Singapore Govt needs to take gentler, more progressive approach to land acquisition: Puthucheary

KENNETH CHENG Today Online 12 Sep 18;

HANOI — While Singapore has historically adopted “very aggressive” approaches towards land acquisition and redevelopment, the Government needs to use softer and more progressive ways to do so in future, said Dr Janil Puthucheary on Wednesday (Sept 12).

Speaking at a dialogue session on designing future cities at the World Economic Forum on Asean (Association of South-east Asian Nations) in Hanoi, the Senior Minister of State for Transport said that Singapore wants to take a flexible approach towards urban renewal.

“Going forward, realistically, we need to take a softer, and much more incremental, progressive approach, and diffuse some of these (renewal) opportunities across various parts of Singapore,” he said.

He noted that such efforts are now typically concentrated in the south of Singapore, and that there is a need to create opportunities and “a number of centres”, and to think about how to redesign the city.

Getting the price right and understanding human behaviour are essential to designing a future city, he added.

For instance, he noted that the Government has drawn “quite a lot of political heat” over Electronic Road Pricing, but there was thought put into pricing roads and road congestion correctly.

Car ownership, taxation, petrol and parking are costly in Singapore, “none of which is popular”, Dr Puthucheary acknowledged.

Consequently, Singapore has seen its resident household car ownership drop to 39 per cent in 2016, even though the population has grown, he said. The figure was 46 per cent in 2012.

Dr Puthucheary said the Government is trying to encourage more Singaporeans to walk, cycle and use public transport. “We’re going to need to have multiple centres in every town, 'walkable' access to facilities and amenities, and distribution of businesses and business opportunities, so people are living closer to where they work,” he added.

Infrastructural investments will be made to draw people to the city centre, with the Government pumping in S$20 billion into public transport infrastructure over the next five years, because “people will continue to want to go to Orchard Road and Marina Bay”, he said.

GRAB WILL WORK THROUGH ISSUES

At a separate panel discussion on start-ups and innovation in Hanoi, Grab’s co-founder Tan Hooi Ling said the company has undergone “typical ups and downs” in its relationship with governments.

She was responding to a question about the regulatory difficulties the ride-hailing company is facing in countries such as Singapore, following its high-profile acquisition of Uber, which is under review by the country's competition watchdog. Elsewhere, the Philippine Competition Commission gave its nod to the takeover last month.

“Some conversations go well, some conversations don’t, but... as long as we’re both willing to listen and adjust our practices accordingly for the greater good of the people we’re ultimately serving, we’ll get there," said Ms Tan.

Her comments echoed those made in July by Grab's co-founder Anthony Tan, who said he was “extremely” confident that the company could work through the issues flagged by Singapore’s competition watchdog.

This came after the Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore provisionally ruled that the sale of Uber’s South-east Asia operations to Grab had led to a “substantial lessening of competition” and price hikes for Grab rides.

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