S’pore has room for 7.5m people: Ex-HDB chief

Dear Mr Liu Thai Ker,

I refer to the 9 Sept 2010 Today’s report of your comments at a Centre for Liveable Cities lecture.

You said since we planned for 5.5 million people, increasing the figure by 10% to 6 million will not make a huge difference. But that is an increase of 500,000 people. Considering that the HDB can only build 22,000 flats this year despite its best efforts, 500,000 is a huge difference.

Furthermore, 5.5 million was the long term planning figure in 2001, supposedly reached in 40 to 50 years. But in less than ten years, we have already reached 5.1 million. At the rate things are going, what was supposed to take 40 to 50 years will be reached in less than 15 years. That is a huge difference in terms of the time frame with which we are pushing towards those limits and it is causing a severe strain on our resources. We are simply not building enough housing and MRT infrastructure fast enough to accommodate such a rapid influx of new people.

You said we can grow to 7.5 million without deterioration to the environment as we have Pulau Ubin and Pulau Tekong to fall back on. But Pulau Ubin and Pulau Tekong are some of our last rural vestiges. To develop them would be to destroy them which will result in the deterioration of our natural environment. Furthermore, to develop these two islands into housing estates on par with the rest of the main island would require huge investments in road, rail, power, water and sewage links. We have to ask ourselves whether these are worthwhile investments in our blind pursuit of GDP numbers that has tended to jack up the cost of living a lot more than it has increased our salaries. This has in turn led to the deterioration in the quality of our lives both physically and monetarily.

You said Singapore is the only success story of urbanisation in the 20th century. How is that so? High rise living to accommodate high population density is a common solution to a common problem in many cities.

You said that we have thirty golf courses and that with good planning, we can have the cake and eat it. But many of the golf courses were carved out from nature plots that destroyed much of the nature that had resided on them originally. Thus, while it may seem like we can have the cake and eat it, in truth, we can’t. For each cake that we eat will no longer be available for other use and purposes.

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