Brunei Darussalam: Construction building up

With the government having announced ambitious plans to reduce and eventually eliminate the need to wait for state housing, Brunei Darussalam’s construction sector looks set for a busy few years.

The industry is already experiencing something of a growth spurt, with figures released by the Department of Economic Planning and Development in late January showing that the construction sector was the fastest-growing area of the economy in the third quarter of 2011, having expanded by 3.3% year on year – well above the 2.5% recorded for the economy as a whole.

Some of this growth can be attributed to increased state investments in infrastructure and housing projects that are already under way, including a residential development at Kampong Ayer covering 65 homes scheduled for completion early this year, as well as flood mitigation work in the Tutong district and Kampong Mulaut.

Under the government’s existing public housing programmes, at least 4000 new dwellings will be handed over this year, following on from the 3500 in 2011, though even at this accelerated pace the state is struggling to keep up with demand. According to official figures, as of the end of last year, the shortfall in state housing stood at almost 33,750 units.

Nearly 26,000 of these are required in the Brunei-Muara district, which encompasses the main business and commercial hub of the country and is home to around 70% of the population. A further 5500 homes are needed in the Belait district, with the remaining shortfall in the Tutong and Temburong districts.

In order to get in front of the rising demand, in a move that will have long-term benefits for the construction industry, the government announced late last year it would fast-track housing developments to reduce the waiting list for public housing, unveiling plans to have more than 17,300 homes constructed by 2014. Of these, 10,676 will be built in the Brunei-Muara district, along with almost 4000 in Belait, more than 2250 in Tutong, and 408 in Temburong.

However, unlike previous housing programmes in the Sultanate, the new developments will be built upwards rather than outwards, with construction work to focus on apartment blocks rather than the more traditional freestanding houses. The vertical housing concept is a logical response to the paucity of land that can be utilised for residential purposes. Much of Brunei’s landmass of 5265 sq km is already reserved either for agricultural or industrial use, or as part of the Heart of Borneo project, designed to protect large swathes of the environment in their original form.

According to Pehin Kaya Indera Pahlawan Setia Suyoi bin Osman, the Minister of Development, if traditional practices were followed in building the residential units scheduled for completion over the next few years, 775 ha of land would be required. By contrast, only 580 ha of land will be used with the planned vertical housing model.

One of the first of these housing projects will be located at Kampong Lambak Kanan in the Brunei-Muara district, the minister announced in mid-January, with work set to begin late this year.

“At the beginning, the project involves the construction of the six-storey vertical housing, which will provide about 320 unit houses in Kampong Lambak Kanan,” he said at the opening of a housing trade fair. “Most area of the land designated for this development will be retained as green space that contributes to the reduction of the urban heat island effect, regulating surface run-off and brightening the beauty of the environment.”

Other projects that have been proposed include a series of 14-storey towers in the Lumapas region, some 25 km from the capital. The development would cover a 133-ha area and would be linked to Bandar Seri Begawan by public transport, according to local media reports.

Contractors will have to work within a series of tight guidelines, as the government has mandated that the new housing projects adhere to eco-friendly standards. These will include measures to minimise energy consumption and install highly efficient waste and sewerage disposal.

While this accelerated public housing programme is welcome news for the country’s construction contractors, they may struggle to complete all of the projects on time. This is mostly due to the fact that the scheme calls for higher output that the sector has had to meet in the past, while also putting in place technological standards.

Though the full cost of the proposed expansions have yet to be finalised, the government’s commitment to ending the shortage of homes should see the country’s builders working at full capacity for some years to come.

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