Looking back at Lambak Kanan

Views of the Lambak Kanan National Housing Scheme taken recently. Picture: BT file

Views of the Lambak Kanan National Housing Scheme taken recently. Picture: BT file

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

THREE decades have passed since the Lambak Kanan Master Plan was first drafted to create a "resettlement town" or kampung perpindahan, which would allow citizens of Brunei Darussalam with "the opportunity to live in a good standard of accommodation" equipped with modern conveniences and amenities, while "at the same time observing traditional values and culture".

The criteria above was part of the brief given in the early eighties to TCB Ibrahim, a joint venture company combining the expertise of local firm Akitek Ibrahim and New Zealand consultant Truebridge Callender Beach Ltd.

The Lambak Kanan National Housing Scheme can be considered "generous" in terms of built area and land allocation. When the plan was first conceived, the country's population numbered around 200,000. Now it has almost doubled. After 30 years, Bruneians, especially those living in the highly populated Brunei-Muara District will not get a chance to enjoy a similar scheme where landed properties are the norm.

Recently, it was announced that the government saw a need to develop a vertical housing concept to help alleviate the long waiting list of "landless" citizens in Brunei.

Due to limited availability of land in which to build housing developments, the government is seriously considering "going vertical" and has introduced this idea to the public with a roadshow and a full-scale model of its proposed apartment units. Obviously, the proposal was met with mixed reviews.

Ask anyone in Brunei what a government housing looks like and they will describe to you a plain gateless house on concrete stilts with a large compound. There would definitely have to be a paradigm shift in going vertical.

In an exclusive interview with The Brunei Times, Greg Cumming, TCB Ibrahim's managing director, said the Lambak Kanan Masterplan can be considered a "landmark housing scheme", but that it cannot be the basis to which future housing schemes should follow, because circumstances have changed significantly in the past 30 years.

The first national housing development project was a gift from His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam to his citizens who had no homes of their own, where they were either renting houses or they had land but couldn't build houses and so on. "This was a generous gift from His Majesty, where you could say that he was giving developed land to the people of Brunei, and they only had to pay for the cost of the actual house, which was very heavily subsidised," said Cumming.

He added that the concept of the first national housing development plan was to fit a population of about 16,000 people in a "self-contained" area, where residents wouldn't need to go far to go to school, to exercise or to have community meetings.

"The government is providing this housing at a subsidised cost, and they are paying for the house, but they are not paying for the cost of the land, or the development of the land, and this is something that you don't find in other countries," he added.

"Of course there are restrictions, and the applicant who has the house cannot sell the house to other people, because it is considered a gift from His Majesty," he explained.

The overall concept of the development was to connect five neighbourhoods with link roads. He added that public facilities were provided, such as a community centre, a multi-purpose hall and so on. "When you look at the Master Planning for the housing scheme, you will see that it is along the main access road, and there is no other road that has a direct connection to the houses except for a few main arterial roads," he said.

The managing director explained that by having a concept which would allow residents to be self-contained would improve security and efficiency in how their daily lives are managed.

Cumming further explained that they had incorporated cul-de-sacs in the neighbourhoods as it is a cultural norm for Bruneians to hold family gatherings and weddings at home.

The Lambak Kanan Masterplan also had a significant impact on the commercial developments surrounding the area. Cumming explained that 30 years ago there was hardly any commercial development, but once construction started, shophouses started coming up in the surrounding areas.

"Definitely, you can say that the Lambak Kanan Masterplan was responsible for the commercial developments around it because you've got a large population going in there, and you will definitely see a number of new shop developments," he said, giving the example of the Serusop area which is currently thriving commercially.

However, he said that private housing development may be a different story, as he doesn't know whether a national housing development project can impact the trend of private housing development as it would have a different focus.

In the 1990s, there was a lot of private housing development done around the Muara and Berakas area, he said, adding, "If you look along Jalan Muara, you will see that there is a lot of terrace houses, and because the density of houses were getting higher, so out of necessity, it was better to build terrace houses, or semi-detached houses."

The cost of building a detached house would be too expensive, he said.

"You will see that a lot of developers (now) are developing semi-detached houses, or terrace houses, so based on this trend, you can see that the national housing scheme is also following it," said Cumming.

Being the first national housing development, the Lambak Kanan Masterplan was probably "the most expensive development".

It is hard to compare, however, as costs really depends on the environment, and the location of the housing schemes, he said, adding that the soil content of the area in the national housing developments must also be considered.

"If you have very low-lying areas, for example like the one in Kuala Belait, they had to fill the entire area with several metres of sand and the earthwork for that alone could add $30,000 to $40,000 per house, so it is difficult to compare," he said.

The Brunei-Muara district has also seen a lot of "inward urban drift". In Tutong, there has been little growth, and in Kuala Belait and Temburong, there has hardly been any growth in terms of population. "The Brunei-Muara District's demand for housing grew and with the shortage of land there is no choice but to have a higher density of housing, in terms of terrace houses, or in the latest National Housing Development plan, vertical housing," he said.

He explained that in a way, the citizens who were able to get the land in the Lambak Kanan Masterplan were very fortunate.

"It is always the case, where it always seems that the people last time seem to have a better deal than what we have now, but that's just life and that's the way it is," he said, adding that he thinks that people now have accepted that they will be living in a "more modest" residential environment, especially if it is in such a heavily subsidised manner.

"People know that if they want to have something more extravagant, they have to pay for it themselves, and that is the mindset that has to be there," he said.

The Brunei Times