Govt payouts rise as more land is acquired

SINGAPORE - More pieces of land have been taken over by the Government in recent years as Singapore widens roads and builds new MRT lines and highways.

This has led to growing sums in compensation being paid out to property owners.

And the number of collectors - officers who pound the ground to assuage owners' concerns - has more than doubled.

The Singapore Land Authority (SLA) has acquired 485 properties over the past five years, up from just 64 in the same period before that. These include everything from small patches of unused land or parking spaces to larger plots such as residential homes.

As the number of pieces of land taken over has grown, so has the compensation bill.

Owners whose property was needed for the Downtown Line and widening of Upper Bukit Timah Road between 2008 and 2010 were given a total of $106 million, according to the SLA.

By contrast, those in the recently acquired Pearls Centre, which is due to make way for the Thomson Line, received $465 million between them.

Meanwhile, the number of collectors employed by the Government has surged from fewer than 10 five years ago to 25 today.

SLA land sales and acquisition director Thong Wai Lin said that in land-scarce Singapore, property is acquired only when absolutely necessary. The intention is to minimise the impact on people.

"As Singapore is now more built-up and urbanised, land acquisition is unavoidable when we carry out the road and rail projects," said Ms Thong.

She added that there are now more owners than in the past, when one person sometimes held vast tracts of property.

Land acquisition is a touchy subject for many, but improvements have already been made to keep up with the times.

In the past, the Government looked at two prices - the market value at the start of 1995 and the value on the day the acquisition was announced - and paid the lower of the two.

Since 2007, however, it has used the value on the day of announcement. The compensation figure also takes into account what the property might be developed into. "We understand it is difficult for owners to have their properties acquired," said Ms Thong. She added that she hoped efforts to assist them would help lessen the impact.

SLP International head of research Nicholas Mak said this method was a marked departure from that in the past. In the 1980s, farmers in Punggol got as little as 70 cents per square foot.

"There are three factors why there is better compensation now," he said. "People are more educated and vocal, the nation is doing better, and the Government does not need to acquire huge plots of land at a time."

DTZ research head Lee Lay Keng said plans for new infrastructure will determine whether more owners will have their land taken over in the coming years.

The Cross Island Line, announced by Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew this January, will pass through built-up areas such as Ang Mo Kio and Clementi.

"Logically speaking, planning cannot be an overnight affair, and provisions must have been made," said Ms Lee. "You don't start building the routes connecting a housing estate only when people start moving in, but do it in tandem, to reduce causing more problems in future."

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