Managing Singapore's Land Needs

Visionary urban planning transformed a tiny island nation into a bustling business hub. Now Singapore has set its sights on becoming a distinctive global city.

Date Posted

1 Apr 2007


Issue 2, 14 Apr 2007

Much has changed in Singapore's urban landscape in the four decades since Independence. In the 1960s, Singapore was beset by high unemployment, an overcrowded city centre, and a shortage of proper housing and adequate infrastructure. Today, the city centre is a bustling business and financial hub, with a vibrant mix of retail and entertainment activities catering to both residents and visitors. Good quality homes are readily available, in self-sufficient new towns and in the heart of the city. The island is served by an efficient transport system and high-quality infrastructure.

None of this occurred by chance. Singapore's unique circumstances and land limitations demand judicious, comprehensive and long-term planning. Planners in Singapore must ensure that all land use needs can be met, not only in the present but also in the longer term, in order to sustain growth and development in the years to come.

This is achieved through the Concept Plan, a strategic land use and transportation plan which sets out Singapore's development directions some 40 to 50 years ahead. The Concept Plan takes into consideration all major land use demands such as housing, industry and commerce, recreation and nature areas, transport and utility infrastructure, as well as defence requirements, and represents Singapore's planning strategies to make best use of its precious land resources. Many features of Singapore's physical landscape, such as new towns, the airport at Changi, the port at Pasir Panjang, the reclamation of Jurong Island for the petrochemical industry, its network of expressways and mass rapid transit lines, and business parks, are the result of earlier Concept Plans.

To prepare the Concept Plan, government agencies study long-term land requirements for various major land uses. This collective effort ensures that national priorities and strategic directions for various sectors are incorporated into the land use plan.

During the recent review of the 2001 Concept Plan, focus groups — comprising academics, interest group representatives, professionals and citizens — were formed as part of a public consultation exercise to gauge public values. Feedback from the general public was also considered. The consultation process highlighted the need to intensify housing and industrial areas, while retaining parks and identity areas as these provided a quality living environment. This exercise provided a clear indication of public aspirations for the future landscape of Singapore.

Public consultations provide a clear indication of public aspirations for the future landsape of Singapore.


The Master Plan translates the broad strategies of the Concept Plan into detailed plans to guide development over the next 10 to 15 years. It is a statutory land use plan showing the permissible land use and density for every parcel of land in Singapore. Planning approval is required for development projects from both the private and public sectors. This ensures that developments in Singapore are carried out in an orderly manner and in accordance with the intentions stipulated in the Master Plan.

Zoning of land for specific uses ensures that sufficient land is earmarked for different needs, in line with strategic directions. This is necessary because if left to the market, uses with higher commercial value could price out uses such as healthcare facilities or parks which are needed by the community. By ensuring that retail amenities and facilities such as libraries, sports facilities, schools, community centres and parks are accessible within housing estates, planning enhances the liveability of residential areas and reduces the need to travel.

Since the release and development of sites is market-led, the pace of implementing new development areas depends on market demand and investor confidence in the real estate sector.

Stipulating the allowable use and intensity of land parcels provides a degree of certainty for estimating the provision needed for public infrastructure and facilities such as roads, drains, schools and hospitals. It also facilitates planning for the distribution and phasing of these amenities, and for coordinating their implementation. Furthermore, it gives certainty to owners and occupants regarding the land use or activities in their neighbourhood. Zoning also encourages the clustering of compatible uses: for example, sites are identified to meet the demand for hotel rooms in suitable locations such as within vibrant and interesting mixed-use belts along the Singapore River and Orchard Road.

New strategic areas are identified for development in the medium-term to meet business needs so that infrastructure can be put in place and demand channelled to develop these areas. The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) co-ordinates the efforts of government agencies in infrastructure development to open up new areas such as Marina Bay. The Government Land Sales programme is an important tool for implementing development strategies and releasing land to meet the demand for various types of properties. It also facilitates the participation of the private sector in the development of Singapore. Since the release and development of sites is market-led, the pace of implementing new development areas depends on market demand and investor confidence in the real estate sector.


In land-scarce Singapore, land use planning involves trade-offs between many compelling priorities.

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Planning in Singapore is about making the most effective use of limited land resources to create a distinctive, attractive and vibrant city, not only for now but also for future generations to enjoy. Long-term planning for all our various land needs provides the assurance that population and economic growth can be accommodated. This includes providing a choice of different housing types and locations, space to grow businesses, attractive and accessible recreational amenities, and a comprehensive and efficient road and rail system to meet transport needs. Planning also enables Singapore to retain its natural and built heritage, helping to create a world-class city which is not only attractive, but also distinctive and authentically Singaporean.


Land use planning in Singapore presents unique challenges. Singapore is a small city-state. In addition to catering for housing, business, social and recreational needs, activities which are typically located outside the city have to be accommodated within Singapore's limited land area. These include international ports and airports, and major utilities such as water treatment plants and power stations. Land also has to be set aside for water catchment and storage, as well as for security needs, such as military training areas and bases.

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Melissa Sapuan is Executive Planner in the Physical Planning, Concept Plan and Policies Section of the Urban Redevelopment Authority.


  1. Urban Redevelopment Authority, "URA to sell "White Sites"." Press release, October 25, 1995, (accessed 21 March 2007)
  2. JTC Corporation, Stack-up Factory, (accessed 21 March 2007).
  3. Urban Redevelopment Authority, "Planning for Growth, Investing in Our Future", Speech by Mr Mah Bow Tan, Minister for National Development, 9 February 2007,

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