The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) is Singapore’s national land-use planning and conservation authority. It was formed in 1974, though it has its roots in the Urban Renewal Department set up by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) in the 1960s.1 Its mission is “to make Singapore a great city to live, work and play” and it is primarily responsible for planning and facilitating the physical development of Singapore to achieve this mission.2 It is currently located at The URA Centre at Maxwell Road.3
When Singapore gained self-government, the government inherited a city in which urban planning had been neglected for about 120 years.4 To address this issue, the Singapore government invited the United Nations to provide expert help in urban planning in 1962 and 1963. A team of local personnel was drawn up to work with the United Nations team, with the former eventually forming the Urban Renewal Unit on 1 August 1964 under the HDB.5 The Urban Renewal Unit’s goal was to remake the Central Area as a vibrant and modern commercial centre, while finding new homes for residents and new locations for industries.6 The Urban Renewal Unit also undertook the planning of new towns, large housing projects and other specialised government projects, such as Toa Payoh New Town, Kallang Basin Reclamation Scheme and Kallang Park Sports Exhibition.7
In 1966, The Urban Renewal Unit was restructured into the Urban Renewal Department (URD).8 With the Land Acquisition Act introduced in 1966, the government acquired the fragmented privately owned land in the Central Area, which was then assembled and sold to the private sector by the URD for redevelopment. Under its purview, the URD launched the first Sales of Sites Programme in 1967, followed by 1968 and 1969.9
In 1971, a Concept Plan to guide the development of Singapore’s long-term land use and transportation use was created with efforts from the URD, the Planning Department, HDB, the former Public Works Department, and United Nations. The URD was tasked to handle the physical, social and economic revamp of the Central Area, but it proved too overwhelming for a single department.10
On 30 November 1973, the parliament passed the Urban Redevelopment Authority Bill, which provided for the creation of the URA to take over the functions of the URD.11 The URA began its work as a statutory board under the Ministry of National Development (MND) on 1 April 1974. Its main duty was to plan and implement the comprehensive redevelopment of the Central Area.12 It also oversaw the acquiring and clearing of land occupied by slums, improving infrastructural and other facilities, resettling residents and businesses affected by redevelopment, selling of land to the private sector for redevelopment, and managing carparks.13 Some of the projects completed under the URA in the 1980s were the development of Funan Centre and Golden Shoe Car Park, and upgrading of the Emerald Hill Road Conservation Area and Cuppage Road.14
By the second half of the 1980s, the Central Area had already been redeveloped extensively and the pressure for urban renewal had eased.15 On 4 August 1989, the URA was merged with MND’s Planning Department and Research and Statistics Unit to consolidate all urban planning functions under a single authority, and the new authority, still known as the URA, became operational on 1 September 1989.16 In the same year, URA became the national conservation authority, beginning the crucial task of conserving Singapore’s built heritage.17
The reorganisation marked the beginning of the URA as Singapore’s national planning and conservation authority. With its expanded resources, it is better able to undertake nationwide urban planning in a more comprehensive manner and streamlining planning functions.18
The URA’s role has expanded over the years to keep up with the changing needs of Singapore. From its early days as a land sales agent involved in urban renewal of the Central Area, its role now encompasses land use planning, land sales, place management, conservation, urban design, and promoting architectural excellence. The URA’s priority, however, has remained the same – making the best use of resources to ensure a balance between economic growth, a good quality of life, and built environment.19
Land Use Planning
The URA develops framework that provides an integrated approach to sustainable development – incorporating economic, social and environmental considerations.
The planning process starts with a Concept Plan, which is a strategic land use and transportation plan that guides Singapore’s development over the next 40–50 years and reviewed every 10 years. The broad and long-term strategies of the Concept Plan are then translated into a Master Plan, a statutory plan that guides the development over the next 10–15 years. The Master Plan details the plans for implementation by specifying the permissible land uses and densities. It is reviewed once every five years. Based on the planning directions set out in the Concept Plan and Master Plan, land is then released for development.20
Development Control (DC) ensures that all properties are developed and used according to the Master Plan land use zoning, gross plot ratio, building height controls, and other DC guidelines. These guidelines help to protect the amenities and interests of the wider community, while allowing the individual landowners and businesses to develop their properties. Feedback from building industry professionals are periodically sought during the URA’s review of the DC guidelines.21
The URA is the main land sales agent for the Government. Land is made available for sale for commercial, hotel, private residential and industrial developments in Singapore through the Government Land Sale (GLS) programme. Each GLS programme is planned for and announced every six months.22
The URA identifies building and areas for conservation based on their historical, architectural and cultural value. It also sets out guidelines and principles for owners, architects, engineers, and contractors to ensure quality restoration of the buildings.23
To recognise well-restored monuments and conserved buildings in Singapore, the URA Architectural Heritage Awards was launched in 1995. The annual awards honour owners, developers, architects, engineers, as well as contractors who have displayed the highest standards in conserving and restoring heritage buildings for continued use. The awards also promote public awareness and appreciation of quality restoration of monuments and buildings in Singapore.24
Urban Planning & Design
The URA formulates urban design plans and policies to shape Singapore’s city centre as a distinctive, dynamic and delightful place for all. When planning for the city centre, the URA considers the relationship between buildings and streets, how people would make use of them, and their experience of moving within the city.25
The URA promotes professional development in architecture, urban design and planning excellence, and creates awareness through public education.26 For home-buyers, developers and investors, it provides comprehensive and timely real estate information to help them make informed decisions.27 The URA also manages public parking lots in the Central Area, commercial and industrial areas outside HDB estates, and in some private residential estates.28
Impact on Singapore’s Urban Landscape
The URA has been instrumental in bringing about the impressive change in Singapore’s physical landscape since independence, most notably in the Central Area. The most significant example is the redevelopment of the financial district area, also known as the “Golden Shoe” area. Where slums, rundown buildings, street-side vendors and congested streets were once a common sight, we now see a thriving business and financial hub where modern complexes and office skyscrapers are juxtaposed with restored conservation properties.29
The URA also planned and guided the transformation of Marina Centre from an empty patch of reclaimed land into a cluster of high-quality office, shopping and hotel developments, and that of Tanjong Rhu from a shipyard zone into a prestigious residential enclave.30
A more recent and reshaping of Singapore’s skyline at Marina South were the development of the Marina Bay Sands Integrated Resort, Marina Bay Financial Centre, the waterfront promenade, and the Helix Bridge.31 The next phase of development of this area includes mixed-use residential district that is planned to be green, walkable and cycle-friendly.32
1. Sumiko Tan, Home, Work, Play (Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, 1999), 146. (Call no. RSING 307.1216095957 TAN)
2. “About Us,” Urban Redevelopment Authority, accessed 11 April 2016.
3. “Contact Us,” Urban Redevelopment Authority, 11 April 2016.
4. Tan, Home, Work, Play, 142.
5. Lily Kong, Conserving the Past, Creating the Future: Urban Heritage in Singapore (Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, 2011), 24–25, 28 (Call no. RSING 363.69095957 KON); Housing and Development Board, Singapore, Annual Report 1965 (Singapore: Housing & Development Board, 1965), 14, 50–51. (Call no. RCLOS 711.4095957 SIN-[AR])
6. Urban Redevelopment Authority, “About Us.”
7. Housing and Development Board, Singapore, Annual Report 1965, 52.
8. Housing and Development Board, Singapore, Annual Report 1972 (Singapore: Housing & Development Board, 1972), 81 (Call no. RCLOS 711.4095957 SIN-[AR]); Urban Redevelopment Authority, “About Us.”
9. Urban Redevelopment Authority, Singapore, A Pictorial Chronology of the Sale of Sites Programme for Private Development (Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, 1983), 9 (Call no. RSING 333.77095957 PIC); YEU; Martin Perry, Lily Kong and Brenda Yeoh, Singapore: A Developmental City State (New York: Wiley, 1997), 201–2. (Call no. RSING 307.76095957 PER)
10. Urban Redevelopment Authority, Singapore, Pictorial Chronology of the Sale of Sites, 8; Urban Redevelopment Authority, “About Us.”
11. “Now a New Ruling on Land Build-Up,” Straits Times, 3 December 1973, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
12. Tan, Home, Work, Play, 146.
13. Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore), Annual Report 1974/75 (Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, 1975). (Call no. RCLOS 354.5957091 URASAR-[AR])
14. Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore), Annual Report 1983–84 (Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, 1984). (Call no. RCLOS 354.5957091 URASAR-[AR])
15. Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore), Annual Report 1986–87 (Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, 1987), 11. (Call no. RCLOS 354.5957091 URASAR-[AR])
16. “All Planning to Be under New URA,” Straits Times, 5 August 1989, 19; “Revamped URA Begins Role Today as National Planning Body,” Straits Times, 1 September 1989, 48. (From NewspaperSG)
17. Urban Redevelopment Authority, “About Us.”
18. Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore), Annual Report 1989–90 (Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, 1990), 10–11. (Call no. RCLOS 354.5957091 URASAR-[AR])
19. Urban Redevelopment Authority, “About Us.”
20. “Our Planning Process,” Urban Redevelopment Authority, accessed 11 April 2016.
21. “Development Control,” Urban Redevelopment Authority, accessed 11 April 2016; “Guidelines,” Urban Redevelopment Authority, accessed 11 April 2016.
22. “Land Sales,” Urban Redevelopment Authority, accessed 11 April 2016.
23. “Conservation,” Urban Redevelopment Authority, accessed 11 April 2016.
24. “Architectural Heritage Awards,” Urban Redevelopment Authority, accessed 11 April 2016.
25. “Urban Planning and Design,” Urban Redevelopment Authority, accessed 11 April 2016; “Our City Centre,” Urban Redevelopment Authority, accessed 11 April 2016.
26. “Promoting Good Design,” Urban Redevelopment Authority, accessed 11 April 2016.
27. “Ensuring a Stable and Sustainable Property Market,” Urban Redevelopment Authority, accessed 11 April 2016.
29. Perry, Kong and Yeoh, Developmental City State, 200–4.
30. “Master Plan: Marina Bay and Marina South,” Urban Redevelopment Authority, accessed 11 April 2016; “The Changing Faces of Singapore, Skyline (July–August 2002). (Call no. RSING 354.5957091 S)
31. Urban Redevelopment Authority, Annual Report 2009/2010 (Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, 2010)
32. Urban Redevelopment Authority, “Master Plan.”
“Marina Bay,” Urban Redevelopment Authority, accessed 11 April 2016.
Ole Johan Dale, Urban Planning in Singapore: The Transformation of a City (Malaysia: Oxford University Press, 1999). (Call no. RSING 307.1216 DAL)
Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore), Changing the Face of Singapore: Through the URA Sale of Sites (Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, 1995). (Call no. RSING 333.77095957 CHA)
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