Speech by Ms Sim Ann, Senior Minister of State for National Development and Foreign Affairs, at the Committee of Supply Debate on Tuesday, 2 March 2023, in Parliament
Mar 2, 2023
BUILDING QUALITY NEIGHBOURHOODS AND GRACIOUS COMMUNITIES
1. Mr Chairman, I thank Members for their cuts.
Building an endearing home for Singaporeans goes beyond hardware, or infrastructure development.
a. Software is equally if not more important.
b. It is about supporting our residents with accessible and affordable amenities, preserving community ties and collective memories, and building a gracious living environment.
2. I will speak about three areas that MND will do more in, in collaboration with the people and private sectors:
a. First, transforming our heartland shops to be more vibrant and better able to serve the needs of the community.
b. Second, ensuring that food and beverage continues to be affordable and accessible; and
c. Third, creating a quality living environment.
Supporting the transformation of heartland enterprises
3. First, let me share our plans to transform heartland shops. Mr Liang Eng. Hwa, Mr Xie Yao Quan, and Mr Pritam Singh spoke on this subject.
a. We all agree on the importance and relevance of heartland shops.
b. The question is how to ensure that residents’ and shoppers’ diverse needs are met while also being supportive of businesses and the spirit of enterprise.
4. This is not something that Government alone can determine.
a. This is why, in 2021, MND and MTI jointly embarked on an extensive citizen consultation exercise on this subject.
b. We engaged more than 2,800 stakeholders over an 11-month period and obtained many valuable suggestions from residents and heartland shop operators on how these shops can be transformed.
c. In response, HDB and Enterprise Singapore will launch a new roadmap of efforts to support the rejuvenation and transformation of heartland shops.
d. MOS Low Yen Ling has spoken on Enterprise SG’s moves during MTI’s COS, and I wish to now address initiatives that MND and HDB will undertake as part of this joint effort.
Supporting innovation and entrepreneurship
5. First, part of this transformation is to give existing HDB shop precincts more of a role in incubating new start-ups.
a. The heartlands have been the birthplace of more than a few successful Singapore brands.
b. Charles and Keith, for example, started from a shoe shop in Ang Mo Kio Central in the 1990s, and now has hundreds of stores worldwide.
c. We believe more of such brands can be nurtured in our heartlands. We are excited to work with Enterprise SG to facilitate this.
6. Since 2018, HDB has been setting aside up to 5% of its new shops for direct allocation to start-ups or existing businesses with innovative business models.
a. We will be launching the Enhanced Entrepreneur Scheme, in partnership with MTI and Enterprise SG, to allocate more shop spaces to eligible start-ups, and provide a 10% rental discount for their first 3 years.
b. Entrepreneurs will therefore have a platform to test out innovative and different models of services in a more conducive environment.
Maintaining vibrancy of the neighbourhood through physical upgrading
7. Second, we will enhance the Revitalisation of Shops, or ROS scheme, to support the transformation of our HDB shop precincts.
8. In January, we announced in Parliament that we would relax the threshold needed for upgrading to proceed – from 100% agreement among shop owners to 75%. This will make it easier for precincts to benefit from rejuvenation works.
9. We recognise through feedback given to us by many local merchant associations that shop owners may still be hesitant to undertake upgrading works, especially in the face of economic uncertainty and rising costs.
a. Therefore, to better assist our heartland shops, we will reduce the shop owners’ co-payment share for ROS upgrading costs from 20% down to 5%, and increase HDB’s share from 70% to 85%.
b. HDB will also co-fund 80% of the costs for optional works at the shop front, for example installing vertical blinds or roller shutters, up to a cap of $3,000.
10. In response to Mr Liang Eng Hwa, HDB will be shortlisting sites for the ROS over the next few months before inviting local Merchants’ Associations to apply.
a. To minimise disruption, areas that have been selected for, or are undergoing other HDB upgrading programmes, or where the Town Councils have plans for repair and redecoration works, will be prioritised.
b. Priority may also be given to older neighbourhoods that have not yet undergone ROS upgrading.
11. To Mr Pritam Singh’s feedback on the use of Outdoor Display Areas, or ODAs for short;
a. HDB has issued guidelines on the management of these areas, but Town Councils are empowered to manage them as part of common property.
b. The foremost consideration is to ensure public safety and tidiness of these common areas. Hence, we require clear and open passageways, and for the local shop operator to manage the ODA operations directly outside the shop.
c. Under current guidelines, unrelated trades are not allowed at ODAs as these are primarily meant as an extension of the existing shops’ operations, to draw crowds into the shops.
d. Itinerant retailers can bring added vibrancy and variety to the HDB retail scene, but the proliferation of commercial activities, if left unchecked, might lead to excessive noise and crowding, as well as unfair competition to local shopkeepers. It is the role of Town Councils to enforce against the improper use of ODA. We know that Town Councils have many roles and responsibilities to discharge and we leave it to the Town Councils to decide how to prioritise amongst these different responsibilities. If there are instances of violation that need to be reported, please inform HDB and we will look into it.
Ensuring Affordability and Accessibility in the HDB heartlands
12. Third, we will support our heartland businesses to employ locals and to keep food affordable for residents. These efforts will help make HDB heartlands even more inclusive.
Providing rental discounts for businesses with inclusive hiring practices
13. There is the potential for heartland shops to provide a variety of employment opportunities close to our homes, specifically, through social enterprises and businesses with inclusive hiring practices. Mr Xie Yao Quan has spoken on this. These employment opportunities bring not just an income, but a sense of self-reliance and dignity to vulnerable individuals. We want to support more businesses in making these opportunities available and uplifting more lives.
14. HDB has been supporting social enterprises and SG Enable-supported shops with inclusive-hiring practices, by directly allocating them shop spaces and providing SMEs with a 20% rental discount for the first 3 years. We have seen good results from the 24 beneficiaries of the Social Enterprise Scheme.
15. To further support social enterprises, and at the same time bring their benefits to local HDB estates, HDB has partnered agencies like MSF and raiSE to provide more support and benefits for inclusive enterprises.
a. We will adjust the rental discount from 20% to 30% for three-year terms, with the option of renewing for another 3 years.
b. We will also award additional points for operators who include meaningful employment for seniors aged 65 and above when bidding for HDB shops under the Price-Quality Method (or PQM) framework.
c. We hope these measures help to increase employment opportunities for our seniors and persons with disabilities or special needs in our community.
More affordable eating options in HDB neighbourhoods
16. Next, let me talk about the accessibility of amenities, and of affordable food in particular, a subject raised by Mr Louis Chua, Mr Henry Kwek, Mr Xie Yao Quan, Mr Gan Thiam Poh and Assoc Prof Jamus Lim.
17. Today, all HDB towns are planned with a variety of facilities and amenities. I should add that hawker placement is done by NEA and just now during MSE’s COS the subject of hawker centres and the prices of meals available at hawker centres have been given quite extensive treatment.
a. Commercial facilities are injected based on the needs of residents, while also considering the viability of operators.
b. In built-up sites, HDB will assess and facilitate requests for new commercial facilities on a case-by-case basis,
c. For example in Sengkang, URA and the relevant agencies are currently reviewing plans to further develop the Sengkang Town Centre. The agencies will reply to Mr Louis Chua.
d. Most residents can access commercial facilities with a food court or eating house within 400m from their homes, or an approximately 5 to 10 minutes’ walk.
18. Beyond accessibility, we hear ground concerns about rising costs of living, and want to proactively ensure that our residents can continue to access affordable cooked food options within neighbourhoods.
19. In 2018, HDB launched the PQM framework, after considering various mechanisms, where new tenders of rental coffeeshops were required to provide 6 budget meals as well as a budget drink.
a. Operators who successfully tendered for HDB coffeeshops under this framework typically provided budget food options averaging $3.
b. The rentals under Price-Quality Method tenders were also generally lower than before, under pure price bidding tenders.
c. Tenderers too shared that they appreciated the opportunity to compete on quality rather than on price alone.
20. Having seen the success of this implementation of budget meals at new rental coffeeshops, we will be extending this requirement to older coffeeshops due for their 3-yearly tenancy renewal from May 2023 onwards.
a. This will make the availability of cheaper food options in coffeeshops more certain and pervasive, as coverage of the budget meal regime will be extended to almost half of all coffeeshops and cover all HDB towns by 2026.
b. As a start, we will require these coffeeshops to provide budget prices for 4 meals, instead of 6, and 2 drinks as a condition for renewal.
c. The budget meal and drink prices will be benchmarked against economically priced F&B offerings in nearby neighbourhood coffeeshops.
d. We will consult operators and remain flexible in assessing their proposed prices, bearing in mind business sustainability.
e. To help rental coffeeshop operators and stallholders with this transition, they will be offered a rental discount of 5% off their renewal rents for one year, from the time the new requirements are in place.
f. MND and HDB will engage industry players on the budget meal provision and related matters soon. I thank Assoc Prof Jamus Lim for making some suggestions when it comes to tenders for coffeeshops, as well as his views on affordability of food. I would like to make a few points in response.
g. First of all, our experience with the PQM framework as I have shared, has shown that lower rents can be achieved compared to price-based tenders. When it comes to the factors driving the prices of meals in coffeeshops, apart from rents, there are other factors alluded to just now by SMS Amy Khor during MSE’s COS, and these are factors that, I believe, apply not just to hawker centres but also to eating houses and coffeeshops. These would be food ingredients as well as expenditure on manpower. So even if we were to focus primarily on rents, that alone might not guarantee lower or budget meal prices. This is the reason why HDB has decided to get to the heart of the matter by expanding the budget meal regime and we will be doing so for all rental coffeeshops. We also intend to monitor adherence of the coffeeshops that have moved onto the budget meal regime.
h. There is also the question of sold coffeeshops. What do we do about sold coffeeshops? We have just very recently extended invitations to eating house chain executives and I will be speaking with them and engaging them on the importance of ensuring affordable meal options, notwithstanding the fact that they are operating out of sold coffeeshops.
Creating a Quality Living Environment
21. Next, let me talk about how MND intends to support the maintenance of a quality living environment.
Maintaining our heartlands and estates
22. Mr Murali Pillai suggested that there is a need to review funding for Town Councils or TCs given the increasing overall maintenance costs.
a. Let me assure Mr Murali that HDB already factors in considerations such as the ease and costs of maintenance when designing estates.
b. Specifically, the automated fire-rated roller shutters in Mr Murali’s estate were installed to meet fire safety requirements due to site-specific considerations.
c. Maintenance costs will be borne by HDB, and not TCs, as such shutters are HDB’s carpark assets.
23. We hear the views shared previously by Mr Murali and other Members on how design features of HDB estates must be not only attractive but also practical and cost-effective from the viewpoint of long-term maintenance.
a. The Municipal Services Office (MSO) has also been engaging TCs on their views on specific design features and will be presenting these to HDB.
b. Government agencies also share best practices with TCs to support their maintenance operations, for example, NParks shares advice on how to reduce bird-related disamenities such as by planting species that are less attractive to pest birds.
24. The Government also provides substantial grants, collectively amounting to some $239 million a year, to offset TCs’ costs of maintenance so that they do not fully fall on residents.
a. MND has been closely monitoring the larger macroeconomic environment and cost drivers affecting TCs.
b. As costs of maintenance rise over time, we know TCs have been doing their part to raise Service and Conservancy Charges or S&CC periodically, even as they continually seek to realise cost savings and improve productivity.
c. This is part and parcel of discharging TCs’ responsibility to run their towns sustainably.
d. On its part, the Government acknowledges that some of the cost increases TCs are facing now are sharp and steep, due to external factors, such as the spike in energy prices.
e. To support TCs that continue to make adjustments in S&CC to meet long-term financial sustainability, the Government is prepared to consider a time-limited special funding support, to cushion the potential impact on residents.
Enhancing Social Norms for Better Living
25. Let me now touch on the additional efforts we are making to address the “softer” issues that shape the quality of our lived experiences in HDB estates.
26. Since 2014, the MSO, in partnership with agencies and Town Councils, has made good progress in improving the delivery of municipal services.
a. Through digital services such as the OneService App, Kaki the Chatbot, and with OneService functions now available in LifeSG, residents can conveniently provide feedback on their living environment to the Government.
b. We have become better at responding to cases, but there remains a subset of municipal issues that are socio-behavioural in nature.
c. These arise from differences in how we relate to one another and cannot be resolved by the Government alone.
d. They require us to partner the community and refresh our social norms to better reflect society’s changing and diverse preferences.
Alliance-for-Action (AfA) on Norms for Joss Paper Burning
27. Our experience with the Alliance for Action (AfA) on Norms for Joss Paper Burning shows that promising results can be achieved if we find the right approach to go about norms resetting.
a. Joss paper burning is a longstanding cultural practice in our Chinese community.
b. Practices can be updated however, and disamenities like excess smoke and ash reduced, if practitioners adopt minor changes to what they do.
28. The AfA, led by leaders and cultural experts in the Chinese community, developed public education campaigns for last year’s 7th Lunar Month and the recent Lunar New Year that directly address the mindset and intentions of practitioners, correct misconceptions, and demonstrate responsible burning practices in HDB estates.
a. After several years of annual increase, the volume of feedback received on irresponsible joss paper burning has dropped significantly during both these periods.
b. This is a very encouraging development.
Community Advisory Panel on Neighbourhood Noise
29. Mr Yip Hon Weng asked how MSO will be leveraging technology and partnering the community to address social norms. One example I can think of is how we worked with the volunteers from Mountbatten as part of the Love Our ‘Hood initiative, to tackle the issue of illegal parking. This has been met with promising results, specifically a drop in feedback about illegal parking.
30. Social norms also play a pivotal role in the complex and subjective issue of neighbourhood noise. Last year, I announced the formation of the Community Advisory Panel on Neighbourhood Noise, or CAP in short, as part of a holistic response to address this issue.
a. The Panel engaged the community to establish an understanding of what kinds of noise are acceptable or unacceptable in the residential setting and has recommended community norms for noise management to the Government.
b. The Panel highlighted the importance of residents being able to engage neighbours to resolve issues amicably in the first instance.
c. The Panel also identified a list of considerate behaviours that residents can adopt to manage noise that is created in our daily lives.
31. Since receiving the CAP’s recommendations, MSO has been working with partners to promote the proposed community norms.
a. For example, a group of residents in Pioneer have come together through MSO’s Love Our ‘Hood Initiative to trial physical calendars at lift lobbies to be used by neighbours to inform one another in advance about potentially noisy activities, such as renovations and large gatherings at home.
32. Participants in the CAP’s feedback gathering exercises agreed that some amount of noise generated from daily activities were acceptable, but there was still a sense that people wished for more quiet and peaceful time to rest at home. Thus, the Panel also proposed to extend quiet hours from 10.30pm until 7am, to 10pm until 8am.
During these hours, excessive noise generating activities should be avoided.
33. Undoubtedly, this CAP recommendation reflects the views of those who suffer ill effects from neighbourhood noise.
a. After all, those who are not affected by neighbourhood noise, or those whose activities generate noise, can hardly be expected to turn up at the CAP’s feedback sessions or fill in their survey forms.
b. But it is important that the CAP make this ask on behalf of the Singaporeans who hope for more peace and quiet, and it is equally important that we find out whether the rest of Singapore is prepared to go along with it.
c. Anecdotally, some stakeholder groups have already begun ending their community events before 10 pm. So, some shifts have been happening on the ground.
34. But for all of us to move together, we cannot overlook the impact that these extended hours as recommended, could have on businesses and other community groups.
a. Thus, MSO is in the process of engaging the wider public and stakeholders to see how this can be adopted.
b. This is part of our ForwardSG commitment to refresh our social compact to promote vibrant and peaceful neighbourhoods that all residents can enjoy living in.
35. MSO is also working with the CAP to study how a quantitative noise threshold, in the form of a decibel limit, can be adopted to aid the identification and assessment of egregious cases. To be meaningful, the decibel limit should cater to residential settings and not industrial or construction settings.
36. To promote an understanding of the cause and effect of inter-floor noise disturbances, MSO will also be setting up an experiential space.
a. Inter-floor noise is a major category of neighbourhood noise feedback in our dense, high-rise environment. Unfortunately, much of the feedback is subjective and speculative.
b. The feedback provider who suffers from noise can only describe its effect, and often after the fact.
c. Without the neighbour’s cooperation, it is hard to find out for sure whether and how the neighbour has caused the noise. And as a community, we are none the wiser on exactly what transpired.
d. The experiential space will allow visitors to test first-hand how different actions create different decibel levels of noise, and to challenge their perception on the direction of the noise.
e. Visitors can also look forward to learning about actions to adopt to effectively reduce their noise impact on their neighbours.
f. We hope to open this experiential space to the public in the second half of this year.
Addressing protracted and egregious cases of noise disturbances
37. I would like to thank Mr Henry Kwek for highlighting the issue of egregious neighbourhood disputes arising from intentional anti-social behaviour – this is a serious matter that the Government has been closely monitoring and studying.
a. When the Covid-19 pandemic first hit in 2020, public feedback on neighbourhood noise, high-rise littering, smoking within homes, and joss paper burning all saw significant increases.
b. Since then, case volumes have receded to pre-Covid levels, with the exception of neighbourhood noise, which remains significantly elevated.
c. We will continue to monitor and review how various types of neighbour-related issues can be managed. For a start, our focus is on neighbourhood noise.
38. While most cases of noise disturbances can be improved through stronger community norms recommended by the CAP, Mr Henry Kwek is right in identifying the reality of a small set of severe cases where conflict between neighbours has become entrenched and acrimonious.
a. Often there are signs that at least one of the conflicting parties purposely weaponise noise to cause suffering to their neighbours over a prolonged period.
b. We think this is wrong and strong actions are needed to put a stop to this.
39. MSO is a member of the inter-agency workgroup led by MCCY that has been closely reviewing the Community Dispute Management Framework, or CDMF for short.
a. Minister Edwin Tong has shared how the powers and processes of the Community Disputes Resolution Tribunal (CDRT) will be strengthened in his MinLaw COS speech. We hope this will provide faster and greater relief to residents.
b. In cases where noise is being used as a weapon to disrupt the peace among neighbours, we will include them under this new legal framework on mandatory mediation for community disputes.
c. Minister Edwin Tong will elaborate further on the enhancements to move community disputes towards resolution in MCCY’s COS.
40. The preferred mode of neighbourhood dispute resolution remains having both parties engage with one another. But we recognise instances where some Government intervention would make a difference.
41. We will therefore pilot a unit of dedicated personnel. They will leverage stronger laws, such as mandating mediation under the enhanced CDMF, and actively work with affected parties to bring serious cases that are beyond self-help, towards resolution.
42. MSO has decided to host the pilot after careful consideration and after studying the experience of the Community Warden Programme mentioned by Mr Yip Hon Weng, and other efforts across Government. I know that many who have been long-suffering victims of neighbour-inflicted noise have pinned their hopes on Government intervention, which is all the more reason why I must highlight the following considerations:
a. First, this unit of dedicated personnel must not function as a first resort. We do not wish to stunt the community’s capacity to resolve disputes early when they first occur. If people rely on Government personnel in the first instance to deal with their neighbours, it can only weaken our kampung spirit over time and we would all be the poorer for it.
b. Second, this unit is part of, and not a substitute for, an interlocking system of norm-setting, good neighbourly communication, and the CDMF. Having Government personnel stepping in to resolve differences between neighbours all the time is neither desirable nor sustainable.
c. Third, this unit must eventually be vested with appropriate powers, and use them sparingly but effectively. These include powers of investigation and powers to require nuisance makers to stop certain behaviours pending mediation of the dispute.
43. By making their presence felt at critical points of dispute resolution, we hope that this unit of dedicated personnel can deliver the right amount of intervention, bring relief to those who have a genuine grievance, and discourage the wilful weaponisation of noise. We aim to stand up an initial team for this pilot by the end of the year. MSO will share more details when ready.
44. Chairman, in Mandarin please.
a. 首先，为了支持小型企业，建屋局会为参与商店提升计划 (ROS) 的邻里商家提供更多的资助。与之前的百分之二十相比，店家现在只需缴付百分之五的翻新费用。政府也将资助店家安装金属卷帘、灯箱等门面装饰，提供八成的工程费用，以3千元为顶限。
b. 第二，我们将要求更多邻里咖啡店为消费者提供经济餐饮。自2018年以来， 建屋局要求所有新的租赁咖啡店提供6套经济餐及1种经济饮料。从今年5月起，每一家即将续约的咖啡店必须提供4套经济餐及2种经济饮料供食客选择。到了2026年，每个市镇将有至少一家咖啡店提供经济餐饮。
47. 此外， 政府也将加强应付各类邻里纠纷的措施，并重点处理邻里噪音。
48. 在过去的这三年, 邻里噪音的案例有居高不下的趋势。其中，也有蓄意制造噪音，与邻居作对的例子。
53. Chairman, back to English. I have shared how we will be enhancing our “hardware” and adjusting our “software” to build an endearing home for all. While we make progressive adjustments, we must remember our ideal – a gracious and accessible community for all Singaporeans to enjoy.