Thursday, 15 March 2007

Supplemental Question: 27 February 2007

This is the official transcript from Hansard, on an OPQ filed by Dr Lily Neo about the news on the Government's concept plan for 6.5 million Singaporeans, where I asked a supplemental question.

I thought the Minister's response was a fair one. Having said that, I think earlier this week or last week, there was a report on a statement that Singapore's ethnic mix will not change greatly because most of the immigrants are expected to be from Malaysia, India and China. I thought that statement a little odd, because I would expect most Malaysians settling down in Singapore to be Chinese, not Malay. So we will have Indians, Chinese and "Others" coming to Singapore, but what about the Malays?



Dr Lily Neo asked the Minister for National Development (a) what is the plan to accommodate population growth in Singapore and (b) what is the target population growth in the next 10 years.

The Minister for National Development (Mr Mah Bow Tan): Mr Speaker, Sir, the Concept Plan is the long-term land use and transportation planning framework for Singapore. By "long-term", I am talking about the next 40 to 50 years. It is a rolling plan. In other words, we review it regularly, every 10 years, taking into account changing economic and population trends and the land use needs. The Concept Plan ensures that we use our land resource efficiently and effectively, so that our quality of life is not affected, and indeed improve even as we continue to develop.

In view of fast-changing developments in recent years, URA and other Government agencies carried out a mid-term review of the Concept Plan 2001. The review concluded that we have sufficient land to cater to our land needs in the future, if we use this limited resource judiciously and wisely.

With higher projected population and new growth sectors, land demand for housing, industry, transport and other uses will increase. We will need to optimise land use. We will have to explore new ways of creating space, whether it is through reclamation, building upwards, or building downwards using subterranean space. We will also need to invest in the necessary infrastructure, such as roads and rail networks, and power and utilities to meet future needs. While trade-offs among uses will intensify, we will be able to meet the needs of economic growth and a projected population of 6.5 million in future if we plan ahead and we address these potential concerns now. Singapore will then remain a sustainable, liveable and vibrant environment that will continue to be attractive to talents and businesses by offering a high quality of life.

On the population figure, let me stress that the 6.5 million population number is not a target. Singapore does not target a specific population number or a population growth. What we are looking for is a viable and self-sustaining population profile – one which will help us to grow a bigger economic pie, and also sustain a livelier and a more vibrant society.

The 6.5 million population is what we use as a planning parameter. It is what we base our plans and methodology on. It takes into account the current demographic trend. I believe it is a realistic number for planners because they need something to base their projections and plans on, so that we are ready for future growth opportunities.

For Concept Plan 2001, we had adopted a long-term population parameter of 5.5 million as a basis for planning. If Members will recall, at that time, our population was 3.9 million. Today, our population is close to 4.5 million. It is thus timely to revise the long-term population parameter to something higher than 5.5 million. So we have decided that 6.5 million is a realistic number for the next 40 to 50 years. Whether and when we achieve this figure will depend on many factors, but our long-term land-use planning will help to ensure that we are prepared for such a population in future, if it does come about.

Dr Lily Neo (Jalan Besar): Sir, I would like to ask the Minister whether the URA Concept Plan 2001 to add 99 square kilometres of land is still attainable presently and at what cost. Will the tens of billions of dollars required to achieve it be better spent to develop the 40% of still undeveloped land in Singapore to accommodate growth?

Mr Mah Bow Tan: I think the two are not mutually exclusive. It does not mean that since we have vacant land, we do not need to reclaim. Or indeed that if we reclaim, we do not use our vacant land. In fact, in the Concept Plan review, we have taken into account our future needs. So all the so-called currently vacant land, either land that is not used at the moment or land that is reserved, has been taken into account in the planning to meet future needs. We safeguard this land for industrial, recreational, commercial, housing uses and so on. Of course, such developments will not take place straightaway. They will take place as and when needed.

When I say that reclamation and use of vacant land are not mutually exclusive, what I mean is also that sometimes the vacant land that we have available today cannot be used for some of the purposes that we need to reclaim for. Let me just give an example - waterfront land. We need waterfront land for some industrial uses or for industries that require waterfront access. So for such purposes, we will still continue to reclaim land, even if we have vacant land nearby. In the longer term, I see that we will still need to reclaim land and we will continue to do so where our development needs so require. But, of course, we will always do this within our own territorial waters so that there is no question of affecting boundaries, and so on.

Mr Siew Kum Hong (Nominated Member): Mr Speaker, Sir, I would like to ask the Minister how will this population growth affect our ethnic mix and what are the steps that will be necessary to preserve our racial harmony.

Mr Mah Bow Tan: I think this is a genuine concern. It is an anxiety that we all feel, with so many immigrants coming in, what will that do to our ethnic mix, our social cohesion and stability. But let us remind ourselves that this is not something new. This is not a new phenomenon. We are a nation of immigrants. Our forefathers came from many parts of Asia and even beyond. Even today, as in the past, we keep our doors open for immigrants. In 1970, our population was around 2 million. Today, our population is close to 4.5 million. But in spite of this major influx of new immigrants as well as, of course, from natural births, our social stability and cohesion has, I submit, not been affected. In fact, it has been strengthened over the years.

There is no doubt, of course, that immigration will bring more diversity. There is no doubt that there will be a challenge for us to maintain this social stability and cohesion, and multi-racial harmony. But I think that we need to continue to remain true to our key principles - principles like meritocracy and multi-racialism. Of course, when we talk about meritocracy, we should continue to make sure that the less well-off in our society are looked after. If we continue to remain true to our principle of multi-racialism, even as we practise diverse religions, and if we continue to strengthen those institutions that promote and strengthen social cohesion - our schools, our public housing estates, our grassroots network for they also help to maintain this glue that binds us together, national service - I see no reason why, as in the past 40 years, we cannot continue to maintain a stable and a socially harmonious society even as we welcome new immigrants into Singapore.

Mr Speaker: Dr Lily Neo, last question.

Dr Lily Neo: Thank you, Mr Speaker. May I ask the Minister whether there has been any study done to ascertain the impact on Singapore from the rise of sea level as a result of global warming? Is there a possibility of reclaimed land being inundated as they have been reclaimed to cope with 59 cm of sea level rise whereas there is a study that estimated the rise to be as high as 140 cm?

Mr Mah Bow Tan: This is an understandable concern. In the light of recent discussions about the impact of global warming on sea levels and the impact on small states, or small island states particularly, I think the Member's concern is understandable. But let me assure her that various agencies in Singapore do recognise that this is a challenge and are constantly monitoring the situation. In fact, for her information, all our reclaimed land in Singapore is reclaimed to a certain level above sea level, ie, above the highest tide. I believe the figure is something like 128 cm. She cited some figures that, perhaps, the sea level will rise 140 cm. But based on what we currently know today, and I guess that is as much as we all know, even the most pessimistic of scientists believe that if global warming does cause the sea level to rise, the rise will be in the order of magnitude of, say, 60 to 80 cm.

Given current information and technical wisdom, we are able to withstand any such impact. But for the longer term, we will continue to monitor the situation and we also need to better understand what is going on and how the potential climate change will impact Singapore. So, for this reason, I would like to inform her that there is actually an inter-agency group working on this. Several agencies - including the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, National Environment Agency, Ministry of National Development (MND) - are studying the localised impact of climate change on Singapore. We also have another inter-agency taskforce that is led by MND and its job is to review the existing infrastructural developments in Singapore and to see how we can adapt them to any changes in the sea levels. For example, we will review our foreshore areas and work out new measures, if necessary, to address any impact of climate change.

In summary, I would like to assure the Member that the various agencies in Singapore are monitoring the situation closely.

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