COS 2013 Debates: MND – New-Generation HDB flats (MP Pritam Singh)

Pritam SinghBy MP for Aljunied GRC, Pritam Singh
[Delivered in Committee of Supply on 8 March 2013]

Sir, the gist of this cut is to understand the HDB’s plans for larger BTO flats going forward and separately, the size of flats for Singaporeans in future. The latter issue continues to be discussed, even more so in the aftermath of the discussion covering the population white paper, and with the high cost of private housing in mind.

Parliament has also seen a similar range of queries dealing with ECs, HDB EMs, amongst others in this session of parliament. In Oct 2012, the Minister stated in a parliamentary reply that the HDB stopped building Executive Maisonettes (EMs) in 1995 and that Executive Condominiums (EC) have effectively replaced this segment of flats that seek to accommodate buyers who want to purchase larger flats. While the old HDB EMs ranged from 138 to 243 square metres, ECs have unit sizes ranging from 69 to 160 square metres, a reduction from in excess of 300 sq metres because of large ECs units that have come close to $2m recently. The Minister also remarked not too long ago that as ECs are better placed to meet the diverse needs of Singaporeans, there is no need to re-introduce executive flats, even though the idea of ECs as mooted by then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong in 1995 was as a means to shorten the queue for HDB executive flats and to meet Singaporeans’ demand for affordable, private property.

In view of the high cost an executive-flat sized apartment in new EC launches, can the HDB consider a pilot scheme to factor building a small number of larger apartments in new BTO launches, be it in mature or non-mature estates, so second or even first timers who want to purchase apartments larger than 5-room flats are not restricted from doing so by the price differential that comes with ECs of the same size? As most BTO flat applicants today are younger couples and smaller families, it may be argued that there is a risk of oversupply if larger flats are built again. But in light of modern construction techniques it would be helpful if new BTO flats could be designed in such way that two adjoining flats can be easily converted as it were, to form an executive apartment, and for allowance for this to be made for this prior to construction – giving added meaning for term BTO. For example, prior to construction, the HDB can set aside a percentage of any new launch for such flats, say 10% of the total. In the event the demand is not met, the flats can easily be reverted to ordinary 3-room flat without significant cost implications.

Sir, it is quite common to hear of middle-aged Singaporeans talking about how small new 3, 4 or 5 room HDB flats are. This is an old issue but it still required the government to say not too long ago that the size of HDB flats have not shrunk since 1997. Nonetheless, the government’s commitment to plan for a 6.9 m population does bring this issue back to the fore. The government has previously said that smaller flats do not have to mean a lower quality of living because the living space per person has actually increased over time due to smaller families. But after the passing of the population white paper, there is an irony in this position. In light of our urgent need to raise our TFR and to encourage families to have more children and separately, the government’s stated intention for a larger population, wouldn’t there be an argument for the government consider building HDB flats which were of the size of those built prior to 1997, so as to plan for flat sizes that anticipate and even encourage a rise in TFR?

Finally, I would be much obliged if the Minister could give an update on the government’s plan on the DBSS scheme in light of the suspension of DBSS land sales for the last six months.