No lack of space for 10 million population

By Ku Swee Yong / Century 21 | May 16, 2016 9:56 AM SGT
“Land scarcity is a very real problem for Singapore, which explains the ever-increasing land costs and property prices which are driven by pent-up demand.” — SGPropertyReviews.com,
Jan 11, 2014
Singaporeans have been brought up to accept statements like this as a gospel truth. Many do not even question the meaning of scarcity and without looking at the growth of the nation, do not realise that Singapore’s land size has increased by 100 square kilometers in the last 35 years. Add to that the advances in space planning, improved transport systems, enhanced construction capabilities leading to a much higher population density and “Voila!”, we have 5.54 million people today.
Traffic travels along the Tampines Expressway past public buildings in Punggol (right), while a man enters his home in Sengkang, where the number of flats under HDB management are projected to increase to 92,000 from the current 59,497
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The brief statistics are, in the 35-year period between 1980 and 2015, our population grew 129% from 2.41 million to 5.54 million, made possible by a 16% increase in land size from 617.9 sqkm to 719.1 sqkm and a 97% increase in population density from 3,907 people per sqkm to 7,697 people per sqkm.
Table 1: Singapore’s land size grew by 100 sqkm while her population grew by 3.1 million over the 35-year period from 1980 to 2015.
Year
Population
Land size
Population density (per sq km)
1980*
2,413,945
617.9
3,907
1985
2,735,957
620.5
4,409
1990*
3,047,132
633.0
4,814
1995
3,524,506
647.5
5,443
2000*
4,027,887
682.7
5,900
2005
4,265,762
696.9
6,121
2010*
5,076,732
710.4
7,146
2015
5,535,002
719.1
7,697

Notes:

* Census of population

Prior to 2003, data are based on Singapore’s land area as at end-December. From 2003 onwards, data are based on Singapore’s land area as at end-June.

Data on population from 2003 onwards exclude residents who have been away from Singapore for a continuous period of 12 months or longer as at the reference period.

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Source: SingStat, Century 21 (IPA)

Even though land reclamation allowed us to increase our land mass, there are many amongst us who do not feel that there is ever enough, and continue to insist that 719.1 sqkm of land is considered scarce.
Scarcity or otherwise, let us at least recognize that we have carried a misconception for several generations: the phrase “land is scarce” does not equate to “space is scarce”. We have been stacking more and more people on top of one another and packing people closer together to create higher and higher population density.
Technology has improved. Our capabilities have improved. Lifestyles have changed. Today we are better able to accommodate higher population densities because of better construction standards, better space planning, better transport systems and we have flexible working hours with many knowledge workers working longer hours in cafes and from homes.
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--thisisapagebreak
For those who have not been putting the various pieces of the Master Plan together, we present a summary of various pieces of “work in progress” in the real estate front that will allow Singapore to accommodate a 10 million population from around the year 2050. We also make the bold assumption that the Transport and Health authorities are expanding their capacity to match the population increase.
One more somewhat audacious assumption on the back of our low birthrates: Singapore’s environments and economy will remain sufficiently attractive such that there is a constant stream of population inflow to sustain a population growth to 10 million people.
Based on scattered bits of public information announced over the past few years and gluing them together with our assumptions, the sections below will reveal to us how the residential landscape can evolve to house our growing population.
Existing HDB towns – 535,144 more units in the pipeline
Table 2 provides us with a glimpse of the long term dwelling plans undertaken by the Housing & Development Board (HDB). For 23 of the HDB towns, their total land area and the total number of flats currently being managed by HDB. The projected maximum number of dwelling units, which includes HDB flats and future government land sales for private residences, are also listed. Do note that the projected ultimate number does not include residences that will be built on private land, or enbloc redevelopments of apartments on state land.
Table 2: HDB towns and their projected target of dwelling units.
HDB towns
Land size (Ha)
Flats under HDB management
Projected ultimate number of units
Ang Mo Kio
638
49,169
58,000
Bedok
937
60,115
79,000
Bishan
690
19,664
34,000
Bukit Batok
785
32,275
53,000
Bukit Merah
858
51,885
68,000
Bukit Panjang
489
34,463
44,000
Choa Chu Kang
583
42,393
62,000
Clementi
412
25,480
39,000
Geylang
678
29,256
49,000
Hougang
1,309
51,646
72,000
Jurong East
384
23,379
30,000
Jurong West
987
71,755
94,000
Kallang/Whampoa
799
35,740
57,000
Pasir Ris
601
29,207
44,000
Punggol
957
35,515
96,000
Queenstown
694
30,546
60,000
Sembawang
708
20,311
65,000
Sengkang
1,055
59,497
92,000
Serangoon
737
21,293
30,000
Tampines
1,200
66,599
110,000
Toa Payoh
556
36,439
61,000
Woodlands
1,198
62,675
98,000
Yishun
778
56,698
84,000
Other Estates
-
22,856
25,000
Total
968,856
1,504,000
To be built
535,144

Note:

“Toa Payoh” town includes Bidadari

“Other Estates” include Bukit Timah, Central Area and Marine Parade

Land size includes private developments on private and state land.

Projected ultimate figures include private developments under Government Land Sales Programme.

Source: HDB “Key Statistics – HDB Annual Report 2014/15”, Century 21 (IPA)

From the differences in the totals, we see that sufficient land has been set aside to build another 535,144 dwelling units in the next decade and beyond. However, these units reside purely within HDB towns and various large private residential estates such as Bukit Timah, Newton-Novena, Tanglin and the Downtown Core have not been included.
New residential precincts – an additional 534,000 units?
In the past 10 years, announcements have been made regarding new residential precincts such as Woodlands North Coast, Jurong Lake District, Tampines North and Bidadari. The additional housing capacity planned in these new precincts have been included in the projected ultimate numbers listed under the HDB towns of Woodlands, Jurong East, Tampines and Toa Payoh in Table 2.
In addition, there are four more new residential precincts that are being planned.
The operations in Paya Lebar Air Base will cease from 2030 onwards and we may expect the first HDB flats to begin construction perhaps two years later. The advantage this brings to the immediate neighbourhoods such as Hougang and Aljunied is that height restrictions may be lifted and plot ratios increased significantly.
--thisisapagebreak
Fancy being a resident of Pulau Brani? The Greater Southern Waterfront will begin its transformation from 2027, when the City Terminals start to relocate to Tuas, followed by the Pasir Panjang Terminal around year 2030.
Tengah could be named as a new HDB town when details of its plans are revealed. This precinct has been set aside in the master plans for some time now and with the recently announced plans to develop the new Jurong Innovation District, plans for the Tengah new town could be accelerated.
The overall plans for Marina South Residential District was crystallised starting from a design competition held in 2007. Plot ratios assigned to the residential blocks at “Gardenfront Residences” are relatively high at between 4.9 and 5.6, allowing the lucky residents to have a clear view over the Sky Trees in Gardens By The Bay.
Table 3: Estimates of total dwellings to be built in four new residential precincts as announced in URA Master Plan 2008 and 2014
New residential precincts
Land size (Ha)
Estimated housing units
Estimated start date
Paya Lebar Air Base
800
120,000
2032
Greater Southern Waterfront
1,000
150,000
2030
Tengah
700
55,000
2017
Marina South
60
9,000
2018
Others
n.a.
200,000
2050?

Note: The estimate for the 9,000 housing units in Marina South is stated on the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s website and the other estimates are based on the author’s estimates based on various sources.

Source: URA, Century 21 (IPA)

Increasing plot ratio, improving space planning
Intensifying land use and increasing population density are made possible through several elements. Plot ratios across the country can be increased due to better planning and integration with public transportation and changing lifestyles. Example can be seen from the rebuilding of old estates such as Commonwealth, Tanglin and Dawson where old 10-storey blocks with open-air carparks were demolished and replaced with new 40-storey blocks that are built closer and integrated with amenities such as carparks, clinics, supermarkets and community facilities to boot.
In private housing, apartment sizes are shrinking, especially when the increase in single person households support the proliferation of shoebox units. The smaller average size of apartments has led to an increase of about 20% more residential units than what is planned for each government land parcel sold.
Looking forward
The current total stock of residential units exceeds 1.3 million and together with alternative accommodation types such as dormitories and serviced apartments, Singapore can comfortably house 5.54 million people. Based on the tabulations in the sections above, I believe that Singapore has sufficient capacity to add 1.1 million more housing units without further reclamation of land. We can then comfortably welcome another 4.5 million people.
Someone recently said that “with inflation, the rising cost of living and land scarcity, property prices will continually rise in Singapore over time, which makes property a great investment.” I think he will be correct, provided we can continue to keep the population growing.
Ku Swee Yong is a licensed real estate agent and the CEO of Century 21 Singapore. He recently published his fourth book “Weathering a Property Downturn”.
This article appeared in The Edge Property Pullout, Issue 727 (May 9, 2016) of The Edge Singapore.