Following up from our article yesterday, about how a 6.9 million population would affect Singapore in 2030, we have a few additional points we’d like to illustrate, this time with some numbers and calculation.

First, we’d like to start by giving some background on our demographic make-up, while also talking about the characteristics of each segment. We have what the White Paper terms “core” Singaporeans. Then we have an umbrella group of foreigners, which comprise Permanent Residents, various pass and permit holders, domestic helpers and students. The White Paper estimates that by 2030, when the population hits 6.9 million, about 55% will be the “core” group, and the rest will be foreigners. It should also be noted that the “core” group consists of newly-minted citizens, and some of these new citizens have clearly gone back to their country of origin.

The reason we are bringing this up is a question of loyalty. For a majority of true-blue, born-and-bred Singaporeans, there is a considerable  barrier to leaving Singapore. I’m not just talking about financial barriers and employment barriers, although these can factor strongly in some cases. Their roots grow deeper, held firm by multiple generations of family, a lifetime of friends and the shared experience of national service or education. For those in the foreigner group, not only is it easy for them to leave, most already have a convenient place as a destination, called home. Even the most attached of this group, the Permanent Residents, likely have a property and family in their native country. Their biggest difficulty when leaving would probably be finding a buyer for their HDB flat!

It doesn’t take much thought to realise that, in a crisis, the probability of the foreigner group just getting up and abandoning the country is much higher than the core group. What would the effect of this be? Well, we can always take a page from history (or a few pages), and refer to the 1984/1985 and 1997 crises. In those days, the demographic mix of foreigners was quite a bit lower*, yet the effect of them leaving the country could still be felt. The main casualty was market stability. Property prices became very volatile, even after taking the prevailing economy into account. With the close to 50% mix anticipated in 2030, any similar crises would have an even bigger impact on market volatility. The combination of a market downturn and more foreigners leaving at the same time will certainly be bad news for the core group that stay by choice or circumstance. It is very likely that some would go into negative equity in that situation, just due to the volatility of the market alone.

Also to do with property, two numbers have been in the news as well. The first is 200,000, which is the number of residential units in the pipeline for completion by 2016. Together with that, land has been set aside for an additional 700,000 residential units from today. This 700,000 includes the 200,000 in the pipeline for 2016. The White Paper adds that more (than 700,000) can be built if needed.

Well, we’ve estimated that Singapore was somewhere between 1.1 million to 1.2 million households, and thus housing units, in 2011. Even taking into account another 100,000 built since then, 700,000 new units still represent more than 50% increase in just 17 years. Comparing these numbers to historical experience tells us that it will be an unprecedented rate of building, matching or even beating the 1981 to 1985 construction boom years. Exactly where are we going to find all that space? Well, this map might give a clue.

Singapore, Land Use, Map, 2030

Projected land use and reclamation by year 2030

 Click to zoom

But even with all that extra land, notice how the commercial areas are still concentrated in a few small areas? Guess how much worse rush hour is going to be…

Our prediction is that, even with added land area for housing, we will still need taller buildings and denser living. We expect that private apartments and maybe even HDB flats will start to shrink further, eventually reaching 1,100 sq.ft  for 4 bedrooms apartments, 900 sq.ft. in the case of 3 bedroom apartments, 700 sq.ft. for 2-bedders and 400 sq.ft. for single bedroom units. Even the current lower limit for “shoebox” apartments may be seen as unviable, and 300 sq.ft. studio apartments will become part of the “innovative” solution.  On top of that, we predict that new apartments will average 50 storeys, instead of that being the exception today.  That will certainly have a detrimental effect on living conditions. On a side note, Hong Kong apartments are slightly worse off than that, so our estimates are by no means outlandish.

But there’s another thing that leaves us scratching our heads. Take a look at the following concept plan from the year 2001. Shall we play “Spot the Difference”?

URA, Singapore, Land Use, Concept Plan, Map, 2001

Land use concept plan in 2001

Click to zoom

If you can’t seem to see a great deal of difference, don’t worry. Neither could we. What’s really puzzling is how this map is more than 11 years old. And that raises a few questions. For example, if this land use plan was originally mooted in 2001, does that mean they were already planning for a 6.9 million population back then? If not, why are they using a plan from more than a decade ago (when the population was just past 4 million in total) to justify housing 6.9 million now? Hmmm, questions, questions…

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* In 1980, citizens made up almost 2.2 million out of 2.4 million total population (approx 90%). In 1990, citizens were 2.6 million out of about 3 million (approx. 86%). In 2000, citizens numbered just under 3 million out of 4 million (approx 75%).


  One Response to “6.9 Million Population – Part 2, Quantitative Projections”


    Some may still recall the 6.5 million number being bandied around (and denied) many years back. If indeed it was a 20 year plan then, we are on track to meet that old 2020 target. The latest white paper simply extends it by another 10 years. At least our policy planners are consistent. And long-sighted too, if the 2001 Concept Plan is still valid.

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