Speech by SMS Sim Ann at the Committee of Supply Debate in Parliament

Mar 5, 2024

Co-creating Innovative Solutions for a Better Living Environment


1. Mr Chairman, I thank Members for their cuts. Building a quality living environment continues to be a priority for MND.

a. We proactively upgrade and revitalise our neighbourhoods, housing estates and flats, in line with evolving needs, lifestyles and aspirations of Singaporeans.

2. We will do more, together with our public and private sector partners, in three areas:

a. First, physically upgrading our towns and flats.

b. Second, ensuring that neighbourhoods have a range of affordable and accessible amenities and shops.

c. Third, improving municipal service delivery and outcomes.

Physical upgrading of our towns and flats to meet residents’ evolving needs

3. First, let me share how we are upgrading our towns and flats.

Ageing-in-place and the NRP

4. To better support ageing-in place, MND, MOH and MOT announced a set of initiatives under Age Well SG last November.

a. These include physical upgrading to enhance our neighbourhoods and flats to be more senior-friendly.

5. A key component involves extending the upcoming fifth phase of the Neighbourhood Renewal Programme, or NRP, to HDB blocks built up to 1999. This will benefit more than 100,000 additional flats as previously, only blocks built up to 1995 were eligible.

a. Under this new phase, we will build more senior-friendly amenities such as therapeutic gardens with wheelchair-friendly planter boxes, fitness trails connecting senior-centric amenities, and wayfinding features.

b. These amenities enhance the safety and connectivity of our neighbourhoods while helping seniors stay active and navigate confidently around their neighbourhoods.

6. The first batch of precincts to be upgraded under the fifth phase of NRP will be selected by the end of this year.

7. Some older precincts have already undergone upgrading and do not qualify for NRP. We announced last November that HDB will roll out similar senior-friendly enhancements to more than 20 of such precincts in the towns of Ang Mo Kio, Bukit Merah, Queenstown and Toa Payoh over the next 5 years.

a. The rollout of these silver upgrading works will be progressive, starting with a pilot in Ang Mo Kio.

b. To Mr Henry Kwek’s question, HDB will engage Town Councils, the grassroots, and residents on the implementation of these works. HDB will share more with Town Councils when ready.

8. Newer estates will also have senior-friendly amenities. In fact, they are designed from the start to be age-inclusive to encourage inter-generational bonding, a topic brought up by Ms Nadia Samdin.

a. For example, HDB has introduced 3-Generation or 3G recreation spaces, with fitness corners and playgrounds placed side by side.

b. Such playgrounds enable residents of different age groups to interact with one another. We also co-locate childcare and elderly facilities where possible.

9. To Mr Lim Biow Chuan’s question, I would like to assure Members that there are inspection regimes in place today to detect and rectify building deterioration in a timely manner.

a. The Building Control Act requires regular building inspections by professionals, these include checks for spalling concrete and structural cracks, for both common areas and within the flat.

b. As for spalling concrete within the flat, if reported by residents, HDB will let the flat owner know about the Goodwill Repair Assistance Scheme, under which HDB will subsidise 50% of the repair costs.

c. In the longer term, every flat will be upgraded twice.

d. The first when they are about 30 years old, through the Home Improvement Programme, or HIP; and the second through HIP II when they are about 60 to 70 years old.

e. When undergoing HIP, flats will undergo repairs for spalling concrete and structural cracks, which HDB fully subsidises.

f. HIP II will be offered when the first batch of flats reach their 60-to 70-year mark. HDB is currently working out the prioritisation and implementation details.

Challenges faced in implementation of improvement works

10. To Mr Pritam Singh’s question on the challenges and delays in implementing upgrading works.

a. Various factors may contribute to delays, including unforeseen site conditions, manpower availability, cash flow issues and disruptions in the supply of materials.

b. For projects managed by HDB, HDB will work with the relevant contractor to understand the causes for the delays and render the appropriate assistance to get the project back on track.

c. If the contractor can no longer fulfil its obligations, it may novate the contract to another firm, subject to HDB’s approval. As a last resort, HDB can also exercise its right to terminate the contract and appoint another firm to complete the project.

11. Another challenge that we face is rising costs.

12. To Mr Ang Wei Neng’s question, we have been reviewing and adjusting programme budgets, taking into consideration prevailing macroeconomic conditions and changes in tender price indices.

a. For example, in 2022, we increased the NRP budget by $850 per flat for then-ongoing NRP projects, in response to the impact of COVID-19.

b. With the continued increase in costs, we are prepared to further increase the NRP budget. We will inform Town Councils of the details when ready.

c. We have also been flexible, acceding to ad-hoc appeals for additional budget due to increases in material and manpower costs.

Lift-related upgrading works

13. Next, Members have also raised lift-related concerns.

14. First, on Mr Dennis Tan and Mr Ang Wei Neng’s questions on the Lift Upgrading Programme, or LUP.

a. LUP has brought direct lift access to around 5,000 blocks and today, around 99% of all HDB blocks were either built with direct lift access or have benefitted from LUP.

b. Members would recall that many of these blocks were built when our population was a lot younger, and when physical mobility was not an issue. And because same-floor lift access was not required as a condition of design, there were some blocks that were designed in such a way that the retrospective adding of lift shafts and lifts is technically
very difficult, or even unfeasible.

c. What HDB has been doing is to trial new technology and to apply new methods wherever possible, so this has included, in the past, using machine room-less lifts as well as the use of smaller home lifts to bring lift upgrading to blocks that previously, were very difficult for us to add lifts to.

d. However, although we have worked hard to shrink the pool of blocks that cannot undergo LUP over the years, there remain some blocks where LUP is currently not feasible due to cost or technical constraints. In some of these cases, the cost can be more than $200,000 per benefiting household. Therefore, we have measures in place for households that urgently need direct lift access or those who live in blocks that cannot undergo LUP. We offer a Lift access Housing Grant, of up to $30,000 to help these homeowners buy a flat with direct lift access.

15. Mr Dennis Tan has made points on consulting ground feedback for LUP. I wish to clarify that HDB values the feedback of Town Councils when it comes to LUP works because HDB recognises that it is the TCs that will have to maintain the lifts when built. In the case of Aljunied-Hougang Town Council, it was involved in the LUP working committee formed for Block 833 Hougang Central, which, I believe, is in Mr Tan’s ward. In addition, HDB does take into account ground concerns from residents who might not be part of the benefitting units but feel affected by lift upgrading solutions, or from the MPs whom they might approach. Usually these concerns can be resolved, for example, by the addition of privacy fins.

16. Let me turn to Mr Gerald Giam’s suggestions relating to the Lift Replacement Fund, or LRF.

a. The current minimum contribution rates for Town Councils’ LRF and Sinking Funds help Town Councils set aside sufficient funds for various cyclical replacement works. The restricted use of these funds serves as a form of fiscal discipline.

b. In particular, the LRF was introduced in 2017 because Town Councils had been significantly under-saving for lift replacements. Lift replacements are very infrequent, but involve heavy draw-down of funds when they are due, as lifts built in the same period will need to be replaced around the same time. Hence, the LRF allows TCs to pay for any capital expenditure relating to lift replacements in HDB estates, including those raised by Mr Giam.
c. We will continue to review the framework periodically to ensure that they keep pace with changes to the operating context.

Ensuring the vibrancy of our neighbourhoods through access to a range of shops and amenities

17. Let me now turn to ensuring the vibrancy of our neighbourhoods.

18. I thank Mr Yip Hon Weng, Ms Mariam Jaafar and Mr Chong Kee Hiong for the suggestions they have raised.

19. HDB towns are designed to give all residents convenient access to amenities and shops, often within 400m of their homes.

a. At the heart of every HDB town is a Town Centre, a key commercial hub providing a wide range of goods and services.

b. We also have Neighbourhood Centres and precinct shops distributed across the town.

20. HDB also imposes trade mix controls to ensure that residents’ basic needs are met.

a. For town and neighbourhood centres, HDB allows for greater market flexibility as the larger number of shops provides sufficient opportunity for market forces to determine a good trade mix.

b. HDB adopts the Price-Quality Method tender mechanism to attract quality retailers whereby HDB considers factors other than tender bid prices, such as affordability, business concepts and community-centric initiatives.

21. To further enhance the vibrancy of our commercial precincts, we will be trialling the refreshment of commercial clusters through placemaking and trade curation at three pilot sites – Ang Mo Kio Town Centre, Bukit Gombak and Tampines West Neighbourhood Centres.

a. As shared by my co-chair in the Heartland Digitalisation and Revitalisation Committee, MOS Low Yen Ling, this will be done in collaboration with MTI and Enterprise Singapore.

b. Our HDB and Town Council colleagues, alongside local stakeholders, will also be supporting MTI and ESG’s Heartland Enterprise Placemaking Grant for heartland enterprises keen to champion groundup placemaking events.

c. HDB is also working on developing trade mix plans for these pilot sites together with residents, merchants, and other stakeholders.

22. Finally, Singaporeans want more affordable cooked food options in their estates.

a. Last year, I shared about our Budget Meals initiative in HDB-owned coffeeshops. We have made good progress and I thank Mr Murali Pillai for tracking this initiative and giving his views on how we can improve it.

23. More than 130 coffee shops rented from HDB are already offering budget meals and drinks.

a. More will come onboard as their tenancies are progressively renewed.

b. By 2026, all 374 coffee shops rented from HDB will offer budget meals.

24. To the point that Associate Professor Jamus Lim has made, I wish to clarify that for HDB coffee shops let out via PQM tender, we require at least six stalls to provide one budget meal each, alongside two budget drinks. And for renewals of HDBowned coffee shops that are rented out, we require four budget meals and two budget drinks. This ensures a range of food and drink options at affordable prices. I thank Associate Professor Jamus Lim for his support of the PQM tender framework as well as the suggestions he has made, and we will refine the framework further if necessary.

25. In a related move, we launched BudgetMealGoWhere last year, an online platform that helps the public find coffee shops offering budget meals and drinks.

a. With the help of GovTech, we also launched the Great Budget Meal Hunt in January this year, where the public can share their recommendations of affordable meals.

b. The response has been enthusiastic.

c. Since its soft launch in October last year, we have added more than 290 user-submitted Budget meals and drinks to the platform.

d. We have received more than 1,900 recommendations and 2,800 verifications of budget meals from the public which will be progressively added to the BudgetMealGoWhere portal.

26. As for the 402 HDB coffee shops that were sold and hence now privatelyowned, we have been engaging them to join the Budget Meal initiative and are studying other measures, including Mr Murali’s suggestion to make budget meal provisions compulsory for privately-owned coffeeshops that want to renew their Outdoor Refreshment Area or ORA applications.

a. HDB has started requiring new buyers of privately-owned coffee shops to offer budget meals when they take over the premises. We will study whether to extend these conditions further.

Leveraging community partnerships

27. Next, l will share how we intend to work with the community to co-create solutions to deal with municipal issues in our estates.

28. More than 200,000 Singaporeans participated in the Forward Singapore exercise.

a. When I sat in for some of these conversations, I was encouraged that many Singaporeans care about forging pro-social norms in the community, and have concrete ideas on how to go about it.

29. At the same time, as Ms Cheryl Chan has pointed out, the Municipal Services Office, or MSO, is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year.

a. MSO has come a long way from our early days focused on improving coordination of service delivery amongst the now 10 Government agencies and 17 Town Councils.

b. Going forward, we will do more to deepen engagement with residents and community partners.

30. We strongly encourage community partners to share their ideas and work with us to create norms which help us keep our living environment harmonious and wellmaintained.

31. Through our various pilots, we are also developing new operating models that we can adopt to improve our response to municipal issues. I will share more on this later.

32. We will deepen engagement in two ways.

33. First, we will continue to leverage technology for convenient municipal feedback reporting by observant residents.

a. Feedback providers can now use a range of digital channels, including the OneService App and LifeSG, or interact with Kaki, the OneService Chatbot, on familiar platforms like WhatsApp, Telegram and Instagram.

b. Later this year, residents can look forward to giving feedback by providing only photos and the location of the issue to Kaki, making it even more convenient to provide feedback on-the-go.

34. Second, we want to empower residents by lowering barriers for residents to initiate community action.

a. MSO will continue to avail resources, advice and small-scale funding for residents to start their own projects that encourage pro-social norms.

b. For example, through our Love Our ‘Hood co-creation projects, residents can develop and refine their ideas in workshops, and subsequently implement them in their neighbourhoods.

c. Residents can also seek funding by tapping onto MSO’s Love Our Hood Fund. To date, 13 projects have received such support, and we encourage residents with good ideas to apply.

Improving delivery of municipal services

35. Alongside such community engagements, MSO will continue to pioneer new operating models that improve the Government’s response to municipal issues.

36. First, we have taken decisive steps to address a persistent pain-point for feedback providers.

a. Today, agencies occasionally close straightforward feedback cases ahead of the works being completed as their KPIs are weighted towards the speed of reply.

b. As part of our Resolution 360 or R360 initiative, we are addressing this disconnect.

c. We now require more categories of straightforward cases to be closed not when agencies have instructed their contractors to take action, but only when the work has actually been completed, with photo evidence where practicable. Such cases include requests for cleaning, local infrastructure maintenance, and vector control.

d. We applied this requirement to a small subset of agency-owned OneService cases in 2020, and by the end of the year, this will be required of all straightforward agency-owned OneService cases.

37. Second, we have re-organised the delivery of 10 common municipal servicesin Tampines.

a. These common municipal services are now delivered by a single operator instead of individual agency contractors. It no longer matters “which agency’s issue” it is as service delivery will be seamless to residents.

b. This is complemented by worker cross-training, empowering a combined team with operations technology, and rewarding efforts to resolve municipal issues thoroughly, address root causes of recurrent issues and undertake preventive maintenance and repair.

c. The initial pilot has been encouraging. The speed of feedback resolution has doubled, while resident satisfaction has improved by 20 percentagepoints, all while using less manpower.

38. In our next phase of experimentation, we have expanded this to Pasir Ris-Punggol, to see if we can achieve similar efficiencies over a larger area.

a. If it continues to produce good results, we will scale this to more estates.

39. Finally, let me provide an update on our efforts on tackling neighbour noise disputes.

a. Last year, MCCY, MinLaw and MSO shared our multi-pronged, community-led approach to tackling neighbour noise disputes.

40. Complementing this, MSO has set up an initial team of dedicated personnel, on a pilot basis, who will leverage stronger laws and technology to investigate and enforce against the small number of severe neighbour noise disputes.

a. As Members may have heard in 2M Edwin Tong’s MinLaw COS speech, we will also be enhancing the mediation framework and the Community Disputes Resolution Tribunals, or CDRT process.

b. For example, the mediation framework will be adjusted to resolve more neighbour disputes at an earlier stage, including through mandatory mediation.

41. The public expressed broad support for stronger government intervention in these severe cases during consultations in 2023.

a. To Mr Derrick Goh’s question, the initial pilot team is working closely with grassroots volunteers, HDB and other agencies to familiarise itself with case handling.

b. It will be able to do more when we have legislated the requisite powers, alongside enhancements to the mediation framework and the CDRT process. We hope to complete this by the end of 2024, and I look forward to support from Members of this House when we do so.

Mandarin segment

42. Chairman, in Mandarin please.

43. 从去年开始,政府在建屋局拥有的咖啡店逐步推出经济餐计划。至于已经出售的402 家组屋区咖啡店,我们已经邀请业者们加入经济餐计划,并正在研究其他建议,包括要求有意更新户外用餐区申请的私有咖啡店,必须提供经济餐饮。

a. 建屋发展局已经开始要求私有咖啡店的新买家,在接管咖啡店后必须提供经济餐饮。我们将研究如何鼓励更多业者售卖经济餐饮。

44. 社区事务署在2015 年推出“一联通” 应用。用过“一联通”的居民,很多都认为方便好用,不过,有些用户也偶尔观察到,有关部门虽然回复说会处理他们的反馈,但是问题一直没有得到彻底解决。

45. 社区事务署已逐步向相关的政府部门提高要求,让它们更严谨地对待用户反馈。只要用户所反映的问题是相对简单的,政府部门就不能单在吩咐承包商处理问题后就回答用户,而是要确认工作已顺利完成,才结案并答复,而且尽可能附上照片, 说明问题已获得妥善处理。


46. Chairman, back to English.

47. I have shared on our efforts to ensure our neighbourhoods and flats can continue to meet residents’ evolving needs and remain vibrant, even as they age.

48. Concurrently, we will also deepen partnerships with the community to co-create and co-deliver solutions, as well as adopt new operating models for municipal services delivery.

49. Together, we strive to achieve improvements in Singaporeans’ living environment.