Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA)
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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. Its mission is "to make Singapore a great city to live, work and play in" and it is primarily responsible for planning and facilitating the physical development of Singapore to achieve this mission. It is currently located at The URA Centre along Maxwell Road.
Upon the request of the Singapore government, the United Nations sent in town-planning experts in 1962 and 1963 to help Singapore draw up plans to tackle its development problems, including the problem of urban decay in the central area. On their recommendation, the HDB formed an urban renewal team in June 1963. Reflecting the high priority given to urban renewal, this team eventually became a full-fledged department under the HDB in 1966.
The government announced in October 1972 that it was setting up a statutory board to carry out urban renewal; the new authority was to become operational in 1973. On 30 November 1973, parliament passed the Urban Redevelopment Authority Bill, which provided for the creation of the URA to take over the functions of the Urban Renewal Department.
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. Besides the formulation of plans to guide redevelopment, its tasks included acquiring and clearing land occupied by slums, improving infrastructural and other facilities, resettling businesses affected by redevelopment, and selling land to the private sector for redevelopment. The URA also undertook some of its own building projects, including commercial centres (e.g., Orchard Point, Funan Centre) and car park stations (e.g., Golden Shoe Car Park, Cairnhill Place Car Park).
By the second half of the 1980s, the central area had already been redeveloped extensively and the pressure for urban renewal had eased. The government then decided to merge the URA with the MND's Planning Department and Research and Statistics Unit to consolidate all urban planning functions under a single authority. The Planning Department was responsible for strategic planning and development for the whole of Singapore and the Research and Statistics Unit provided the necessary statistical and research support for planning activities.
The legislation to effect the merger was passed by parliament on 4 August 1989 and the new authority, still known as the URA, became operational on 1 September 1989. The former URA's property development and management functions were also transferred to a new subsidiary called Pidemco Holdings. The reorganisation marked the beginning of the URA as Singapore's national planning and conservation authority. It has allowed nationwide urban planning to be undertaken in a more comprehensive manner, with better coordination across government agencies.
A crucial function of the URA is the preparation of the concept plan and the master plan, which together form the framework for guiding the overall physical development of Singapore over the medium to long term. The concept plan is the blueprint that provides the broad strategies and directions, while the master plan is a statutory document that translates the vision of the concept plan into detailed guidelines. Within the context of these two plans, the URA draws up conservation plans to preserve Singapore's built heritage as well as urban design plans to guide the arrangement and design of developments to ensure an attractive urban environment.
Development control is essentially the implementation of planning regulations, including the land use zoning, development intensity and building height stipulated for specific sites in the master plan. It involves a system of permits whereby the URA's permission is needed for various projects such as the construction of new buildings, the change of use of buildings or land, and all works within conservation areas.
Sale of Sites
The URA plans and conducts the sale of state land to the private sector. It times its release of sites to ensure adequate supply of land for residential, commercial and other developments. Its sale of sites programme also complements the development control system as an important tool for achieving planning goals, as each sale comes with terms and conditions relating to the development of the site.
The URA identifies buildings and areas for conservation based on their historical, architectural and cultural value. Some conservation sites are sold to the private sector for restoration and adaptive re-use. As at 30 June 2009, it has demarcated 94 conservation areas, thereby giving conservation status to almost 7,000 buildings. These include areas such as Chinatown, Emerald Hill and Geylang, and buildings such as Capitol Theatre and the former Victoria School.
Besides these four key activities, the URA compiles and disseminates useful information on the property market such as price and rental trends, existing and upcoming supply, and sale transactions. It also manages over 60,000 public parking lots, mostly in the central area.
Impact on Singapore's Urban Landscape
Through proper planning and effective implementation, 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 "Golden Shoe" area (including Raffles Place and Shenton Way) and its vicinity - where slums, rundown buildings, streetside 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.
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.
A more recent example is the dramatic reshaping of Singapore's skyline at Marina South (also known as the new downtown). Plans for the area are laid out in the 2008 master plan prepared by the URA and key projects such as One Raffles Quay, The Sail @ Marina Bay and the upcoming Marina Bay Financial Centre are located on sites sold under the URA's land sale programme. When fully developed, the area (which will also house the new Botanic Gardens and the Marina Bay Sands integrated resort) will be a vibrant hub of round-the-clock activity where people live, work and play.
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The information in this article is valid as at 2009 and correct as far as we are able to 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.