 2013 White Paper on Population.

"That is an interim figure and projection and obviously Singapore is going to grow beyond that," he said yesterday at a seminar, "Building a Nation: Tomorrow, Challenges and Possibilities for a Liveable Singapore".

As architect-planner and CEO of the Housing Development Board from 1969 to 1989, Mr Liu oversaw the completion of over half a million public housing units, and as CEO and chief planner of the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) from 1989 to 1992, he spearheaded the major revision of the Singapore Concept Plan and key direction for heritage conservation.

"The question is: How long do you want Singapore to exist as a sovereign state? 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."

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, we can plan for it and do so."

Conversely, Mr Liu argued that shorter-term population planning would result in higher density as each time the population projection is made, the government may increase land density as it does not have a longer-term view of the amount of land that may be needed and that it has available. "Overall, this results in Singapore's land density increasing."

Mr Liu told BT that the 10 million figure was projected on how much Singapore could grow long term for the next 80-150 years at a population growth rate of less than one per cent each year. He said that if the growth rate were based on the upper limit of the projection of the 2013 White Paper, at 6.9 million, then Singapore could reach a population of 10 million by 2090. If however, it is based on the lower limit of 6.5 million then we may reach 10 million by 2200.

The director of RSP Architects & Engineers since 1992 and the founding chairman of the Centre for Liveable Cities said that, over time, Singapore's growth rate could contract with education, technology and productivity gains as is the case of the Scandinavian countries, which are small like Singapore, but still managed to achieve economic growth with a population growth of less than one per cent per year.

But this will take time, he added, as Singapore was not as mature as those economies and therefore still needed immigration to grow its population.

Even though he acknowledged that Singaporeans may be uncomfortable with the thought of the country ever having a population of 10 million, Mr Liu believes that it is better for the country to anticipate this and to plan for it so that the adjustment can be smoother.

"If you look at from 1960 till now, 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."

Chew Hock Yong, CEO of the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and a panellist at the seminar, noted that while this projection of 10 million is Mr Liu's personal view, it will guarantee a critical mass for Singapore to thrive economically and in other areas. However, he admitted that there is a consideration of the human dimension and whether Singaporeans would be able to adjust to having twice the number of people and what kind of city-state they would like to live in. The seminar was organised by The Business Times in collaboration with Singapore Institute of Building Limited. It was supported by Hitachi and co-hosted by InterContinental Singapore.