NATIONAL Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan has offered some clarity on the ever-emotive issue of HDB flat sizes, giving his assurance that Singapore will not go the way of cities such as Hong Kong and Tokyo, where flats have become tiny.
Speaking to The Straits Times, Mr Khaw said the Government is committed 'to maintain a good quality of life', and there are no plans to shrink HDB flats. Any future change in flat sizes will depend largely on family sizes, he said.
The issue surfaced at a Reach forum last month, when a member of the audience asked Mr Khaw about flat sizes, which sparked a subsequent debate online and in ST's Forum page.
Mr Khaw noted at the forum that HDB's design norms had not changed since 1997. 'My comment at that dialogue was in response to a question. I was purely stating that HDB plans (flat sizes) based on certain design norms, and as far as I know, it has not changed for the past 15 years,' he told ST in a recent interview.
But his answer at the forum seemed to contradict information in a table the HDB released in November last year, which showed a change in flat sizes from the 1990s to the 2000s.
The HDB has clarified that the timeframes in that table showed the flat sizes prevalent in each decade, not when they last changed. It issued an updated table to ST yesterday that specified when flat sizes had changed (see table).
It shows, for example, that four-room flat sizes increased from 73 sq m in the 1970s to 105 sq m in the 1980s, before decreasing to 100 sq m from 1990 to 1996, and to 90 sq m since 1997. Household size for that flat type over the decades fell from 6.5 in the 1970s to the current 3.7.
The HDB said yesterday that the flat sizes provided are the most common size of that flat type during that period.
But not all flats will be precisely that size.
'Some flats may be bigger or smaller, depending on a range of factors,' said HDB. For example, those flats designed before the 1997 change and finished in the early 2000s would be bigger.
So would some flats built under the Selective En Bloc Redevelopment Scheme (Sers), which redevelops older HDB blocks to maximise land. That is because the new flats would be the same size as the original flat.
As for future flat sizes, Mr Khaw said he would clear the backlog of demand for flats before considering changes to flat designs.
Any change would also depend on whether the Government has the resources, and if there is a significant need.
'We have to look at household sizes... maybe singlehood rates have gone up, (and if so) is there a need to have single people living in a flat that has expanded?' he asked. 'But if (the) birth rate is going up and people are having a lot more children, then that is a different story,' he said.
Industry watchers said yesterday it was 'understandable' that in land-scarce Singapore, flats became smaller over time.
PropNex chief executive Mohamed Ismail pointed out that in the private property market, flats have shrunk to the size of 'shoebox' units and yet are still selling because buyers find them more affordable.
But it was 'natural for buyers to feel the squeeze' as many would have grown up in their parents' homes, built in the 1980s, which were more spacious.
'As far as public housing is concerned. there is a responsibility to ensure decent-sized homes, comfortable enough to bring up families,' Mr Mohamed Ismail said.