The Bukit Brown issue: Not enough land? Let’s do the math

Is there really a pressure on land? (AFP photo)
Is there really a pressure on land? (AFP photo)

From SOS Bukit Brown


Let's be clear... Singapore's total floor area, if we add up the floor space of every kind of building in Singapore, is approximately 250 million sqm.

If we divide this by the island's total land area of 700 million sqm, it means that all our buildings will only occupy 1/3 of the island if all of them are 1-storey high. If they are 2-storey high, the proportion of the land covered by all our buildings will be 1/6. And if they are 4-storey high, they will cover 1/12. Given that there has to be spaces between buildings for light and ventilation of, say, 3 times the building's footprint, the proportion would end up as approximately 1/4.

It can be seen that there is actually a lot of land available in Singapore, especially since we have built a lot and our buildings tend to be 12 to 15 storeys high. Any increase in building floor space can be easily accommodated, and the scope for large area conservation such as that of Bukit Brown is easily possible.

But as the demand for land increases as a result of population increase, would the same hold true?

This increased demand for land is an important one, and has to be addressed even as one makes the case for heritage and nature conservation. But ultimately, the question is: Is there really a pressure on land?

I will answer this question like this: Already, 5 million people are provided for in flats, schools, factories, offices, shopping malls, etc. And the environment is OK.

If you take the total floor area of Singapore (ie 250 million sqm, as mentioned at the start of this article), and divide it by the population of 5 million, you get a per-capita floor area of approximately 50sqm. Now, this is a very important measure of the average land requirement that an individual needs. Since URA is planning for a population increase of 1 million people as stated in its concept plan, how much more land is needed is the question. For if indeed there is no land available, then Bukit Brown has to be sacrificed, notwithstanding heritage and nature.

But all that is needed is to plan for the additional 1 million.

50sqm x1 million = 50 million sqm. This would be the floor area that the additional 1 million population needs. Dividing this again by 700 million sqm (total land area of Singapore) gives us 7%. This is the percentage of the land that will be taken up, if the floor area for this additional 1 million population is provided for in the form of 1-storey buildings. If we assume 4-storey buildings on average, the percentage will only be 1.75%. Not much.

This land can easily be found in the Marina East golf course land plus the old KTM railway workshops, relocated Keppel Harbour, Kampung Bugis land, etc. Housing can also be easily built above many of our MRT stations. Furthermore, the ongoing development of existing housing estates will whittle down the 1.75%. The 1.75% is therefore very conservative. So it is clear that the Bukit Brown land can be preserved through better land planning.

It is simply a matter of political will.

This article was written by a prominent local architect.