Speech by Ms Indranee Rajah, Second Minister for National Development and Finance, at the Committee of Supply Debate on Tuesday, 2 March 2023, in Parliament

Mar 2, 2023



1.             Mr Chairman, over the last 58 years, we made the journey from mudflats to Metropolis.

2.             Now coming out of a global pandemic, we are poised to embark on the next stage of our city’s transformation.

3.              Building on the ideas, hopes, aspirations and dreams of Singaporeans, conveyed to us through extensive engagements as well as based on government planning, future Singapore will be one that is inclusive, sustainable, resilient and endearing.

Part 1: Envisioning our Future Together – Conclusion of Long-Term Plan Review

4.             Planning for the future requires us to think long-term. In mid-2021, MND and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) launched the Long-Term Plan Review, which mapped out our land use strategies to guide Singapore’s development for the next 50 years and beyond.

5.             This included an extensive engagement with Singaporeans to hear their thoughts on these strategies, as SMS Sim mentioned in COS 2022.

6.             Mr Cheng Hsing Yao, Ms Cheryl Chan, and Ms Nadia Samdin have asked for an update on this. Since then, URA has engaged over 15,000 people from all walks of life. Through this process, we found that we sometimes have different needs and aspirations, and therefore must make trade-offs. It is part and parcel of land use planning, given that Singapore has limited land.

7.             Our collective aspirations, and potential strategies to achieve them, were featured in URA’s Space for our Dreams exhibition in 2022, which was visited by close to 50,000 people, with 150,000 views on URA’s website.  

8.             Let me share some of the key takeaways from the public engagement, and how we have translating them into long-term strategies for our future city.

9.             First, it was evident that Singaporeans take pride in our identity and heritage. While we cannot conserve each and every older building, we nevertheless want to feel that sense of familiarity and connection as we walk through our streets.

10.          Today, we already carefully consider how to safeguard our heritage as a key part of urban planning. In the last 30 years, over 7,200 heritage buildings and structures have been conserved.

11.          Beyond individual buildings, we also enhance familiar neighbourhoods and shape new places to make them memorable.

12.          We will reinforce this through Identity Corridors, where we will use urban and streetscape design to enhance the character of historic trunk roads such as the Historic East corridor that cuts across Joo Chiat and Geylang Serai.

13.          Second, it’s clear that we love nature and greenery. But at the same time there is both need and demand for development. Ms Nadia Samdin asked how we would balance the two.

14.          We take a science-based approach to identify ecologically important sites and prioritise them for conservation.

15.          For example, through NParks’ Ecological Profiling Exercise, we have gained a better understanding of Singapore’s ecological connectivity and have identified key ecological corridors on our land and in our waters.

16.          However, given our physical constraints, we need to balance demands across a wide variety of needs, including housing, community amenities, and workplaces.

17.          There may be some greenfield sites that we need to safeguard as options for development. But Singaporeans can be assured that any decision to proceed will only be made after we have carefully studied the trade-offs and alternatives, in close co-ordination with the relevant agencies. Where necessary, we will also undertake environmental studies and formulate mitigation measures.

18.          The Government will also engage and involve stakeholders. In response to Prof Koh Lian Pin, for proposed developments that require an Environmental Impact Assessment, we seek views from academics, stakeholder groups, and the public on the findings where applicable.

19.          The reports are also made publicly available online, unless there are reasons to maintain confidentiality, such as security considerations.

20.          In these cases, we will consider whether the full report can be made public and the disclosure modality, such as for example, making it available for hardcopy viewing.

21.          We do recognise that some may face difficulties accessing hardcopy reports. Where possible, we will provide accommodations, such as by extending the duration of the public feedback period. All feedback is carefully considered, and incorporated into the final report and our plans where relevant.

22.          Third, some participants shared concerns on how Singapore will adapt to the increasingly complex and ambiguous global environment, something which Mr Cheng Hsing Yao also spoke about.

23.          To cater for the uncertainties of the future, we continuously monitor trends such as an ageing population, to evolving geopolitical tensions, and shifts in the global economic outlook. This enables us to consider a range of possibilities and plan ahead to enhance our resilience.

24.          Ms Carrie Tan suggested we review the allocation of land to various uses, such as residential and commercial, to factor in evolving trends such as changes to live-work patterns.

25.          Indeed, this is something we currently do and will continue to do. For example, in developing plans for areas such as the Greater Southern Waterfront, we intentionally keep our plans flexible and pace out their development. This is so that we can adjust the mix of uses to respond to changing trends and needs.

Part 2: A Snapshot of our Future – Draft Master Plan

26.          The Long-Term Plan Review, as the name indicates, sets out our goals in the long term, that’s to say, a 50-year time frame or so. However, in order to get there, we will have to start giving effect to these strategies and plans over the next ten to fifteen years.

27.          This exercise is known as the Master Plan Review, and it will provide detailed land use and developmental plans covering sites all over Singapore. From major transformation areas such as the Greater Southern Waterfront and Paya Lebar Airbase to residential towns, neighbourhoods, and our heartlands.

28.          The Master Plan presents an opportunity to plan ways to improve our living environment together. As highlighted by Ms Nadia Samdin, we will provide various avenues to engage Singaporeans of all ages and from all walks of life, to share their views on our national and local plans. This will be done over the next two to three years.

29.          In response to Mr Cheng Hsing Yao and Ms Cheryl Chan, URA is currently working on the key ideas, but allow me share some of the strategies that the Master Plan will be built upon.

30.          First, the Master Plan will be centred on liveable towns. As we plan for a new generation of towns – such as the ones that Paya Lebar Airbase will make way for – and rejuvenate our older ones, we will pay close attention to making them more liveable for everyone. This includes our seniors, children, and persons with disabilities.

31.          Ms Poh Li San asked about plans to spread out amenities to better serve residential estates across Singapore. It remains our priority to make every housing estate a desirable place to live in. We will continue to ensure that our estates are planned with a range of housing options, served by a wide variety of amenities that meet our residents’ needs and preferences, and are highly accessible.

32.          Second, the Master Plan will work within our land and resource constraints, a necessity for a small city like Singapore.

33.          One way is to recycle our brownfield sites. There are also ongoing efforts to increase and optimise our underground space, as highlighted by Ms Cheryl Chan. Where possible, we place infrastructure such as transport, utilities, and storage spaces underground to free up aboveground space for housing, recreational spaces, and other people-centric uses. We will also repurpose existing buildings, as Prof Koh Lian Pin highlighted.  

34.          Today, we have incentives to encourage adaptive reuse. State properties are put to various uses, from residential to lifestyle. During COVID, many were activated as quarantine facilities.

35.          There are also incentives for owners who renovate their conserved buildings to meet modern uses while enhancing the building character, such as additional floor area and tax concessions.

36.          However, there will still be situations where redevelopment is needed. In such cases, we have incentives to minimise emissions, such as BCA’s Green Mark certification scheme that recognises redevelopment projects that conserve existing structures and reuse or recycle demolished materials.

37.          Several MPs also suggested repurposing underutilised spaces for new uses. Associate Professor Jamus Lim asked if the lowest floor of multistorey carparks can be repurposed for bicycle parking. This echoes a similar call made earlier by MP Edward Chia in Nov 2022.

38.          For some public housing developments, bicycle parking is provided at the void deck for our residents’ convenience. To optimise space at void decks, HDB also plans to install 40,000 dual bicycle racks – which can each hold two bicycles – in 23 existing HDB towns by 2025.

39.          Multistorey carparks with unutilised space are currently used for various activities. An example is urban farming. We do not generally co-locate bicycle parking in carparks as this could pose safety issues to cyclists, especially where cars and bicycles have to share the same lanes.

40.          However, if a request is made by any precinct for this, HDB will consider on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration other competing uses for the carparks and whether the safety concerns and any other relevant considerations can be adequately addressed.

41.          Ms Jessica Tan, Ms Carrie Tan, Ms Cheryl Chan and Mr Liang Eng Hwa suggested partnering the community to co-create shared spaces, such as permaculture pilots.

42.          Today, there are opportunities for Singaporeans to co-create community projects, leveraging URA’s and HDB’s Lively Places Programme. Many projects are in under-utilised spaces, including a void deck garden in Bishan.

43.          NParks’ initiatives such as Friends of the Parks and the Community in Bloom movement also encourage the local community to play a part in designing, developing, and managing green spaces, while HDB and SFA’s urban farms at 14 multi-storey carpark rooftops contribute to food security.

44.          For permaculture farms to meaningfully enhance food security, they should be done on a commercial scale.

45.          Given the sizeable amount of land required, it is more practical to encourage community gardeners to adopt permaculture principles. 

46.          Nevertheless, Town Councils have the autonomy to determine how common property can be utilised, subject to our laws and HDB’s consent. We are happy to consider proposals that enhance food security and sustainability, where appropriate.

47.          As Prof Koh Lian Pin highlighted, there are diverse and competing needs for our sea space as well. We carefully plan our sea space to meet Singapore’s needs.

48.          Today, most sea space within our port limits are used by the maritime and port industry. We also set aside space for other uses, including marine biodiversity conservation, aquaculture, utilities and recreation.

49.          For instance, we have safeguarded Marine Nature Areas and Marine Parks at our Southern Islands in URA’s Parks and Waterbodies Plan.

50.          To optimise our sea space, we will continue working with relevant stakeholders to explore co-locating synergistic uses, such as siting of solar panels together with fish farms along the East Johor Straits.

51.          These ideas, plans, and strategies will eventually culminate in URA’s presentation of their next Draft Master Plan, which will be open for public feedback. I strongly encourage all Singaporeans to participate and share your views.

Part 3: Better Estates of the Future

52.          Next, let me zoom in one level deeper and speak about our plans to rejuvenate HDB estates, which are a big part of our residents’ day-to-day lived experiences.

53.          As our nation gets older, so do our towns, but this does not mean that they cannot continue to be vibrant and liveable.

54.          In response to Ms Poh Li San, HDB crowdsources ideas from residents to renew and rejuvenate existing HDB towns and estates under the Remaking Our Heartland programme. This spans from upgrading our Town and Neighbourhood Centres to opening new community spaces and parks.

55.          Ms Joan Pereira, and Mr Ang Wei Neng asked about plans to maintain and upgrade older flats. I would like to assure Singaporeans that we are committed to giving due priority to rejuvenating our estates, for the safety and comfort of our residents. 

56.          All flats above 30 years would have already undergone the Main Upgrading Programme in the past, or will be selected for the Home Improvement Programme, HIP, by 2030 subject to the Government’s fiscal position.

57.          The next round of upgrading for these flats would be around 60 to 70 years of age.

58.          In between, we provide support to flat owners for in-flat maintenance issues such as repairing ceiling leaks under the Goodwill Repair Assistance.

59.          Besides upgrading, redevelopment is another way to rejuvenate older areas. On Ms Joan Pereira’s question about the Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme, or SERS, we have shared that most projects with high redevelopment potential have already been selected for SERS and we do not expect many more sites to be eligible.

60.          We are also working on our plans for the Voluntary Early Redevelopment Scheme, or VERS. More households will be able to benefit from redevelopment before their leases expire, and we can renew our towns progressively and create a refreshed living environment with new homes and updated amenities for residents. We will share more details with Singaporeans when ready.

61.          Several members also asked about HIP’s drying racks.

62.          The External Retractable Clothes Drying Rack that Mr Ang Wei Neng spoke about is designed to maximise laundry capacity while ensuring user safety. Each of the 6 poles in the rack measures up to 1.7m in usable length, to accommodate large items like bedsheets. HDB will continue to look for ways to increase the rack’s laundry capacity.

63.          On Mr Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap’s suggestion to extend the installation of HIP’s laundry hanging rack to flats which do not qualify for the programme, we can consider this when there is sufficient demand.

64.          Now, allow me to respond to Mr Ang Wei Neng and Mr Dennis Tan’s cuts on lift upgrading.

65.           As of January 2023, there are only about 140 HDB blocks with units without direct access to lifts on the same floor. This is due to technical and site constraints or high costs, some of which exceed $100,000 per unit.

66.          HDB continues to explore technical methods, though these are still nascent. We will also continue to review requests for lift upgrading, bearing in mind costs, space constraints and technical feasibility.

67.          Mr Dennis Tan has asked about the lift access housing grant or LHG which provides up to $30,000 to help residents buy another flat with lift access. A key condition for this grant is that residents need direct lift access due to medical or mobility issues. Of those who have applied, the approval rate is high at close to 90%. As our residents age, we do expect take-up to increase as they face medical or mobility conditions.

68.          Flat owners who have bought another flat with the grants can sell their existing flat on the open market. Hence, there is no need for HDB to buy them back. If they have difficulties selling the existing flat, HDB can grant a time extension on a case-by-case basis.

69.          HDB will continue to monitor the situation and assess if further enhancements to the grant are necessary.

70.          Prof Koh Lian Pin asked about our efforts to keep older estates cool as temperatures rise and how we will use the findings from Cooling Singapore 2.0. 

71.          HDB has several initiatives under the Green Towns Programme to reduce ambient temperatures, such as introducing greenery to the top decks of selected Multi-Storey Carparks in the form of urban farms, community gardens or rooftop greenery.

72.          There is also an ongoing pilot on cool paint.

73.          Where possible, such as for newer towns like Tengah, we adopt new technologies such as the Centralised Cooling System, which provides a more energy-efficient cooling solution than conventional air-conditioning systems.

74.          We will continue to invest in R&D to deepen our knowledge on urban heat. This includes Cooling Singapore 2.0, an ongoing project where a digital model simulating our urban climate will help us understand the impact of urban heat locally and assess heat mitigation strategies.

75.          Mr Chong Kee Hiong spoke about the need to educate residents on fire safety, and provide safety features in HDB flats and estates.

76.          Since 2018, SCDF’s Fire Code requires every new flat and existing flat undergoing major renovation to install fire alarms. As optional improvements under HIP, HDB also offers installations of a Home Fire Alarm Device.

77.          HDB and SCDF are further embarking on a trial to place and maintain one fire extinguisher at a lift lobby of every two HDB blocks.

78.          Out of the 934 cases of residential fire last year, 783 took place in HDB flats, which reflects the proportion of public housing in Singapore. Today, SCDF conducts public education campaigns, including door-to-door engagements with residents and educating new homeowners on fire safety together with HDB.

79.          Currently, all flat owners who are taking or have an existing HDB loan to buy their flats are required to covered under basic fire insurance. An HDB-appointed company provides basic coverage, and the premiums payable by flat owners range between $1.63 and $8.18 only, for a 5-year coverage.

Part 4: Transforming into a City in Nature

80.          Let me now touch on another important priority for us – transforming Singapore into a City in Nature.

81.          This vision is a key pillar of the Singapore Green Plan 2030. It underscores our strong desire to conserve and extend our natural capital – For the benefit of the environment and for the benefit of our people.

82.          Ms Cheryl Chan asked for updates on our progress on this front.

Enhancing and Extending our Natural Capital

83.          First, we have continued to establish new green spaces and to enhance existing ones.

84.          For instance, last November, we opened the Rifle Range Nature Park. It serves as an ecological buffer to protect the rich biodiversity in the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, and creates more opportunities for families to enjoy nature-based recreation.

85.          Between now and 2030, we have six more nature parks in the pipeline that Singaporeans can look forward to.

86.          This includes the Lim Chu Kang Nature Park, which we will be opening later this year. It will feature a variety of natural habitats such as mangroves, woodlands, and grasslands, as well as a restored colonial-era bungalow for those who love heritage.

87.          Singaporeans can also soon enjoy the northern section of Lakeside Garden in Jurong Lake Gardens. It will offer a youth park with skating facilities and panoramic views across Jurong Lake.

88.          We are also enhancing our existing green spaces to make them more inclusive. For example, we currently have ten Therapeutic Gardens, which are specially designed to improve the physical and mental well-being of people across a diverse range of physical abilities and health conditions.

89.          This includes three that we launched over the past year, and we will add 20 more by 2030.

90.          Second, we are pressing on with efforts to restore nature into our urban landscape.

91.          Today, we have around 155 hectares of skyrise greenery, equivalent to almost 220 football fields. We are on track to meet our target of 200 hectares by 2030.

92.          Ms Nadia Samdin asked about our efforts to green industrial estates.  Since 2020, we have more than doubled the number of trees in our industrial estates, from 90,000 to 180,000 today. By 2030, these estates will have around 260,000 trees. These will cool the environment and beautify the area for the people who work there.

93.          Third, we are strengthening the connectivity between green spaces.

94.          For example, we opened the northern stretch of the Rail Corridor last month, completing over 21 kilometres of green, continuous north-south connectivity.

95.          In total, we have completed over 180 kilometres of Nature Ways and 375 kilometres of park connectors, putting us on track to achieve our goal for all households to be within a ten-minute walk from a park by 2030.

96.          This increases Singaporeans’ access to nature and strengthens our ecosystems’ resilience, by facilitating the movement of biodiversity between habitats.

97.          This brings me to efforts to conserve our native plant and animal species, which Ms Nadia Samdin asked about.

98.          We have crossed the three-quarter mark of our 2030 species recovery target, with 82 plant and 42 animal species covered today. This includes the endemic Singapore Ginger and the Singapore Freshwater Crab.

99.          We have also restored and enhanced over 30 hectares of forest, coastal, and marine habitats, well ahead of our target to do so by 2030.

100.       This was made possible through the contributions of our volunteers, who help with planting native trees and shrubs, and removing invasive species.

101.       To provide more conducive habitats for our native biodiversity to thrive, we will raise our ambitions on this front. We now aim to restore 80 hectares of forest, coastal, and marine habitats by 2030, by intensifying the planting of native species and encouraging the establishment of native animal populations.

Partnering the Community

102.       As we push on with our greening efforts, Mr Liang Eng Hwa and Mr Xie Yao Quan have asked how we can involve even more members of the community.

103.       This year marks 60 years since then-Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew kickstarted our greening journey by launching our first nation-wide tree-planting campaign in 1963.

104.       Under the OneMillionTrees movement, we have partnered more than 75,000 members of the community to plant over 500,000 trees since 2020.

105.       We have planted native rainforest species in our forests to strengthen the ecological resilience of these habitats, so that they can better support our native biodiversity.

106.       The planted trees also help to intensify greenery and strengthen ecological connectivity along our streetscapes, Nature Ways and park connectors.

107.       To commemorate this milestone year, we will create more tree-planting opportunities under the OneMillionTrees movement. We hope you will join us in celebrating this milestone.

108.       We will also continue to engage Singaporeans on the conservation and celebration of our natural heritage.

109.       Through our City in Nature Conversations, we were inspired by members of the community who shared and worked on ideas to encourage more residents to participate in our efforts.

110.       This included ideas for community stewards to organise nature-based activities, such as biodiversity surveys, and to curate educational resources on the benefits of City in Nature through experiential learning.

111.       We will continue to grow our base of over 60,000 volunteers and over 11,000 citizen scientists.

112.       We will reach out to more youths through platforms such as our Youth Stewards for Nature programme, to nurture future volunteers and stewards of our natural heritage.

113.       Mr Xie Yao Quan and Ms Cheryl Chan also asked about our research and development (R&D) efforts in urban sustainability.  We are collaborating closely with industry and academic partners to support our key initiatives under the Singapore Green Plan 2030, including our City in Nature ambitions.

114.       Under the Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2025 Plan, we have set aside close to $270 million for research to address new challenges in areas such as climate change. 

115.       One of the research programmes funded under RIE 2025 is the Marine Climate Change Science programme, for which we have started to award grants.

116.       One looks at developing ecological and microbial solutions to enhance the resilience of coral reefs to climate change.

117.       Another looks at building up the foundational science for blue carbon accounting in Singapore.

118.       We also recently launched the first grant call under the City in Nature research vertical of the Cities of Tomorrow programme.

119.       These research projects will help us deepen our scientific foundations and develop evidence-based management practices.

120.       I look forward to active participation in our grant call.

Part 5: Conclusion

121.       The years ahead are going to be very exciting ones as we shape our future city together.

122.       The MND family looks forward to working with all Singaporeans on the transformation journey and to making Singapore a place we are proud to call home.

123.       Thank you.