Urban planning framework in Singapore

Singapore Infopedia


Urban planning optimises land use in Singapore. Through the Long-Term Plan (previously Concept Plan) and the Master Plan, land is allocated for housing, commerce, industry, parks, transport, recreation and defence.1 These urban development plans guide the physical development of Singapore.2

The first urban planning framework in Singapore began in 1822 when Sir Stamford Raffles returned to Singapore and was dissatisfied with 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 number 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 1952, 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, which 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.

After Singapore gained self-government in 1959, the United Nations planning team was invited in 1962 and 1963 to propose a long-term framework for urban renewal and assist housing problems and urban decay. The collaboration resulted in the Concept Plan 1971, which mapped out the vision for the development of Singapore.3

Concept Plan
Introduced in 1971, the Concept Plan, now known as the Long-Term 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 sufficient land to support long-term population and economic growth, while maintaining a green and liveable city environment. The Concept Plan is reviewed every 10 years.4 From 1971 to 2021, there have been five such plans.

(1) Concept Plan 1971: The plan laid the foundation for Singapore’s development by setting out broad principles to develop new housing towns, industrial estates, transport infrastructure and recreational spaces.

(2) Concept Plan 1991: The plan focused on economic growth and quality of life. This included building commercial centres outside the city centre to bring jobs closer to homes, building technological corridors to facilitate the growth of high-tech industries, and developing a petrochemical industry by merging seven low-lying southern islands into Jurong Island.

(3) Concept Plan 2001: The plan envisioned Singapore as a world-class city and global financial hub. It aimed to provide a wider range of housing options, set aside land for the financial and services sectors, and create more parks, reservoirs and nature areas.

(4) Concept Plan 2011: The plan enhanced the visions to make Singapore a place to live, work and play, including more integrated spaces with nature, paths for walking and cycling, homes and sustainable towns, and inclusive spaces.

(5) Long-Term Plan 2021: The plan built on the vision of the previous Concept Plan. Other than housing, leisure and recreation spaces, the Long-Term Plan also addressed heritage places and nature spaces and conceptualised the redevelopment of the Paya Lebar Air Base.5

Master Plan
While the Concept Plan maps out Singapore’s urban development structure, its broad long-term proposals are translated into the Master Plan, which then details the permissible land uses and densities for various land parcels.6 Introduced in 1958, the Master Plan is a statutory land-use plan that guides the physical development of Singapore for 10–15 years. Since 2003 it has been reviewed every five years.7 As of 2023, six Master Plans have been released in 1958, 1980, 2003, 2008, 2014 and 2019.8

The Master Plan in 2019 focused on creating inclusive, sustainable and green neighbourhoods, developing district-level underground plans and revitalising the central area of Singapore to maximise land use. The plan was gazetted on 27 November 2019.9

Both the Concept Plan and Master Plan are administered by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).For each plan, the URA conducts public forums and other forms of engagement to obtain feedback and address the concerns of the stakeholders and the public.10

Shereen Tay

1. Belinda Yuen, Planning Singapore: From Plan to Implementation (Singapore: Singapore Institute of Planners, 1998, 1–6 (Call no. RSING 711.4095957 PLA); “About the Concept Plan,” Urban Redevelopment Authority, updated 23 April 2021. (From NLB Web Archive Singapore)
2. Stephen Hamnett and Belinda Yuen, Planning Singapore: The Experimental City (London: Routledge, 2021), 39–45. (Call no. RSING 307.1216095957 PLA)
3. Sumiko Tan, Home, Work, Play (Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, 1999), 138–45. (Call no. RSING 307.1216095957 TAN)
4. Urban Redevelopment Authority, Space for Our Dreams: Long-Term Plan Review 2021 (Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, 2022), 14; Urban Redevelopment Authority, “About the Concept Plan.”
5. “Past Concept Plans,” Urban Redevelopment Authority, updated 23 April 2021 (From NLB Web Archive Singapore); Urban Redevelopment Authority, Space For Our Dreams, 4–11, 17.
6. Hamnett and Yuen, Planning Singapore, 39–42; “Our Planning Process,” Urban Redevelopment Authority, updated 30 November 2017. (From NLB’s Web Archive Singapore)
7. Hamnett and Yuen, Planning Singapore, 40.
8. “Master Plan,” Urban Redevelopment Authority, updated 18 November 2022; “Previous Master Plans,” Urban Redevelopment Authority, updated 18 November 2022. (From NLB Web Archive Singapore)
9. “Master Plan,” Urban Redevelopment Authority, updated 10 December 2019; “10 Things to Know About Draft Master Plan 2019,” MND Link, May/June 2019. (From NLB Web Archive Singapore)
10. Hamnett and Yuen, Planning Singapore, 39–42; Urban Redevelopment Authority, “Our Planning Process.”

Further resources
Heng Chye Kiang, 50 Years of Urban Planning in Singapore (Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Company, 2016). (Call no. RSING 307.1216095957 FIF)

Ministry of National Development, A High Quality Living Environment for All Singaporeans: Land Use Plan to Support Singapore's Future Population (Singapore: Ministry of National Development, 2013). (Call no. RSING 333.77095957 HIG)

Wong Tai-Chee and Yap Lian-Ho Adriel Wong, Four Decades of Transformation: Land Use in Singapore, 1960–2000 (Singapore: Eastern University Press, 2004). (Call no. RSING 333.73095957 WON)

The information in this article is valid as of November 2023 and correct as far as we can 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.


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