Speech by Mr Tan Kiat How, Senior Minister of State for National Development and Communications & Information, at the Committee of Supply Debate on Tues, 2 Mar 2023, in Parliament

Mar 2, 2023

Accelerating Transformation of the Built Environment Sector


1            Mr Chairman, the Built Environment (BE) sector is steadily recovering from COVID-19 and its associated disruptions. Manpower bottlenecks have eased, allowing contractors to catch up with delayed works.  As of end 2022, the number of Construction Work Permit Holders exceeded pre-COVID levels. Price increases for key construction materials, like concrete and steel rebars, seem to be moderating. Construction activities are almost back to pre-COVID levels as well.

2            Construction demand is expected to remain stable. For this year, BCA estimates that the total construction demand will be between $27 billion and $32 billion. Over the next few years, the projected construction demand is expected to be between $25 billion and $32 billion, remaining steady and stable. The public sector will be the main contributor as we ramp up BTO supply, build more hospitals and healthcare facilities, and enhance our public transportation network with projects like the Cross Island MRT line.

3            That said, we need to remain vigilant. There are many challenges and uncertainties ahead of us.

Continuing the Transformation Journey

4        That is why, even during COVID-19, we continued to push for sector transformation.  The Government will lead by example.

5        Mr Chong Kee Hiong asked about HDB’s efforts. As the largest housing developer in Singapore, HDB plays a crucial leadership role in investing in innovation and promulgating good practices.

6            HDB has been implementing a range of technologies in the designing and building of new flats, like Building Information Modelling (BIM) and Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DfMA). Mr Chong will be pleased to note that in fact, DfMA is used for all new HDB projects since 2021. In addition to Prefabricated Prefinished Volumetric Construction (PPVC), HDB also adopts Advanced Precast Concrete System (APCS). APCS offers more opportunities for mechanisation and automation for large orders of prefabricated components. With these efforts, HDB has raised its site productivity by more than 25% compared to its 2010 levels.

7            HDB is also investing in research and innovation to push the frontiers of construction productivity in Singapore. By 2030, HDB aims to achieve an overall 40% improvement in site productivity compared to its 2010 levels, which means new flats get built faster, benefitting more Singaporeans earlier.

8            To achieve this ambitious goal, HDB will pilot new initiatives via its Construction Transformation Project at Tengah Garden Waterfront I & II. For example, the flats will be built using a hybrid precast system made up of 3D and 2D components that are designed to be fabricated, transported, and assembled more efficiently. This system will also benefit residents, as it will enable HDB to build beamless flats with higher headroom and provide residents with greater flexibility in configuring the layout of their flats.

9            In addition to new builds, HDB has been exploring new ways to maintain public housing estates. For instance, HDB is trialling a new concrete spalling prevention system, called the Corrosion Retardant System. This forms a protective layer around the steel bars within the concrete to stop existing corrosion and prevent further spalling. The trial results have been promising so far. HDB is studying how this system can address concrete spalling issues, especially in the older estates.

Digitalisation as a Key Enabler

10         Beyond HDB, we are partnering the industry on broader transformation efforts as part of the refreshed Built Environment Industry Transformation Map (ITM) launched last September. We are taking steps to transform every part of the building lifecycle, from the planning and design phase, the construction phase, to the operations and maintenance phase of our buildings.

11         One key enabler is digitalisation through the adoption of Integrated Digital Delivery (IDD). This is a “digital spine” linking project stakeholders throughout the entire building lifecycle.

12         We have been making good progress. In 2022, 45% of all new developments by Gross Floor Area (GFA) adopted IDD and we are on track to meeting our target of 70% adoption by 2025. As part of our IDD efforts, we developed a Common Data Environment (CDE), which is a data standard for the industry. This ensures data compatibility and allows for seamless digital collaboration between project stakeholders.

13         And we will continue to do more to support our SMEs in their digitalisation journey. I am happy to announce that BCA will launch a new $21mil tranche of the Productivity Solutions Grant (PSG).This scheme supports digital solutions that are tailored for the needs in the Built Environment sector and will complement the general digitalisation schemes that our SMEs can already tap on. Solutions include 3D modelling and automation of quantity surveying and valuation tasks.

14         Under this new tranche, the scheme will support manpower training so that SMEs can equip their employees with the necessary skills to make full use of these digital solutions.

15         One company that has benefitted from this is United Force Engineering Pte Ltd, which tapped on the PSG to support the adoption of a Field Service Management software.  I spoke to Ms Veni, the engineer behind the deployment of the solution at United Force Engineering. Traditionally, tasks and payments were tracked manually on spreadsheets. With the new software, Ms Veni and her team were able to automate several processes, like sending service reports to customers and tracking customer details. This has reduced their administrative workload and minimised human errors.

16       This new tranche provides SMEs with funding support of up to 50% of the qualifying costs in adopting pre-approved digital solutions. I invite firms to apply when the new tranche is available from April 2023.

Transforming Planning & Design

17         Let me next outline how we are driving transformation at each phase of the building lifecycle.

18         I agree with Mr Henry Kwek and Mr Yip Hon Weng that there are benefits to better upstream planning and coordination between industry stakeholders and the regulators. That is why we have been working with industry and agencies to develop a new regulatory process for building submissions.

19         I would like to thank all the individuals, from industry and public sector agencies who have contributed to this effort.  The new process streamlines more than 20 existing touchpoints with agencies into three key submission gateways. We look forward to launching the digital platform that will implement this - CORENET X – by the end of this year. Users will be on boarded in phases and features will be rolled out progressively.

20         The platform will leverage BIM to enhance collaboration between industry stakeholders, and between industry stakeholders with regulators on the various submissions.  It will also enable agencies to provide consolidated and coordinated responses to firms. A large project typically takes about three to five years from design to building completion.

21         Preliminarily, CORENET X could reduce the time for a firm to obtain approvals across the development process by 20% to 25%, which translates to an overall four to five months’ worth of manpower savings.

22         To date, almost 500 consultant firms have participated in various engagements and sharing sessions. I encourage the rest of the industry to find out more on the CORENET X on our website. This contains numerous resources, webinars, and links to various community of practices. I also encourage you to sign up for hands-on training courses that will be held throughout the year.

Transforming Construction

23         Next, at the construction phase, we have been working to raise the adoption of DfMA technologies. The advantages were outlined by Mr Chong earlier. This involves shifting construction off-site to more factory-like settings off-site, before being assembled on-site. The benefits for such construction methods are numerous – there are productivity enhancements and better worker safety outcomes with fewer workers on-site. Residents in surrounding areas also benefit as less noise and dust is generated.

24         I am pleased to share that the DfMA adoption rate for all new developments by GFA has increased from 44% in 2021 to 51% in 2022, and we are on track to meet our target of 70% by 2025.

25         To further support firm’s productivity efforts, we will extend the Investment Allowance Scheme (IAS) for the construction industry for another five years, till 2028. This provides tax allowance for investments in advanced construction equipment. Over the last five years, the scheme has helped more than 60 firms make over $165 million worth of investments.

26         One such company is Sam Lain Equipment Services Pte Ltd, which tapped on this scheme to purchase a pipe jacking machine.  Sam Lain halved the time taken for pipe laying work and were able to reduce the number of site workers from twelve to seven. With less manual and temporary work involved and fewer workers on-site, they can now carry on this work more safely, with less disruption to the public. Beyond deploying a single equipment to improve productivity for a specific task, Sam Lain has also invested in a suite of equipment, like silent piler machines and cranes to support different tasks related to underground and soil improvement works. 

27         Like Sam Lain, to achieve greater productivity improvement, firms will need to more fundamentally re-design work processes across multiple tasks and make use of integrated systems, instead of just a single machinery. Therefore, we have decided to raise the minimum capital expenditure value per application to $1million to encourage firms to do so. The minimal capital expenditure per equipment will remain at $100,000. I encourage all firms to consider applying for the IAS.

Transforming Operations & Maintenance

28       Finally, I agree with Mr Raj Joshua Thomas that transforming the way we operate and maintain buildings is key. Proper maintenance ensures that a development is safe, functional, and enjoyable for its users, and greatly reduces energy emissions. At the same time, the maintenance costs of a building over its lifetime can be around three to four times that of the initial construction cost. There is hence a need to manage these costs more effectively.

29       The Government will do more to champion transformation in the FM industry. First, the public sector will take the lead for the buildings under our care. We require all new public sector developments, existing public sector buildings undergoing retrofitting works, and developments on Government Land Sales (GLS) sites to adopt best practices in designing for maintainability. This will reduce the workload of FM firms downstream. BCA is also working with agencies to drive greater adoption of Integrated Facilities Management (IFM) and Aggregated Facilities Management (AFM) in their buildings.

30         We will continue to support the industry in this effort. We launched a $30 million Grant last September that supports the adoption of progressive FM procurement, processes and technologies. To date, about 20 companies have expressed interest, and I encourage more firms to apply. I am very glad to see that our industry partners are also playing their part.

31         The Singapore International Facility Management Association (SIFMA) and the Trade Associations and Chambers of other FM related sectors like Security and Landscaping, have stepped up to explore potential collaboration projects to improve integration across the various FM disciplines. I commend them for their effort and look forward to partnering them to transform our FM sector, including promulgating good practices, like outcome-based contracting.

32         Let me turn to how we are transitioning towards a low-carbon Built Environment sector. In particular, we are stepping up our efforts for buildings, which account for over 20% of Singapore’s carbon emissions.

33       I agree with Mr Xie Yao Quan, Ms Tin Pei Ling, Mr Don Wee and Mr Cheng Hsing Yao that we need to operate and maintain buildings more sustainably.

34       Under the latest edition of the Singapore Green Building Masterplan, we set out three ambitious targets, or “80-80-80 in 2030”. With the hard work of industry partners, we are on track to meet these targets. We have greened close to 55% of our buildings, seen about 20% of our new buildings in the past year achieve Super Low Energy standards, and achieved over 70% improvement in energy efficiency over 2005 levels for our best-in-class buildings.

35         But collectively, we must intensify our greening efforts to reach our national target of achieving net zero emissions by 2050. In particular, we need to do more to green our existing stock of older buildings. These buildings may not have been designed with sustainability in mind, or may not be operated or maintained efficiently.

This can result in significant energy wastage, sometimes more than a quarter of the buildings’ overall energy use.

36       Currently, BCA requires buildings that undergo major works or chiller retrofits to meet minimum energy performance requirements. This ensures that older buildings are upgraded to meet prevailing sustainability standards when they undertake extensive works. However, there is currently no requirement for building owners to improve their buildings’ energy performance if they do not undertake such works.

37         This is why we will introduce a new Mandatory Energy Improvement (MEI) regime by the end of 2024. We will require the owners of buildings with poor energy performance to conduct an energy audit and implement measures to reduce energy consumption. These buildings will be required to maintain an improved level of energy performance over a stipulated period.

38       These measures can include simple, cost-effective solutions such as replacing faulty parts and sensors, or getting tenants to use energy saving lighting. Building owners who would like to undertake more extensive retrofits can also apply for grants under the Green Mark Incentive Scheme for Existing Buildings 2.0, which provides up to 50% co-funding for retrofitting works to achieve at least Green Mark Platinum standards.

39         For a start, the regime will apply to the most energy-intensive commercial buildings, healthcare facilities, sports and recreation centres and institutional buildings with a Gross Floor Area of 5,000m2 and above. 

40         BCA is consulting relevant stakeholders, including building owners, developers, energy auditors and professional associations. These stakeholders recognise the need for this regime as most buildings would unlikely undergo works to reduce energy consumption if such works were not made mandatory. BCA will continue to engage the industry on the implementation details. 

41       There would inevitably be extenuating circumstances or practical constraints for certain buildings to meet the requirements. BCA will take this feedback into consideration. BCA will ensure that building owners are notified early and have sufficient time to comply with the requirements.

42         In the meantime, building owners who would like to know how the energy performance of their buildings compares to others can refer to BCA’s building energy benchmarking report. Currently, this annual report provides a summary of the energy performance for each building typology and the individual energy performance data for commercial buildings. Starting this year, BCA will also provide individual energy performance data for healthcare facilities, sports and recreation centres, and institutional buildings, and identify them by name. Buildings will be ranked by energy performance amongst other buildings of similar typology. The next edition of the report will be published later this month on BCA’s website. I encourage all building owners to study it and use it as a guide to improve your building’s energy performance.

43         Our efforts to transform into a world-class Built Environment sector will also create exciting job opportunities for our Built Environment professionals. For instance, the push towards digitalisation and DfMA will change the nature of work in our sector.

44         The push towards greater sustainability will also mean greater demand for green professionals. This is something Mr Xie Yao Quan mentioned too. And exciting new roles include: Energy and Sustainability Solutions Architects; Specialists in Design for Maintainability; Solar Engineers; Facilities Management Data Analysts, and many more exciting opportunities.

45         So I encourage all Built Environment professionals to upskill and reskill yourself, so you can take full advantage of the new opportunities in the Built Environment sector, both locally and abroad. BCA has been engaging industry stakeholders on how to prepare their workforce for the future, and will share more details when ready. And we also consider all suggestions on how to improve the HR practices, as suggested by various members earlier.

Transforming Mindsets and Culture

46       Mr Chairman, I provided an update on the various transformation efforts across the building lifecycle. However, fundamental transformation of an industry sector is not just about using technology or improving work processes. Crucially, there is also a need to transform mindsets and culture- aspects which are often harder to do.

47       At the most basic level, we must make sure that hygiene factors are met. This includes timely payment, as raised by Mr Yip Hon Weng. In this regard, the Security of Payment Act (SOPA) has served to enable regular payments in the construction sector since 2005. The Public Sector Standard Conditions of Contracts (PSSCOC) also stipulates payment timeframes that all public agencies are required to abide by. For instance, agencies should certify the valuation of the Variation Order (VO) within 60 days of the completion of VO works and not the completion of the overall project.

Agencies also should finalise the account within 30 days after the Defects Liability Period. But contractors can also do their part by providing the necessary documents in a timely manner, to facilitate evaluation and approval of payments. And if there are specific project issues encountered by Mr Yip, BCA will follow up with the Member separately.

48       However, I believe most industry stakeholders would very much prefer to resolve issues amicably rather than going to mediation and adjudication, or even legal action. A promising approach to promote a more positive work culture is collaborative contracting.

49       Collaborative contracting aligns the interests of all project parties towards shared project goals. This facilitates proactive project management and prompt resolution of claims before they escalate into major disputes or costs and can help to tackle this issue of timely payment. We have seen encouraging successes in other jurisdictions.

50       The Government is taking the lead to adopt collaborative contracting. There are at least ten public sector projects that have piloted or will be piloting collaborative contracting. But we also need the private sector on board. I am happy to announce that an alliance led by CapitaLand will be piloting the collaborative contracting approach. This will be amongst the first in Singapore for the private sector. They have committed to sharing its experiences with the wider industry. BCA will work with them to develop standard collaborative contracting provisions, which the industry can reference and adopt.

51         CapitaLand and its partners, including Woh Hup and Threesixty, will try out new contract provisions. This includes provisions that enable project parties to flag problems, like design deviations, early and provide  incentives for better performance. To resolve disputes in a more structured manner, the alliance also intends to establish a dispute resolution board, comprising senior management of key stakeholders. Taken together, these will better facilitate the smooth and timely delivery of projects, benefitting not just project parties, but the eventual building users too.

52         This is one of the alliances being supported by the Growth and Transformation Scheme, or GTS, which Minister Desmond Lee spoke about at COS two years ago. We have set aside $90 million under the GTS to help establish alliances between developers, builders, consultants, and other stakeholders. The idea is for these groups of firms to collaborate on multiple projects over time. In doing so, they can grow deeper capabilities, and develop innovative approaches that can eventually benefit the entire ecosystem. 

53         Another alliance under the GTS is led by UOL. UOL and its partners, including United Tec, will focus on developing new capabilities to enhance construction productivity. To increase automation, the alliance plans to adopt robots for labour-intensive tasks such as cleaning and installing building components. This can reduce required manpower by up to 40%. For example, one of the identified solutions is a lift installation robot. This will not only reduce safety risks for workers but will also ensure consistent workmanship and quality across all installation works. It will also adopt more advanced prefabrication techniques and technologies and prefabricate more components, such as Mechanical and Electrical systems. This is expected to reduce the manpower required for such activities by up to 45% and minimise future disruptions to the alliance’s supply chain.

54       I commend CapitaLand, UOL, and their respective partners on leading the way.

Their commitment to working together will not only help uplift their respective value chains, but also push the boundaries for the rest of the sector.

55       Chairman, let me say a few words in Mandarin.

56       我国建筑环境业虽然面临逆风,但是也在稳步复苏。人力短缺的问题已经有所缓解,建筑材料成本的上升也已经大致稳定。

57       根据估计,我国接下来几年的建筑总需求将保持稳定。大量的需求将来自公共领域,包括建设新的组屋, 医院,地铁跨岛线,还有樟宜机场T5。

58       过去几年里,感谢我们建筑环境业的所有伙伴与我们并肩合作,共同克服疫情带来的挑战。接下来,我们必须继续共同努力,进一步推进建筑环境产业的转型。

59         首先,我们将在今年年尾推出CORENET X的电子平台。新平台会简化业者向监管机构提交建设计划的过程,缩短批准时间。

60       其次,为了继续支持中小业者的数码化转型,建设局将在接下来三年,推出总值2,100万元的生产力提升计划。中小业者,在采用预先批准的数码解决方案时,可以获得高达50%的成本资助。

61       第三,我们会把建筑环境业的投资津贴计划延长五年。业者在投资于更先进的建筑设备时,可以享受免税待遇。   

62    我们已经摆脱了疫情的阴影,终于在黑暗之后看到了曙光。政府将会继续与业者齐心协力,让我们的建筑环境产业变得更有韧性,更有可持续性,继续提高生产力,和减少对人力的依赖。

Wildlife Management

63         Let me now turn to another important topic of interest to members here – let me talk about chickens, birds, rats, and cats. Let me first address queries from Ms Nadia Samdin and Mr Chong Kee Hiong .

64       Everyone has a role to play in ensuring safe and positive human-wildlife encounters. As individuals, we must learn how to share spaces with our wildlife. For example, we can observe from a distance when we come across animals and avoid intruding into their spaces. It may trigger a reaction from animals, especially mothers protecting their young. We can also refrain from feeding wildlife as this can alter their natural foraging behaviour and lead to increases in their population.

65         Community partners can help to jointly develop and implement solutions for wildlife management. I am glad that we have the support of partners like the Urban Wildlife Working Group (UWG) and Otter Working Group in that regard. Last year, UWG members launched the Our Wild Neighbours initiative, a country-wide outreach programme to raise public awareness of Singapore’s native wildlife. The Otter Working Group closely follows the otter families and their movements, and shares this information with NParks. This allows NParks to proactively cordon off areas with young otter pups to minimise the likelihood of human-wildlife conflict.

66         The Government will also do our part. NParks implements a holistic suite of measures to manage the wildlife population, including habitat modification and food source reduction. This is an inter-agency effort - NParks works with NEA and SFA on many of these efforts, such as reducing food sources for pest birds at food establishments. Where necessary to protect public safety, NParks also undertakes population control measures. NParks monitors bird feeding hotspots and works with Town Councils and NEA to carry out targeted enforcement. Over the past two years, we have taken enforcement action against more than 100 cases of bird feeding each year, with actions ranging from warnings to prosecution for more serious cases. 

67         NParks will continue to educate members of the community through platforms such as school assembly talks, public webinars, and HDB’s MyNiceHome roadshows. These efforts are supported by science, through population surveys and research studies. These help us better understand the ecology of our wildlife, so we can continue to refine our approach.

68         Mr Chong Kee Hiong also raised specific pest bird and chicken-related issues in estates in his constituency. I would like to assure Mr Chong that NParks is aware of and will continue to support the Town Council and grassroots leaders in tackling these issues.

Animal Welfare

69       In addition to promoting safe and responsible human-wildlife encounters, we must also protect animal health and welfare.

70       Mr Louis Ng and Mr Leon Perera have asked about our approach to managing animal abuse and cruelty, specifically on whether we will consider raising penalties for such offences.

71         We had a recent discussion in this House on this topic in response to a PQ raised by Mr Louis Ng. I would like to reiterate my assurance to Members that we take a serious view of all acts of animal cruelty and abuse. NParks investigates all feedback on such cases and takes the appropriate enforcement action. In cases where individuals suffer from psychiatric conditions, the Courts may already direct a Mandatory Treatment Order  - so it is part of the regime today.

72         To further strengthen our safeguards on animal health and welfare, as well as public health and safety, we are reviewing the Animals and Birds Act, including the possibility of enhancing penalties for animal cruelty and abuse. We will consult the public and relevant stakeholders on our proposals and will share more details when available.

73         We are looking to further promote the well-being of our pet and community cats, and we are in the midst of a public consultation on the proposed cat management framework. This framework aims to promote responsible cat ownership and caregiving, while safeguarding public health. One of the components being considered is a licensing and microchipping scheme for pet cats. Alongside this, we will also study allowing pet cats in HDB flats.

74         Since last September, we have been consulting extensively on this framework. We are heartened to have received a strong response to our public survey, which gathered more than 30,000 responses. We are conducting a detailed analysis of the results and will share our findings when ready.

75       Lastly, Mr Leon Perera also provided some suggestions on how we can enhance efforts in tackling the global illegal wildlife trade, such as working with other countries and the local community.

76       As the Member has said, we had an extensive debate on this topic when we moved the amendments to the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act last year. I am glad that the Member supported the Government’s approach on the amendments.

77         So, let me briefly reiterate a few points.  Singapore is committed to the global fight against illegal wildlife trade. In fact, our efforts have been recognised internationally.at the 2021 United Nations Asia Environmental Enforcement Awards, we were recognised for  our contributions to intercept the illegal trade of elephant ivory.

78       I am glad that the Member also agrees with us that global action and international cooperation is key. Many cases of illegal wildlife trade involve entities in multiple countries.

79       In the debate to move amendments to the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act last year, Mr Leon Perera asked if Singapore should consider a different approach to regulating wildlife trade – to use a reverse-listing model which would make “no trade” the default. 

80         While I can appreciate the spirit behind the suggestion, it would not be feasible nor effective for us to do so, as we cannot unilaterally impose such an approach on the rest of the world. CITES is currently the only international Convention under the United Nations that regulates the trade of endangered species, and almost all countries have signed up to this.   

81         And so, it is important that our approach to illegal wildlife trade is aligned with CITES regulations.  NParks will continue to work closely with its counterparts in source and destination countries, and shares information with international organisations like CITES and INTERPOL to assist in their further investigations and enforcement.

82         At the local level, we will continue to engage various stakeholders, including Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) shops and the community, to raise awareness on the role they can play in combatting illegal wildlife trade.

83       I would like to assure the Member, and other Members, including Mr Louis Ng who has raised these issues previously, that we will continue to be vigilant to the threat posed by the illegal wildlife trade.


84       In closing, I would like to reiterate our commitment to engaging community and industry partners across a range of issues, from BE sector transformation to navigating human-wildlife interactions.

85       Together, I am confident that we will be able to adapt and evolve our approaches, to tackle emerging challenges that may come our way.