Opening Address by Minister Desmond Lee at the Opening Ceremony of the International Built Environment Week 2021

Sep 7, 2021

Good morning, and a warm welcome to the International Built Environment Week (IBEW) 2021.

I would like to thank, first and foremost, all our speakers who will be contributing your knowledge and expertise to the event. This is the third time we are organising IBEW. We are glad to have over 3,700 participants joining us from Singapore and from around the world.

This year’s theme is on “Re-imagining the Future” for our Built Environment sector. We hope the networking and discussions at IBEW 2021 will help our sector to focus on recovery and transformation as we seek to emerge from this crisis.

COVID-19 Situation

The past year has been an incredibly challenging one for the Built Environment sector. Firms have been battered very hard. While construction works have restarted, we have had to adopt robust Safe Management Measures (SMM) to combat COVID-19 infections. This has hurt worksite productivity. Due to public health border restrictions, we face serious manpower shortages. Our overseas supply of construction materials has also been disrupted, because of lockdowns and work stoppages in many countries.

This has caused wide-ranging project delays across the public and private sectors, and placed many firms under serious financial strain. Home-buyers and business owners have also had to wait longer to move into their new homes & business premises.

So, the Government has been working closely with the industry to provide extensive support. For instance, we have provided financial assistance to help companies tide through this difficult period. This included the $1.36 billion Construction Support Package, Foreign Worker Levy waivers and rebates, and wage subsidies for local employees under the Jobs Support Scheme. On the manpower front, we have given firms greater flexibility to bring in new workers, by allowing workers to obtain their skills certification locally.

At the same time, the construction industry has also taken the lead through Alliances for Action (AfAs) to bring in more workers safely. The initial pilot to restart the recruitment and inflow of workers through a tightened end-to-end process has been successful, and the industry is working with our agencies to scale this up over the next few months. The Singapore Contractors Association Limited (SCAL) has also worked with our agencies to better retain existing workers. For instance, SCAL and MOM have set up a manpower exchange to match interested employers with workers whose work passes have expired, but who want to continue working in Singapore.

We have also put in place legislation to facilitate cost-sharing between developers and contractors. For public sector projects, our agencies have streamlined processes to co-share prolongation costs and additional foreign manpower costs.   For non-manpower prolongation costs, agencies have provided over $110 million to firms thus far, through streamlined processes.

For foreign manpower salary costs, BCA recently announced that we are doing something similar. Agencies are in the process of providing an additional 1.3% of monthly progress payments for eligible contracts from October 2020 to April 2021 through streamlined protocols. For contractors that have incurred higher foreign manpower cost increase than this, they can provide more detailed substantiation on the cost increase, and discuss with our agencies on cost sharing.

In addition, we are also reviewing the support measures for consultants as they have had to spend more time and effort on some projects as a result of uncertainty and delays. BCA will announce more details in due course.

We recognise that many private sector developers and main contractors are already digging deep into their pockets, to support the firms working on their projects, to keep them going. I would like to thank our industry partners who have taken the initiative to do so and encourage all parties to help one another, so that the industry can successfully weather this storm together.

BCA will continue to closely monitor the health of the industry and work together with industry partners to review our measures. We are also working together to chart the road ahead to make our sector more resilient in the face of greater uncertainties in future.

For the Built Environment sector, we want to keep our workers, dormitories, and worksites safe, but also reduce work disruptions and shortages. This requires us to act on several fronts as part of our roadmap ahead.

First, we need to continue to protect the workers in our sector. We can do this by raising our vaccination rates. While the sector has made good progress on this front, with over 90% of the workforce fully vaccinated, we urge all employers to get their remaining workers vaccinated, including our locals working in the sector.

Second, we will also need to do more regular testing to quickly identify and contain infections. For example, BCA has recently required all personnel entering worksites to undergo mandatory regular Antigen Rapid Testing, or ART, if they do not reside in a dormitory. Similarly, MOM is implementing regular ART for dormitory-based workers. This will allow us to detect cases early and prevent the numbers from increasing exponentially. With more of our population vaccinated, testing protocols, and precautions in place we can move gradually towards an endemic state, and carefully explore lifting some restrictions.    

We also need to tackle the immediate workforce shortage by supporting the industry in its efforts to bring in more workers safely and retain existing workers. But we must also work with firms to beef up our resilience against disruptions, both in terms of manpower and construction materials. This will involve diversifying our sources as well as increasing localisation.

Future of the Built Environment Sector

Even after we have reached a stage where COVID becomes endemic, we cannot go back to way things were. We must seize this window to accelerate the transformation of our Built Environment sector. We must reduce our reliance on migrant workers and move decisively away from labour-intensive construction methods. We need to also enhance the environmental sustainability of the Built Environment sector, in the face of the serious threat posed by climate change. This will enable us to be more resilient to future challenges that will surely come our way. A more productive, digitalised and sustainable Built Environment sector will also enable firms to continue to attract new talent and create good jobs for Singaporeans.

The Government will partner you in making the shift towards this future. Let me share three broad strategies to achieve this goal.

Adopting a Value-chain Approach for Holistic Transformation

First, we need to take a value chain approach to transform our Built Environment holistically. Thus far, we have been supporting the transformation of individual firms. For instance, the Construction Productivity and Capability Fund (CPCF) provides broad-based support for individual companies at the project level.  These initiatives are important and necessary to help companies transform their own work processes to be more productive.

But the construction value chain involves many different players. The downstream stakeholders will find it challenging to transform on their own if the upstream stakeholders are not equally committed to these outcomes. Developers have an influential role in promoting transformation across the value chain, because decisions are often taken upstream.
The Government, as a developer, has taken the lead to push for transformation outcomes in public sector projects. For instance, higher productivity and sustainability standards are currently already required for public sector projects under the Productivity Gateway Framework and the GreenGov.SG initiatives.

But our private sector developers will need to play a bigger role too, for the sector to accelerate its transformation journey. We are working with a few industry stakeholders as we finalise the details of the new Growth and Transformation Scheme (GTS), which we have announced earlier this year.

We are also looking into other measures. These could include enhanced requirements for sites sold under the Government Land Sales (GLS) programme, as well as additional incentive schemes. We are working out the details and we will update the industry in due course.

Transforming Our Regulatory Approach

Second, we must ensure our regulations support transformation for the Built Environment sector. In an increasingly complex environment, we need to have a robust and integrated regulatory regime for the sector. We therefore review and streamline our rules regularly to keep up with advancements in technology and to reduce the burden on the sector.

One such example is PUB’s E-Checker Portal, implemented in April last year. With the widespread adoption of Building Information Modelling (BIM) and the digitalisation of building designs, PUB has developed an automated e-checker of building plans. This e-checker allows industry practitioners to check if their BIM building plans are compliant with PUB’s requirements. This helps to reduce the need for repeated submissions and save time for the project.

We have also taken a closer look at the overall regulatory approval process for developments. Currently, industry practitioners make their regulatory submissions for new developments to agencies via an online platform called CORENET. Since its launch in 2001, CORENET has facilitated paperless submissions for regulatory approvals. In fact, Singapore was the first in the world to introduce electronic building submissions. But we want to do even better.
The existing process involves Qualified Persons (QPs) making separate submissions to different approving agencies. For example, BCA requires QPs to provide barrier-free access to streets from pavements and buildings. But PUB requires the ground level of buildings to be a certain height above street level to prevent flooding. In smaller sites, this could be a problem as the access ramps and pavements connecting the buildings to the street may be too steep due to the height requirement. In this situation, QPs may require more time to reconcile both requirements, and time is spent clarifying the issues with agencies.

So, our regulatory agencies have been engaging industry stakeholders since October 2018 on how the regulatory submission and approval process can be made much better. Over 100 practitioners from across the Built Environment value chain, including firms both large and small, have participated in this exercise. I thank you for partnering us on this journey.

Because of your valuable and detailed feedback, we will be developing a new and improved system, called CORENET X. CORENET X will serve as a one-stop integrated digital shopfront for the industry to make regulatory submissions regarding building developments, to all the relevant agencies.
First, the new CORENET X process will streamline more than 20 existing approval touchpoints across agencies into a few key approval gateways. These will be at the design, piling, construction, occupation and completion phases. At each approval gateway, the project team will be able to firm up the key requirements across all agencies, before layering on further details at subsequent gateways.
This coordinated process will help our QPs save time and avoid abortive work. They will no longer need to keep adjusting their plans to reconcile and address different requirements at multiple points of the approval process.
Second, under CORENET X, agencies will coordinate and provide a clear, consolidated and coordinated response to QPs at each gateway.  Compare this to the current system where different agencies issue their directions piecemeal and in silo.
Third, the platform will tap on new digital technologies to enhance the regulatory submission process. For example, there will be a model checker that seeks to automate the checking of up to 3,000 regulatory rules upfront, which will speed up the compliance checks for these rules.
Our end goal is an efficient, faster, and an easier-to-navigate regulatory approval process that will benefit both industry practitioners and our regulatory agencies, and of course the public at large. We aim to implement CORENET X in the second half of 2023.

BCA will kickstart a series of workshops and webinars, together with the regulatory agencies, to work closely with industry practitioners to prepare for implementation. At the same time, we will continue to reach out to you in the industry to gather feedback on CORENET X, so do continue to partner us in developing the new process to meet your needs. BCA will share more about CORENET X at a keynote plenary tomorrow, and a webinar later this week, so please tune in.

Raising the Bar for Sustainability

Let me move on to my third point, which is the need to continually review and raise our standards for sustainability.

As many of you may know, we launched the latest edition of the Singapore Green Building Masterplan earlier this year. We have set ambitious targets to accelerate our transition to a low-carbon Built Environment. This is one of our key priorities under the Singapore Green Plan 2030. This latest Masterplan builds on the cumulative progress we have achieved through the previous three editions.

We first began our green buildings journey back in 2005, with the launch of BCA’s Green Mark scheme. Back then, we needed to create our own rating tool to set a benchmark for environmental sustainability in Singapore’s built environment, and to promote greater environmental awareness within our construction industry. This formed the basis for our minimum environmental sustainability standards for buildings as well.

Today, Green Mark has become one of the world’s leading green building certifications and is the go-to standard for green buildings in the tropics. Over the years, we have reviewed and refined the scheme to ensure that we consistently raise the bar for our best-in-class standards, and to broaden the scope for sustainability in our built environment.

I am therefore glad to announce that we will be launching the refreshed Green Mark scheme today. We will raise our standards in energy performance, and place greater emphasis on other important sustainability outcomes. These include:
i.     designing for maintainability;
ii.    reducing embodied carbon across a building’s life cycle;
iii.   using smart technologies;
iv.   enhancing a building’s resilience to climate change; and  
v.    creating healthier environments for building users.

The new scheme is aligned with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. It also incorporates the principles of the World Green Building Council’s Health & Wellbeing framework and takes reference from leading international professional standards such as the Whole Life Carbon calculation methodology developed by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

We launched a pilot of the new scheme in April this year to trial these new standards. This involved close to 30 projects and more than 50 industry practitioners.
I am happy to note that two projects by the National University of Singapore have successfully attained the Green Mark Platinum (Zero Energy) under the Green Mark 2021 scheme. They are the Engineering Design and Innovation Centre (E2A) located at the Faculty of Engineering, and the Frontier located at the Faculty of Science.
Both projects are designed to maximise natural ventilation and daylight, while minimising heat gain using sun shading devices and extensive greenery throughout the development. Solar photovoltaic systems have also been installed at neighbouring building blocks to harness renewable energy to offset the overall energy consumption.
In fact, Frontier is the first development in Singapore to have demonstrated exemplary performance in climate resilience, which is one of the five sustainability outcomes under the Green Mark 2021 scheme. For example, Frontier has put in place food waste sorting in the canteen and send the food waste to Ulu Pandan pilot facility for co-digestion with sewage for energy recovery.

In addition, BCA, together with industry associations and agencies, have developed a new Super Low Energy (SLE) standard for residential buildings, as part of Green Mark 2021. This new standard will be awarded to best-in-class energy performing residential buildings that achieve at least 60% improvement in energy efficiency over 2005 levels when it first started.

Progressive developers like HDB and CDL have already stepped forward to achieve these SLE standards in their new residential developments, and I hope other developers will follow suit. This will help us to achieve our target for 80% of new developments to be SLE buildings from 2030.

We have received encouraging industry feedback that the refreshed Green Mark scheme will energise our green building leaders in the right direction and help them stay ahead of the curve. I encourage all of you to continue striving for Green Mark certification, and to capture new opportunities – both in Singapore and abroad – in the development of green buildings.


We have worked closely with you to develop some of the strategies and measures that I have outlined, and we will continue to build on these partnerships. Together, we can make our future Built Environment sector a lot more sustainable, productive and resilient, and create many good jobs for Singaporeans, for generations to come. So please join us in this journey.

Please feel free to reach out to the BuildSG office for information and resources to transform your companies, or to share your ideas. Where needed, we can set up AfAs or Alliances for Action, which are industry-led groups supported by the Government, to take an action-oriented approach to pilot innovative solutions to big challenges. For example, the Digitalising Built Environment AfA has developed standards for a common data environment to enable interoperability between the various digital solutions that firms adopt.

You can also take part in the series of engagements for our Long Term Plan Review (LTPR) as we look ahead to build a more resilient and sustainable city for our future generations. I look forward to your continued partnership.

In conclusion, let me thank the IBEW team, for working so hard to put together an exciting line-up of activities over the next three days. For example, we have a total of six plenary sessions for prominent local and international industry leaders to exchange global perspectives and discuss key challenges and opportunities for the Built Environment sector. Local developers and builders will also showcase their cutting-edge capabilities via their exemplary projects. There is also a special session anchored by WOHA and its alliances to share their think piece on their Blue Sky Industry Transformation Map (ITM).

I hope these sessions will spark new ideas for our future Built Environment sector. With this, I wish everyone a fruitful and rewarding IBEW 2021. Thank you.