SINGAPORE - The 10 million population number was always a planning parameter and not a target for Singapore, said former chief planner Liu Thai Ker.
In an interview with Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao published on Friday (July 17), Mr Liu said sustainable development requires long-term planning.
If Singapore is to continue to preserve the quality of its landscape in spite of space and resource constraints, he said, it must plan on the basis of a large enough population.
He was responding to claims during the election hustings by the Singapore Democratic Party, that the Government plans to increase Singapore's population to 10 million.
The SDP maintains that the 10 million figure was from a Straits Times report on remarks by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat at a dialogue with Nanyang Technological University students in March last year.
The article said Mr Heng cited Mr Liu, who said in 2014 that Singapore should plan for 10 million people for it to remain sustainable in the long term.
Mr Heng had cited Mr Liu in his response to a question on the Government's 2013 Population White Paper. However, he had stressed that the number goes beyond how densely populated Singapore would be, and the social space is as important.
Mr Heng also did not say Singapore should plan for 10 million people - nor did he mention the figure.
Mr Liu said he had not paid much attention to the political war of words over the issue, and his comments on Singapore's population were "personal opinions".
He stressed that the 10 million figure was not a goal but the worst-case scenario. "In case of reaching 10 million, we are prepared."
The 82-year-old is an architect and former chief executive officer of the Housing Board, as well as the former chief planner of the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Singapore. He is currently the founding chairman of Morrow Architects and Planners.
During his interview with Zaobao, he reiterated no fewer than five times that he had no contact with the Government or political leaders after he left public service in 1992, and the 10 million figure was a planning benchmark and his personal opinion.
The broader objective, he said, was always to preserve the country's beautiful urban environment, including its green spaces and historic monuments.
"Otherwise, if it is discovered that 10 million is a real need, then it will be too late.
"If you don't make preparations now, when you need more expressways and MRT lines, where will the land come from?"
He pointed out that when he led URA to develop the Concept Plan in 1991, he thought that the country's population would hit 5.5 million in 100 years - an estimate that came true 70 years ahead of time.
Singapore's current population is 5.7 million.
Mr Liu said he believes the population number cannot be completely controlled, as it is partly a function of rapid economic growth. He added that as long as the Government is clean and effective and the economy develops well, the number of jobs will certainly increase.
"Unless we ask our citizens - are they asking the Government to damage the economy in order not to increase the population?"
He said that if the country is to be able to accommodate 10 million people, then its population density will have to increase by 30 per cent - something which will not impact people adversely if planning starts now.
He acknowledged concerns about an influx of immigrants and the ability of the country's infrastructure to cope with a large population. But, he said, train services are an administrative and management issue and not related to population numbers.
He urged Singaporeans to not just see the negatives, but also the positive contributions by foreigners. "People from different places living together will lead to differences of opinion... But I'm worried that Singaporeans may be too singular in their thinking."
He said that the Government should explain its principles and rationale seriously and clearly.
"In any case, I don't see a 10 million population coming to pass in my generation... I am not worried about myself. I am worried about the younger generation."