Speech by 2M Desmond Lee at the Committee of Supply Debate 2019: Strengthening Infrastructure, Climate and Social Resilience

Mar 6, 2019 20:15


Strengthening Infrastructure, Climate and Social Resilience

Sir, I will speak on three areas that MND will continue to strengthen in the coming years: First, our infrastructure resilience; Second, our climate resilience; and third, our social resilience. 

Part 1: Strengthening our Infrastructure Resilience

Let me start with strengthening our infrastructure resilience. We often take infrastructure resilience to mean how strong and durable our existing structures are, and how well we maintain them. This certainly is important as our buildings start to age. But resilience is also about designing and building better to meet tomorrow’s challenges, so that our buildings can accommodate higher-density living, changing lifestyle needs, and also withstand tougher weather conditions. This means adopting innovative solutions in design and construction.

That is why MND continues to invest heavily in Research & Development in the urban and infrastructure sector. One example is the Housing & Development Board. In recent years, it partnered A*STAR to develop the Integrated Environmental Modeller – or the IEM. The IEM is a 3D modelling software that predicts how environmental conditions interact with our town plans. The software can, for example, try to simulate how wind flows through different urban features and open spaces, and where solar heat is more likely to build up. This helps our town planners take some of the guesswork out of designing a more liveable and sustainable estate. Now, they can plan better for open spaces to enjoy good ventilation, plant trees and greenery in the right places, to help bring down ambient temperatures.

Singapore can be a thought leader in producing innovative urban solutions like IEM. We are both compact and well-connected, which is an ideal living test-bed for new ideas. Innovations developed here have the potential to be useful in other dense, tropical cities. The team that developed the IEM recognises this. They are currently in talks with the industry to see how the IEM can be adapted for commercial use. I hear that they are even looking to bring it overseas. 

We will continue to support promising research under the Cities of Tomorrow (CoT) programme, which builds on the success of the Land and Liveability National Innovation Challenge (L2 NIC). 

The projects that we have funded are diverse. But all of them aim to develop practical solutions to the multifaceted challenges that exist in our built environment. For example: In construction technology, we are investing in innovations such as 3D printing to build faster, safer, and more cost-effectively. In facilities management, we are studying how robots and data analytics can make the job of inspecting building facades safer and more efficient. 

Ultimately, these innovations aim to improve the lives of people, and ensure that our city meets the demands not just today, but of tomorrow. 

Part 2: Enhancing our Climate Resilience 

I will now move on to climate resilience. 

Various Members have spoken about the importance of being responsive to the threats and effects of climate change. 

We fully agree. It is especially critical for small, low-lying states like us to act decisively to protect ourselves. We have conducted studies to examine the risks and impacts of sea level rise. We have invested in clean-tech solutions, so as to move towards becoming a more low-carbon society. Minister Lawrence Wong will speak more about this tomorrow. 

Today, I will speak about an important response to climate change – protecting the diversity and resilience of our natural and urban ecosystems. This is a comprehensive effort that requires planning at different levels.  

Firstly, at a design level, our colleagues at NParks have put in a lot of thought to embed climate resilience features into our urban green spaces. At one-north Park, specially chosen wildflowers and grasses help to filter storm water runoff naturally. These plants then also serve as a habitat for various species of butterflies, birds, and aquatic wildlife, bringing them into the city. Our Nature Ways – such as the one shown here in Tampines – replicate the tiered structure of a tropical forest with native trees and shrubs – so not just streetscape, but grown in a particular way to replicate some natural structure. They provide important ecosystem services to people and facilitate ecological connectivity for some species. 

Secondly, on a planning level, we work with our community partners to protect and strengthen our Nature Reserves and Nature Areas. We currently have 6 Nature Parks adjacent to our Nature Reserves to provide over 250 ha of protective green buffers. By 2020, we will add 2 more Nature Parks at Rifle Range and Thomson to increase our green buffers to over 370 ha.

Over the next 10 years, we will do more to regenerate forests in our Nature Parks as well as Nature Reserves. As part of our Forest Restoration Action Plan, NParks will plant an additional 250,000 native trees and shrubs to restore our secondary forests. 

Third, underpinning all this work are our continued efforts to conserve our native flora and fauna. 

NParks will continue to: Plant more trees – in the past 5 years, NParks has planted an average of 50,000 trees a year, twice what it used to plant in the past. It will restore and enhance more habitats, for example, restoring mangroves at Sungei Buloh and Pulau Ubin, and repopulating corals at Sisters Island Marine Park. We will implement more species recovery plans, and we have started this for 50 species of native plants and 10 species of native animals. 

What you see on the video is the Neptune’s Cup Sponge, which is one of the species being carefully rehabilitated in Singapore waters. It was thought to be globally extinct since 1908. But it was re-discovered in Singapore in 2011 – the first known re-discovery of this species in the world. So you see this work of NParks officers relocating it to afford it better protection from the elements. Another species in our recovery programme is the Harlequin Butterfly. It is rare, and little is known of its biology. But NParks has been studying it closely in the field, and has been relocating it to new sites to establish more populations. Today, there is a healthy new population at Pasir Ris Park, and work is underway to introduce more at East Coast Park.

Members also pointed out that development should not come at the expense of greenery. We would like to assure Mr Louis Ng, Mr Chong Kee Hiong, Mr Ong Teng Koon, and Mr Pritam Singh that maintaining and enhancing our greenery will continue to be a key pillar of our urban planning strategy. In our post-independence years, this was what set us apart from other cities with similar growth strategies. Indeed, as Minister Heng Swee Keat said in his Budget round-up speech, greening is part of our identity.

But our small size as a city state means that our land and resources are scarce and finite, and the tensions and trade-offs for us when it comes to land use are magnified many times compared to larger countries. This is a reality we live with every day, and our planners are always seized with these challenges.

So, we have to continue to be judicious about how we use land to meet our needs as a city and as a country, while ensuring we safeguard land for the aspirations of our children and future generations. 

In this regard, any decision to clear land and forest cover is not taken lightly. If we do, it is a decision we make after very careful deliberation and inter-agency discussion, taking into account Singaporeans’ needs and the many trade-offs involved. As was in the case of Tengah, which was needed to provide homes over the next two decades for 42,000 families, and jobs for more than 20,000 people as the town develops progressively. 

These are not just difficult trade-offs in the present day – between greenery and biodiversity on the one hand, and housing and jobs on the other. But trade-offs between the present and the future – between land use for today’s needs and keeping land for our children and grandchildren and generations not yet born.

At the same time, in response to Mr Louis Ng’s question, we work to ensure that when development does take place, proposals are thoroughly examined for any potential environmental impacts, among other assessments. Our Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) framework covers all Nature Reserves, Nature Areas, other sensitive natural areas, as well as marine, and coastal areas. Those who propose development close to these areas are required to consult our technical agencies on their plans together with URA and MND. These technical agencies include the National Parks Board. We take a prudent approach to this consultation. If we have reason to believe that a project may significantly impact the environment, then the developer will be asked by technical agencies to conduct a further environmental study. 

We would like to assure the Member that studies are undertaken in an independent and objective manner by specialists who have every interest to maintain their professional standing. And the study reports are also carefully assessed by the technical agencies such as NParks, AVA, MPA, and NEA, to ensure their adequacy. In addition, to reiterate my previous answer to Members’ question in this House, we will make the findings of such Environmental Impact Assessments publicly available, unless specific considerations require otherwise. 

That said, our review of the EIA framework is ongoing. MND and the technical agencies are studying how best to strengthen our policies and processes, to ensure the framework remains robust for the future.  

Part 3: Building our Social Resilience 

This brings me to my third and final area of focus.  

Our green spaces not only contribute to our climate resilience, they also bring people together, and are an important part of our social resilience. 

Singaporeans have reason to be proud of our distinctive greenery and rich biodiversity. Our common spaces allow us to interact with one another, and bond with our family and friends. More and more citizens are stepping forward to care for our green spaces. 

We are indeed fortunate to have over 45,000 volunteers who work closely with us to protect and enhance our greenery and nature areas: For example, our community gardeners tend to more than 1,400 Community-in-Bloom gardens across the island. And our Biodiversity Beach Patrol volunteers help monitor key stretches of our beaches. 

Meanwhile, NParks’ extensive Friends of the Park communities continue to see people from all walks of life and all interests coming together with a common love for nature and open spaces. Mr Dennis Tan highlighted concerns about the safe use of our park connectors and showed us a photograph of that. NParks has installed more safety measures to enhance the safe use of PCNs. Additional lighting, speed regulating strips, and advisory signs have been put up. NParks has also installed advisory signs at high usage parks and PCNs to remind users to stay on track and give way. NParks conducts outreach programmes to promote safe use of PCNs, including lane usage and appropriate speed limits. NParks is working together with LTA on joint enforcement efforts.

But the Friends of the PCN have also been contributing to our efforts. Chaired by an avid cyclist and nature lover Mr Woon Tai Woon, the Friends of PCN have led the charge on ground-up initiatives reaching out to PCN users to promote safe riding, like helping with track painting and public signage; Encouraging safe riding etiquette through the “Share the Track” programme; and most recently, creating a video promoting the responsible use of Personal Mobility Devices (PMDs).  

We will also activate more community nodes for citizens to enjoy. In 2017, we announced the start of trail enhancement works along the Rail Corridor. The continuous green trail stretches 24 kilometres from the north to the south of Singapore, and is used by many as a place to cycle and trek.  

Today, I am happy to share that we have plans to develop the former Bukit Timah Fire Station (BTFS) into an additional recreational node along the Rail Corridor. This former Fire Station is strategically located at the intersection of the Rail Corridor and the Coast-to-Coast trail which we launched quite recently too. And we envision it be a base for visitors to explore the nature and heritage attractions in the area, including Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Dairy Farm Nature Park, and the Former Ford Factory. It will also be home to a new Visitor Centre for the nature parks in the area, and will host other nature, heritage, and recreational uses. And we will announce more details later this year. 

Finally, we will reinforce social resilience in the places that Singaporeans call home. 

We continue to ensure that our residential communities are served well by high-quality social and community facilities. This means ensuring that community facilities are right-sited and sized appropriately, to support cohesive and multi-generational neighbourhoods. For example, the future Punggol Town Hub will feature a public library, community centre, hawker centre, and health services. All co-located for one-stop, convenient access for our residents. It will also have a cycling path that connects to the larger Punggol cycling network around it. The mix of amenities was carefully planned so as to meet the need of the current demographics of residents. And as Punggol evolves, so too will the offerings at Punggol Town Hub. 

Other Cuts 

Now let me briefly address the remaining cuts. 

Er Dr Lee Bee Wah made a request to increase heavy vehicle (HV) parking options in Yishun. Public heavy vehicle parking is popular as it tends to be cheaper and closer to residential areas, and that is where the tension arises with residents who are concerned about heavy vehicles entering residential built-up areas. But of course it is also more convenient for drivers to park near home especially given the hours that they operate.  Unfortunately, while we plan carefully to ensure sufficient heavy vehicle lots at a national level, it may not always be possible to fully meet local demand, especially near heavily built-up residential areas. These are in relation to site constraints, concerns about safety, noise and other disamenities. So we encourage drivers to look into private heavy vehicle parking lot options as well as alternatives in neighbouring areas, but also encourage employers to take responsibility and help their drivers find the right spaces to park their company vehicles. We will certainly work with Er Dr Lee Bee Wah to look into the requirements in Yishun.

I would like to thank Mr Gan Thiam Poh and Mr Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap for their suggestions to optimise car park use. Some car parks already allow day and night season parking. Since private cars, heavy vehicles, and commercial vehicles tend to need parking at different times, available space is often already used optimally. Separately, agencies have also allowed parking lots that do not have traffic and site constraints to double up as heavy vehicle spaces for short time periods. But we continue to look out for other car parks which can be further optimised to support dual use, and will continue to explore the ideas that Members have raised. 

Closing

Chairman, we have come far together, but we have more to do, to build a thriving and dynamic city, develop comfortable homes and neighbourhoods, and protect our natural and built environment. And we look forward to the continued support of all our Members.

Thank you.