He also reassured Singaporeans that housing prices will be kept stable, as he will continue the policy of un-pegging new flat prices with resale prices, for ‘as long as the property market remains hot’, a policy he started when he took over this portfolio.
Speaking to reporters at the HDB Hub where he was chatting with potential home buyers, Mr Khaw addressed the reactions of Singaporeans to the projected population of 6.9m by 2030.
“I’ve read some reactions which are not surprising to us, because many Singaporeans said how could it be, it’s already so crowded at 5.3 million, how is it possible to have 6.9 million population? I think that’s a legitimate reaction, and of course they asked good questions, which is, how can you be sure with more population, quality of life will remain the same or in fact should be even better. Actually the answer is yes, its possible. You can have larger population, and yet better quality of life, but conditions must be right.”
He pointed to two conditions: Good long-term planning, and good infrastructure, which should be built ahead of demand.
“We are confident because we have time, we are talking about 2020, 2030. As planners our mantra is boy scouts motto, prepare for the worst, but hope for the best.”
He also explained why the government needs to have this ‘aggressive’ projection of 6.9 million for our population by 2030.
“The figure 6.9 looks aggressive, but we need aggressive projection so we can prepare for the worst. The worst is if we plan for the best, and then the worst comes, then it will be under-providing, as what happened the last few years.”
The minister explained that wastage can be avoided by pacing the planning, and preparing the land first, but it does not mean that 700,000 new homes – the slated target – will be built from ‘tomorrow’.
“We will pace it according, ahead of demand, so you can monitor each month, each year. And you adjust your pace. But land needs longer time, houses I need four years, five years, I can get it delivered, hand you the keys. But if you want, when you move in, the trains are there, buses are there, food centres are there, schools are there, then they need longer time, especially trains. So we need to plan ahead, doesn’t mean we will start building.”
Mr Khaw also said that good design will ensure towns remain liveable even with a larger population, giving the example of Punggol which is ‘a lot better’ than many other HDB towns even with more residents.
The minister declared that Singaporeans ‘ain’t seen nothing yet’, as future towns, such as Bidadari and Punggol North, will be even better.
“Because it is green field sites, we have maximum opportunities, to plan even better new layout, new building forms, new typology, and which can ensure the quality of life there would be even better.”
He additionally pointed to technology and lifestyle choices which will evolve and make cities more liveable, such as cycling to work.
Pointing to other cities with an ‘very aggressive target’ of between 20 to 25 per cent for cycling as a form of commuting to work – as opposed to Singapore’s ‘single digit’ -he said he looks forward to the day that more Singaporeans will do so. But to enable this, the park connectors must be at 100 per cent, and facilities available to support this lifestyle change.
“We can achieve it, with bettter resources .. With better education, and if people have the right attitude, it is totally within our grasp. This is not to say that we don’t have current problems, we have .. Over-crowding, etc, but we are addressing that as fast as we can. And it will be resolved, but please give us some time. But even as we resolve current problems, our eyes must be on the future, so for a start 2030, and eventually we should look at 2050, 2060.”