Brunei Darussalam: Building up

Faced with a shortage of land for urban development, industry and agriculture, and a rising population, Brunei Darussalam is considering promoting the construction of vertical residential units to overcome the country’s housing shortage.

If adopted, the proposal to build up rather than build out would mark a major shift in the country’s construction practices, as well as in cultural norms, where a more open residential plan on individual blocks of land is the standard.

Much of Brunei Darussalam’s land has been preserved by the government to protect it against development and to maintain the environmental balance, with some 50% of the country’s landmass designated as reserve land, mainly under the Heart of Borneo scheme. Along with other restrictions, including land set aside for agriculture, only 5% of Brunei Darussalam’s land is available for development, creating constraints on space for residential property construction.

On June 23 Suyoi Osman, the minister of development, said the government was actively looking into the construction of apartment buildings as a means of reducing the waiting list for state housing.

While the government is confident that it will be able to deliver a total of 17,500 houses through the state’s National Housing Scheme and the Landless Indigenous Citizens Housing Scheme by 2014, the increasing numbers of Bruneians applying for housing support means that only half of those registered with the authorities for a home will be accommodated by the two schemes.

In order to increase the number of houses under the schemes and implement effective land use for development, the government is considering constructing high-rise public housing after 2012, Suyoi said.

The proposal to develop multi-storey residential accommodation is not a new one. In late October, the then-minister of development, Abdullah Bakar, said real estate developers needed to have a greater vision to create what he called less “land-hungry” development plans. It was necessary to use Brunei Darussalam’s remaining land more wisely, suggesting that high-rise developments were a viable option.

Rozan Yunos, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Development who said that the shift in the country’s demographics necessitated a change in construction practices, supported the minister’s call. “There weren’t as many people in Brunei Darussalam in the 20th century as there are today, so historically speaking, there was not much need for vertical buildings back then,” he said late last year. “But then Brunei Darussalam’s population is growing, and there will always be a growing demand for housing.”

The potential for high-rise residential construction projects was given a boost in mid-2009 when the government ratified legislation allowing for multiple ownership of property on a single block of land. The Land Code Strata Act sets out the terms of ownership for units in multi-storey buildings, which may include flats, shops and offices. The title allows Bruneians, permanent residents and foreigners to purchase flats and apartments in the Sultanate.

Along with the act’s aims of promoting economic development and increasing the levels of private home ownership, the legislation also intends to boost the construction sector by encouraging more residential and business developments.

But it is not just the pressure to house Brunei Darussalam’s growing population that is a pressing issue for both the government and the construction industry. While the government is investing heavily in providing state housing to those in need, the building sector is starting to experience a shortage of trained professionals, just at the time when the need is greatest.

In mid-May Abidin Saidin, the head of the local guidance and development unit of the Ministry of Housing, said the growing demand in the construction industry was in turn putting a strain on the available personnel resources in the building sector. With both the private and public sectors looking to step up building activities to meet their needs as the economy expands, Abidin said the industry was offering growing opportunities for employment.

“We need more engineers, surveyors and architects, among others, because there is a lot of demand,” he said while attending a seminar on careers in the construction industry conducted at the Ministry of Development. “We do not have enough to cater to the needs.”

With the government now actively considering funding high-rise public housing projects, and having paved the way for the private sector to get engaged in this area of economic activity, Brunei Darussalam’s building industry is set to take off.

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