Singapore planning– moving towards a more market driven approach

October 13, 2014 / By  

In my former capacity as an urban planner with the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) – the national planning agency, I witnessed changes in the procedures for obtaining planning approvals that made the application process more efficient and user-friendly. In my opinion, this is a step in the right direction as Singapore strives to improve on market transparency and responsiveness to the changing needs and preferences of the market.

Since 1995, the national planning agency has given the private sector more autonomy to increase the efficiency of planning approvals. This refers to the introduction of the Plan Lodgement Scheme, which streamlines the approval process by allowing development work to be lodged without the need to apply for planning permission. This, of course, is subject to certain criteria and it works on a self-declaration system, where work is to be correctly declared by a “qualified person”, ie a registered architect or engineer. In 2001, this lodgement scheme was extended to include a change of use to facilitate the growth of business.

With an increasingly complex planning environment, there is also more scope and opportunity for improvement. In the national planning agency’s attempt to provide more efficient services to both the public and professionals, Geographic Information System (GIS) has played quite a significant role.

One good example is the inclusion of planning decisions onto a map-based registry known as ‘URA Maps’ in February this year. Previously, users had to pay a sum of SGD30 for a copy of the planning decision from the planning agency’s development register. Now, it is free and by utilising the GIS technology to build a map-based application, it enables easy access to planning decisions although the record is limited and only available from year 2000 onwards. The planning agency extended this map-based format in March to develop another platform called the Development Charge (DC) Sector Map service which allows users to easily pull out information on the DC Sector number and DC rates (a form of development tax) for a particular site. This move towards map-based services has made the development system more transparent and efficient.

However, more can be done to facilitate the development approval process. Since it is difficult for the planning authority to prescribe all the allowable uses within a certain zoning given that the list of possibilities can be endless, it could consider doing an exclusionary list instead. This way, it will be easier for both the public and professionals to know what specific uses would not be allowed before any business decisions are made.

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