Land Management and Development

Land Management and Development

One of the government's most important roles was the oversight of land use and development. This was a particularly critical issue given the country's minute size and dense population; a total land area of 636 square kilometers and a population density of 4,166 per square kilometer made Singapore one of the most densely populated countries in the world. As pressure for economic growth increased, optimization of land use became more critical.

Housing and Development Board

Central to the issue of land management was another statutory board, the Housing and Development Board, established in 1960. Between 1960 and 1985, the government-owned board completed more than 500,000 high-rise, high-density public housing apartments-- known as housing estates--along with their related facilities were completed. By comparison, the British colonial government's Singapore Improvement Trust had completed only 23,000 apartments in its thirty-two years of existence (1927-59). From 1974 to 1982, the Housing and Development Board built and marketed middle-income apartments, an activity which became a function of the board after 1982.

By 1988 the Housing Development Board was providing housing and related facilities for 88 percent of Singaporeans, or some 2.3 million people--a feat that has been called urban Singapore's equivalent of "land reform." Government encouragement of apartment ownership was both an economic and a "nation building" goal because individual ownership would ultimately pay for the program while giving citizens a "stake in Singapore." The board also provided estate management services and played an active role in promoting the advancement of construction technology. As one of the country's major domestic industries, housing construction served as an important economic pump primer.

Home owners were encouraged to use their Central Provident Fund savings to pay for the apartments. The factors determining the selling prices of apartments included location, construction cost, ability of the applicants to pay, and the practical limits to government subsidies. Resettlement policies aimed at equitable payments, minimal readjustment, and real improvement in housing conditions. In social terms, attention was paid to providing an environment conducive to community living, integrating the population, preserving the traditional Asian family structure, and encouraging upward social mobility by providing opportunities for home upgrading.

Starting with a capital expenditure of S$10 million in 1960, the Housing and Development Board's annual capital expenditures rose to about S$4 billion by 1985. The board's capital budget, with funds obtained in the form of low-interest government loans, represented 40 percent of the government's capital budget. Selling prices, rent rates, and maintenance charges were determined by the government, and the board received an annual subsidy of 1 to 2 percent of the government's main operating expenditure.

Urban Renewal Authority

In 1974 the Housing and Development Board's Urban Renewal Department was made a statutory board and named the Urban Redevelopment Authority. Responsible for slum clearance and comprehensive development of the city's Central Area, the authority was to plan, guide, and implement urban renewal. The Urban Renewal Authority drew up long-term land-use plans, which it implemented through its own development projects as well as the Sale of Sites Programme. The latter, a key instrument in the government's comprehensive redevelopment plans, represented a partnership between the public and private sectors. The public sector provided initiative, expertise, and infrastructural services; the private sector contributed financial resources and entrepreneurship to facilitate the completion of projects. Between 1967 and 1983, some 166 parcels of land were turned into 143 projects for residential, office, shopping, hotel, entertainment, and industrial developments.

Jurong Town Corporation

The primary responsibility for acquiring, developing, and managing industrial sites, however, belonged to the Jurong Town Corporation, established in 1968. The corporation provided manufacturers with their choice of industrial land sites on which to build their own factories or ready-built factories for the immediate start-up of manufacturing operations. In the 1950s, when the idea of establishing an industrial estate was first conceived, Jurong was an area of dense tropical forests and mangrove swamps on the southwestern quadrant of the island, and it was not until 1960 that the government decided to undertake the project. During the first few years, entrepreneurial response was disappointing, but after independence the pace of development accelerated. By 1989 Jurong had quadrupled its original size, and the corporation also managed twenty-three other industrial estates, including the Singapore Science Park, a research and development park adjacent to the National University of Singapore. Although the emphasis in the 1970s had been on the development of labor-intensive industries, in the 1980s priority was given to upgrading facilities to make them more attractive for the establishment of high value-added and high technology industries.

The industrial estates were designed to be self-contained urban centers and included such facilities as golf courses, banks, shopping centers, restaurants, child-care centers, and parks. As of 1988, they contained some 3,600 factories employing a total of 216,000 workers. The Jurong Town Corporation also provided infrastructure and support facilities, including the Jurong Industrial Port, which was the country's main bulk cargo gateway, and the Jurong Marine Base, which serviced offshore petroleum operations.

The Jurong Town Corporation shared responsibility for coastal planning and development control with the Housing and Development Board, the Urban Renewal Authority, and the Port of Singapore Authority. The coastal zone, dominated by its entrepôt facilities, was the traditional foundation on which Singapore's economy was built. Between 1965 and 1987, the coastal zone was enlarged by about fifty square kilometers through reclamation of tidal flats, shallow lagoons, and wetlands. The two largest landfill operations were the East and the West Coast Reclamation schemes adjoining the Central Business District. The former was the Housing and Development Board's largest project, in which a "sea city" almost the size of the present-day downtown area had been developed by both the private and public sector. Experts estimated that in the 1980s Singapore, including the offshore islands, had the potential of increasing its existing land resources by about 10 percent.

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