Urban planning framework in Singapore

by Chew, Valerie

Urban planning in Singapore aims to optimise the use of the country’s scarce land resources for the diverse needs of both current and future generations of residents. It involves allocating land for competing uses such as housing, commerce, industry, parks, transport, recreation and defence, as well as determining the development density for various locations.1 The way Singapore looks today is, to a large extent, a result of the government’s effective implementation of its urban development plans, the most important of which are the Concept Plan and the Master Plan.2

The first urban planning framework in Singapore began in 1822 when Sir Stamford Raffles returned to Singapore and saw the haphazard way the town centre had grown. A Town Committee was formed to revise the layout of the settlement. The first detailed city plan for Singapore was known as the Jackson Plan, named after Lieutenant Philip Jackson, the settlement’s engineer and land surveyor in charge of overseeing the island’s development. The Jackson Plan guided the growth of the city for eight years, but the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 brought more ships and people to the island, resulting in an overcrowded, dirty slums, poor hygiene and sanitation in the city area.

In 1927, the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) was set up by the British colonial government to address the problem of urbanisation and improve the physical environment of the city. The SIT worked to widen roads to cope with the increasing amount of vehicles, created open spaces and put in place modern sanitation. However, it could only make piecemeal development as it had no authority to draw up comprehensive plans and control development.

By 1953, the colonial government realised the dire need for an overall plan to guide the physical growth of Singapore. This resulted in the 1958 statutory Master Plan that regulated land use through zoning, density and plot ratio controls, and reserving lands for various amenities. The Planning Ordinance, which is now known as the Planning Act, was implemented on 1 February 1960 to lay down the basic legal framework controlling the use and development of land set out by the Master Plan.

When Singapore gained self-government in 1959, the United Nations planning team were invited to propose a long-term framework for urban renewal and assist housing problems and urban decay.3 The collaboration resulted in the Concept Plan 1971 and the formation of the Urban Renewal Unit, which eventually became the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).4

Today, urban planning is a highly centralised government function, with the URA being the designated national land use planning authority of Singapore.5 The URA is the primary agency responsible for administering the Planning Act which, together with its subsidiary legislation, lays down the general rules governing the urban planning process and the development control system.6

The URA works together with other relevant government agencies to prepare the Concept Plan and the Master Plan that guide the physical development of Singapore.7 Within the comprehensive framework provided by the two plans, the URA ensures that public and private developments are carried out in accordance with prescribed guidelines.8

Concept Plan
The Concept Plan is a strategic land use and transportation plan that provides the broad directions to guide Singapore’s physical development over the next 40–50 years. It ensures that there is sufficient land to support long-term population and economic growth while maintaining a good living environment. The Concept Plan is reviewed every 10 years.

During the reviewing of the Concept Plan, the URA takes into account all major land needs in collaboration with relevant government agencies. Public consultation is also conducted for stakeholders and the public at large to address their concerns and plans for the future through various channels such as exhibitions, focus group discussions, and public forums.

The first Concept Plan was formulated in 1971, which laid the foundation for Singapore’s growth for a better quality of life with new towns, transport infrastructure and access to recreation.9

Master Plan
The Master Plan is a statutory land-use plan that guides the physical development of Singapore over the next 10–15 years. The broad long-term strategies of the Concept Plan are translated into the Master Plan, which shows the permissible land use and density for developments in Singapore. Both the Master Plan and Concept Plan play an important role in helping to balance the many land use needs, such as housing, industry, commerce, parks and recreation, transport, defence and community facilities.

Similar to the Concept Plan review, public consultation is conducted during the Master Plan review process to obtain feedback and address concerns from stakeholders and the public at large.

Introduced in 1958, the Master Plan has evolved from being a plan that reflected preceding land use amendments to one that focuses on planning ahead for future developments.10

The Current Plans
Concept Plan 2011
The Concept Plan 2011 review started in July 2009.11 It took into account the public feedback gathered by the National Population & Talent Division (NPTD) on building a sustainable population for Singapore. This discussion produced the Population White Paper in January 2013. The Ministry of National Development (MND) released the Land Use Plan in the same month to complement the Population White Paper.

The Land Use Plan is a conceptual plan that outlines the strategies to provide the physical capacity to sustain a high quality living environment for a possible population range of 6.5 to 6.9 million by 2030. It also sets aside land to provide options beyond 2030, so that future generations will have room for growth and opportunities.

The strategies to sustain a high quality living environment include:

  • Providing good affordable homes with a full range of amenities
  • Integrating greenery into the living environment
  • Providing greater mobility with enhanced transport connectivity
  • Sustaining a vibrant economy with good jobs
  • Ensuring room for growth and a good living environment in the future

The broad strategies and proposals set out in the Land Use Plan were translated into the Master Plan 2014.12

Master Plan 2014
The Master Plan 2014 was gazetted on 6 June 2014.13 The plan is driven by the vision of an inclusive, highly liveable, economically vibrant and green home for all Singaporeans. There are six key focuses, namely:

  • Housing: Continue to enhance the liveability of Singapore across all areas and provide a variety of housing options with supporting amenities to serve residents of all ages;
  • Economy: Strengthen the city area and other employment centres, as well as decentralise jobs and create new hubs for businesses;
  • Recreation: Safeguard land for nature reserves, natural areas and parks; new spaces for sports and enhanced existing ones to cater to community’s needs;
  • Identity: Protect Singapore’s built heritage and social memory by enhancing existing areas with distinctive identities and nurturing new ones in community-centric ways;
  • Transport: Expand transport network with emphasis on green and sustainable transportation modes;
  • Public spaces: Create well-designed shared community spaces.14

Shereen Tay

1. Urban Redevelopment Authority. (n.d.). Master plan: Introduction to master plan. Retrieved 2016, April 18 from the Urban Redevelopment Authority website: http://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/master-plan.aspx?p1=View-Master-Plan
2. Dale, O. J. (1999). Urban planning in Singapore: The transformation of a city. Shah Alam, Malaysia: Oxford University Press, p. 245. (Call no.: RSING 307.1216 DAL)
3. Tan, S. (c1999). Home, work, play. Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, pp. 138–143. (Call no.: RSING 307.1216095957 TAN)
4. Tan, S. (c1999). Home, work, play. Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, p. 145. (Call no.: RSING 307.1216095957 TAN); Housing and Development Board. (1965). Annual report 1965. Singapore: Housing & Development Board, pp. 50–51. (Call no.: RCLOS 711.4095957 SIN-[AR]); Urban Redevelopment Authority. (n.d.). About us : history of URA. Retrieved 2016, April 18  from the Urban Redevelopment Authority website: http://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/about-us/our-organisation/ura-history.aspx
5. Urban Redevelopment Authority. (n.d.). About us: Mission. Retrieved 2016, April 18 from the Urban Redevelopment Authority website: http://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/about-us/our-organisation/mission.aspx
6. Urban Redevelopment Authority. (n.d.). About us: History of URA. Retrieved 2016, April 18 from the Urban Redevelopment Authority website: http://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/about-us/our-organisation/ura-history.aspx; Redevelopment Authority. (2003, November 11). Urban Redevelopment Authority (Amendment) Bill - Second reading speech by Mr Mah Bow Tan Minister for National Development. Retrieved Urban Redevelopment Authority website: http://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/media-room/speeches/2003/nov/pr03-64.aspx
7. Urban Redevelopment Authority. (n.d.). Our planning process. Retrieved 2016, April 18 from the Urban Redevelopment Authority website: http://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/concept-plan/our-planning-process/our-planning-process.aspx
8. Urban Redevelopment Authority. (n.d.). Development control: Vision and principles. Retrieved 2016, April 18 from the Urban Redevelopment Authority website: http://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/DC/vision-and-principles/vision-and-principle.aspx
9. Urban Redevelopment Authority. (n.d.). Concept plan: Introduction to concept plan. Retrieved 2016, April 18 from the Urban Redevelopment Authority website: http://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/concept-plan.aspx?p1=View-Concept-Plan
10. Urban Redevelopment Authority. (n.d.). Master plan: Introduction to master plan. Retrieved 2016, April 18 from the Urban Redevelopment Authority website: http://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/master-plan.aspx?p1=View-Master-Plan
11. Work begins on URA concept plan 2011. (2009, August 7). Channel News Asia. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; Urban Redevelopment Authority. (2011). Urban Redevelopment Authority annual report 2010/2011. Retrieved 2016, April 18 from the Urban Redevelopment Authority website: http://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/publications/cdorporate/ar/ar11_main.aspx
12. Urban Redevelopment Authority. (n.d.). Concept plan: Concept plan 2011 and MND’s land use plan. Retrieved 2016, April 18 from the Urban Redevelopment Authority website: http://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/concept-plan.aspx?p1=View-Concept-Plan&p2=Land-Use-Plan-2013
13. Urban Redevelopment Authority. (2014, June 6). URA gazettes Master Plan 2014 [Press release]. Retrieved from the Urban Redevelopment Authority website: http://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/media-room/news/2014/jun/pr14-33.aspx
14. Urban Redevelopment Authority. (n.d.). Master plan: Introduction. Retrieved 2016, April 18 from the Urban Redevelopment Authority website: http://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/master-plan/view-master-plan/master-plan-2014/master-plan/Introduction.aspx

Further resources
A high quality living environment for all Singaporeans: Land use plan to support Singapore's future population. (2013). Singapore: Ministry of National Development.
(Call no.: RSING 333.77095957 HIG)

Wong, T-C., & Yap, L-H. A. (2004). Four decades of transformation: Land use in Singapore, 1960-2000. Singapore: Eastern University Press.

(Call no.: RSING 333.73095957 WON)

Yuen, B. (Ed.). (1998). Planning Singapore: From plan to implementation. Singapore: Singapore Institute of Planners.
(Call no.: RSING 711.4095957 PLA)

The information in this article is valid as at 2009 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.


Geography>>Population>>Urban Planning
Law and government>>National development>>City planning
Urban planning
City planning--Singapore