Curb population growth to cut housing demand, need to clear forests: Leong Mun Wai

Housing demand in Singapore is largely driven by investment and speculation.
Housing demand in Singapore is largely driven by investment and speculation.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - Curbing Singapore's population growth will reduce housing demand and in turn, erase the need to cut down forests to free up land for homes, said Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai on Monday (Feb 1).

This will also offer the country a better foundation to pursue its sustainability agenda meaningfully, said the Progress Singapore Party NCMP during the debate in Parliament over a private member's motion that called on the Government to accelerate and deepen efforts against climate change.

The motion was filed by six People's Action Party MPs on the Government Parliamentary Committee for Sustainability and the Environment.

In his speech, Mr Leong said recent public discourse on the Dover and Clementi forests "has clearly shown" that the Government prioritises population growth and development, ahead of preserving natural spaces.

Clementi Forest is still zoned for future housing, while Dover Forest is slated for immediate deforestation and development, he noted, adding that other forest patches have already been cleared in recent years, such as those in Tengah and Pasir Ris.

The high population growth is due to the Government's immigration policy over the last two decades, he said, calling it "a conscious choice of the Government, and is not necessarily supported by all Singaporeans".

He said Singapore's population grew from 4.03 million in 2000 to 5.7 million in 2019 - a 41 per cent increase over 20 years and a compounded average annual growth of 1.7 per cent "which is in line with that of many developing countries facing population pressures".

The Government has continued to award about 25,000 new citizenships and 30,000 permanent residencies every year, he added.

This increases the population by about 0.8 per cent a year and will see Singapore reach six million people in 2028 and 10 million in 2091, he said.

Mr Leong also made the point that housing demand depends more on government policies in the property market.

Housing demand in Singapore is largely driven by investment and speculation, he said - by Singaporeans who want to join the "property-owning capitalist class to make passive income", and foreign investors who do not even live in Singapore.

Said Mr Leong: "If we continue to try to satisfy the strong speculative demand for housing as a means to drive economic growth, we will definitely need to remove more of our green spaces."

He said housing demand should be restrained, as long as "each Singaporean family has a decent place to call home".

In response, Mr Don Wee (Chua Chu Kang GRC) said young residents have informed him about long waiting times when applying for build-to-order (BTO) flats, and asked Mr Leong if the Housing Board should build fewer flats.

Mr Leong said HDB should step up the building of flats in land that is already available, without clearing more forest space.

Even if the forests are cleared, they will not "turn into flats immediately", he added.