Singapore cannot stop growing because of train breakdowns, says former chief planner

Singapore cannot stop growing because of train breakdowns, says former chief planner

Dr Liu Thai Ker also tells Conversation With why having resale flats that go for S$1 million are “not in conflict” with the HDB’s mission of providing affordable housing.

There is no maximum size for a city’s population, even the booming megacities of Asia. It is all a matter of clever planning – and looking ahead 100 years. So claims Dr Liu Thai Ker, Chairman of Morrow Architects. 

SINGAPORE: Singapore’s former housing and urban planning chief Dr Liu Thai Ker said that the recent spate of train breakdowns should not mean that Singapore’s population will have to stop growing.

In an interview with Conversation With, which was telecast Thursday night, Dr Liu - who was chief executive officer of the Urban Redevelopment Authority from 1989 to 1992 - said: “MRT breakdown has totally nothing to do with planning. It has everything to do with administration (and) management.”

“You cannot say because the MRT breaks down, so we should not let the city grow. They are two unrelated issues,” he added.

Disruptions to Singapore’s rail system have been fueling public unhappiness, with some arguing that the transport system cannot cope with the load from Singapore’s growing population.

Last December, operator SMRT was forced to shut down entire sections of a train line to facilitate rail renewal and maintenance works.


In 2014, Dr Liu controversially said he thought Singapore’s population could comfortably be even larger than it is today, and that planners should prepare for a population of 10 million.

(Read: His interview with On The Record about that and other issues.)

While he has faced a barrage of criticism – both online and off – about his comments, Dr Liu, who is also chairman of the Centre for Liveable Cities, still stands by his convictions, adding that he was merely a “very good Singaporean who’s kiasu”.

WATCH: Excerpts of his latest interview (2:41)

Dr Liu’s unabashed “kiasu” tendencies stem in large part from his work over the decades, overseeing Singapore’s transformation from an island teeming with squatter dwellers to one of Asia’s most liveable cities today.

He served as chief architect and then CEO of the Housing and Development Board (HDB) from 1969 to 1979, and later, Singapore’s master planner - where planning for more, and for a longer term, was the better thing to do.

The 79-year-old recently founded his own firm, Morrow Architects, after 25 years as senior director at RSP Architects Planners & Engineers.

He revealed that as a planner, he had planned for Singapore’s growth 100 years into the future. “I personally advocate for longer term projection because if the city were to grow into a phoenix in 50 years time, (and) you do small projection every five years, (it) will not be accurate,” he said.

“In fact, I claim that when you do a longer-term projection, it takes care of all the ups and downs; you actually have a more accurate answer.”

WATCH: On growing city populations (2:00)


As the prices of HDB resale flats continue to soar – with at least three units moving past the s$1 million mark in 2016 – concerns have arisen that public housing flats might become too expensive for the average Singaporean. Eighty per cent live in public housing built by the HDB.

HDB flats
File photo of HDB flats. (Photo: Hester Tan)

But Dr Liu sought to allay fears. He argued that the HDB’s mission of providing affordable homes is “not in conflict” with the record-breaking resale flat prices, since the latter are largely the result of market forces, not government intervention.

“If you are first-time applicants, you buy at the official prices set by HDB and that is affordable. The prices may have increased, but it’s in keeping with income increase.

“At the same time, the Government doesn’t want people living in a HDB flat to (feel that it) doesn’t have market value. And therefore, you are allowed to sell your flat one time and then re-apply (for a new flat) ... Personally, I don’t see any conflict there, and the Government doesn’t rig the second-hand market,” said Dr Liu.

Catch the new season of the interview programme Conversation With every Thursday, 9.30pm SG/HK. Catch-up episodes also available here.

Source: CNA/yv