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Infrastructure blog

How Singapore uses data to deliver its infrastructure vision

10 April 2024

With limited land available, Singapore is harnessing digital technology to optimise sustainable development and improve quality of life.

How Singapore uses data to deliver its infrastructure vision
Singapore uses data to improve the efficiency of transport infrastructure. Image credit: Shutterstock

When there’s limited space, knowing how and where to build infrastructure can be a real challenge.

With a land area of only 728km2, Singapore’s government is optimising its land for sustainable development and deliver a high quality of life.

A clearly stated national vision has been central to that.

To deliver this, Singapore’s government uses data to translate vision into action using its Long-Term and Master Plans.

This practice embodies principles 1 and 8 of the Enabling Better Infrastructure guidance.

Principle 1 centres on creating a clear vision to encourage the government and the country as a whole to buy into infrastructure decisions.

Principle 8 highlights the importance of managing and using data to inform decision-making, including monitoring and evaluation.

Singapore’s Long-term and Master Plans

Singapore uses Long-term Plans to decide on the best use possible for its land and deliver on infrastructure needs over a time horizon of 50 years and beyond.

It launched its first Long-term Plan, then known as a Concept Plan, in 1971.

Developed six years after gaining independence, the plan outlined basic economic infrastructure needs, such as new housing towns, industrial estates, transport and recreational spaces.

The first Long-term Plan was reviewed in 1991 and has been revisited every 10 years since.

Master Plans

Long-term Plans are supported by Master Plans, which translate the broad strategies of the former into more specific land-use plans, incorporating a focus on infrastructure.

Master Plans enable Long-Term Plans to be actioned across government departments and jurisdictions.

The most recent Master Plan included five key themes:

  1. Liveable and inclusive communities
  2. Forging a stronger economy
  3. Preserving character areas
  4. Sustainability and climate resilience
  5. Transport and connectivity

Both plans involve Singaporeans in reimagining the nation’s future together and ensure that its infrastructure objectives are informed by service needs.

A national vision supported by data

Launched in 2014, Smart Nation is Singapore’s digital strategy, which seeks to harness technology to better plan for the country’s current and future infrastructure needs.

This includes health, transport, urban living, government services and businesses, which helps the country deliver on its national vision.

The strategy focuses on three domains that strengthen and support one another: digital government, digital society and digital economy.

Of these, the digital government domain requires the government to:

  • continue to invest in digital infrastructure for the benefit of its people; and
  • create shared open platforms so that businesses and citizens can access information related to Master Plans and site-specific planning information.

Data to strengthen strategic infrastructure planning

The Singaporean government translates its national vision into practice using robust data in two ways.

1. Informing land-use planning

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) is Singapore’s land-use planning and conservation authority, and an example of the country’s digital strategy in practice.

The URA uses data analytics from various government agencies to gain deeper insights and make better informed decisions on infrastructure planning.

Aligned to the direction of the Master Plan, it decides on a range of issues, such as:

  • Responding to demographic trends within towns
  • Improving the accessibility and use of amenities
  • Influencing activity and mobility/commuting patterns in communities
  • Strengthening access to employment opportunities.

For example, the URA is helping to reduce long commutes through its decentralisation strategy, seeking to connect people living in the country’s western and northern regions with job opportunities closer to their homes.

2. Managing transport needs

About 12% of Singapore’s land area is dedicated to roads and infrastructure, a significant percentage for a small nation.

Smart Nation uses data to improve the efficiency of transportation infrastructure, seeking to provide greater comfort, convenience, reliability and support for the vision of a Singapore with low car use.

Data is used to manage infrastructure user needs on the fly.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) uses an electronic road pricing system that collects comprehensive, real-time traffic data to:

  • adjust traffic light timings;
  • provide priority for buses; and
  • share real-time traffic alerts of road closures and accidents.

This detailed information helps with long-term infrastructure decisions, as it reflects the growing and changing needs of Singaporeans.

The challenges of using data

Singapore offers a good example of a country with a clear, applied national vision for infrastructure.

It’s also a country that’s aware of the need to invest in cybersecurity to ensure that the data they gather is secure.

Singapore has addressed issues of data ownership, privacy and cybersecurity through the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore (CSA).

Formed in 2015, the CSA is responsible for safeguarding government services like energy, water, and telecommunications.

As more and more public data is stored on virtual platforms, cybersecurity is a growing concern internationally.

To find out more about using data in infrastructure planning, see the Enabling Better Infrastructure guidance.

  • Hannah Judd, policy manager at ICE