Did HDB CEO suggest Singapore’s population may rise to 10 million instead of 6.9 million projected by White Paper?

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A letter writer to The Straits Times expressed alarm at the population figures presented by Housing & Development Board (HDB) chief executive Dr Cheong Koon Hean. In her IPS-Nathan lecture, Dr Cheong said that Singapore’s population density would increase from 11,000 people per sq km to 13,700 people per sq km between now and 2030.

The letter writer, Cheang Peng Wah, pointed to Singapore’s land area which is 720 sq km and expressed his unease that the Singapore’s population size could go up to 9,864,000, or nearly 10 million, by 2030 given the chief executive’s projection.

Highlighting that this was not the figure forecast in the Population White Paper of 2013, which projected a population of 6.9 million by 2030, Cheang asked the authorities to explain this new figure on population density and “assure Singaporeans that everything is being planned to prepare for such an eventuality.”

Interestingly, in 2013, the Ministry of National Development announced that Singapore will grow its land area by 5,200 ha – or the size of nine Ang Mo Kio towns – by 2030 to cater to the 6.5 million to 6.9 million Singapore will house then.

Singapore will grow its land area by land reclamation, the usage of vacant reserve land, redevelopment of industrial, military, or recreational use such as land at Pulau Tekong, Tuas Port, Jurong Island, some golf courses and old industrial areas. The Ministry projected that these works will grow Singapore’s total land area from about 71,400 ha in 2013 to up to 76,600 ha by 2030.

If Dr Cheong’s alleged calculations that Singapore’s population density would increase from 11,000 people per sq km to 13,700 people per sq km between now and 2030 is true, then Singapore may see a population of up to 10,494,200 or almost 10.5 million in 2030.

Not the first planner to suggest 10 million population

Dr Cheong is not the first planner to suggest a 10 million population for Singapore. Dr Liu Thai Ker, former chief executive of HDB made similar comments in 2013, at a forum organised by the Singapore Institute of Planners (SIP) and co-hosted by the National University of Singapore’s Department of Architecture, on the topic of planning for 2030.

Dr Liu said that Singapore should look beyond 2030 and plan for the year 2100, with 10 million people in it. “The world doesn’t end in 2030, and population growth doesn’t end at 6.9 million,” he said, referring to the planning parameter in the Government’s White Paper on Population.

Dr Liu argued that population growth is necessary for economic growth. He insisted that since Singapore’s land area is essentially fixed, higher density is inevitable. Dr Liu was optimistic that “high density and a better living environment are mutually compatible”. He suggested that by alternating denser and less dense areas, liveability can be preserved with adequate amenities and buffers of greenery.

One National University of Singapore (NUS) study, however, suggests that  localised residential density may not only impact property prices in Singapore, but  may also have unattended negative effects on welfare. The findings of the study said: “land use restrictions such as anti-sprawl measures that increase urban density as a by-product may have unattended negative effects on welfare.”

When the Population White Paper for 6.9 million people was released in 2013, many Singaporeans faulted the government’s population and immigration policy for the severe overcrowding in our city-state, which in turn affected the reliability of the public transportation system. The rising population was also cited as the major reason for property price escalation, suppressed wages, as well as increased competition for jobs and education.

Some academics also criticized the population plan for being “overly mechanistic, economically simplistic and astonishingly sociologically and politically naive”.

If the 6.9 million population plan drew such a sharp response from Singaporeans, it is unclear what their reaction will be if it was raised to 10 million – even if the target date is 2100.