Speech by 2M Desmond Lee at the Committee of Supply Debate 2020 - Transforming Singapore into a City of Nature

Mar 4, 2020

A City for All

We want to build a Singapore where the next generation can enjoy a better life than the one before. That is why my colleague, Minister Lawrence Wong, had said some time ago that “we are not done building Singapore”. This spirit also motivates our push to make Singapore a City in Nature, and our efforts to transform our city centre. I will focus on these two aspects today.

A City in Nature

The lush urban greenery we have today is the outcome of dedicated and sustained efforts, where successive generations of Singaporeans have been planting trees, year after year, over the past 60 years.  

Today, we are a City in a Garden, and according to an MIT study, one of the World’s Greenest Cities. Mr Arasu Duraisamy asked about the Government’s plans for the next bound of greening Singapore. 

We want to transform Singapore into a City in Nature to provide Singaporeans with a better quality of life, while co-existing with flora and fauna on this island. Indeed, with climate change, more extreme weather conditions, and increased urbanisation, we must do more on this front.

Our key strategy is to enhance and extend our natural capital across our island. Let me outline four key moves over the next 10 years. 

First, we will extend our nature park network. Today, we have more than 350 hectares of nature parks, which act as complementary habitats and buffers to our nature reserves to protect them from the impact of urbanisation. This is important as the nature reserves are the richest sources of our natural capital. They contain our primary and secondary rainforests, and core habitats for our native biodiversity and wildlife.  

In all, we will dedicate another 200 hectares of nature parks by 2030. This is two and a half times the size of the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Singaporeans can look forward to more places such as the Rifle Range Nature Park for nature-based recreation, such as hiking, and bird watching in future.

Khatib Bongsu is a rich mangrove and mudflat habitat on the North-eastern coast of Singapore. I have kayaked there with NParks and our nature community volunteers a number of years ago. It is one of the few good mangrove habitats left in Singapore. I am happy to announce that NParks will also be establishing a 40-hectare nature park there.

Next, we will intensify nature and the greenery in our gardens and parks. First, we will incorporate natural designs and planting in our new and redeveloped parks. You can expect to see a greater variety of vegetation that resemble the look and feel of natural forests, and benefit from the positive effects of nature on your health and well-being. You can look forward to the addition of another 140 hectares of such parks and gardens over the next five years.

Second, we will naturalise more waterways and waterbodies in our gardens and parks. We have done this in Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park and Lakeside Garden where we transformed concrete canals into natural rivers. We will incorporate such designs in all our coastal and riverine parks. This will also help to protect against sea-level rise and flooding.  

Lastly, we will conserve important native plants and animal species. Some of the world’s most unique biodiversity call our tropical island home. Singaporeans would have encountered rare native species such as the Singapore Kopsia and the Tiger Orchid, and this is because of our restoration efforts. In fact, the Tiger Orchid is the largest orchids in the world. It can weigh up to a few tonnes each. 

We will partner nature groups and the community to carry out recovery plans for over 70 more animal and plant species, and enhance 30 hectares of forest, marine, and coastal habitats by 2030.

Our third strategy is to restore nature into our urban areas, to bring greenery closer to our everyday lives. Singaporeans can benefit from greenery at their doorstep. We aim to nearly double the skyrise greenery footprint in our buildings and infrastructure, to 200 hectares by 2030.

We will focus on greening our industrial estates. These are among some of the hottest areas on the island in terms of temperature. Over the next 10 years, we will plant 100,000 more trees in industrial estates, such as Tuas Industrial Estate and Seletar Aerospace Park. These efforts will cool the environment, improve air quality, and beautify surroundings in these industrial estates. 

Lastly, we will strengthen the connectivity between our green spaces. It is not enough to intensify greenery in isolated pockets. We will plant native trees and plants in a multi-tiered structure and create green corridors along roads called Nature Ways. These can be further integrated with pedestrian and cycling paths to form lush and natural park connectors. In fact, we have been planting Nature Ways since 2013.

By 2030, we aim to have 300km of Nature Ways, and 500km of park connectors. With this, all households will be within a 10-minute walk from a park. Over the long term, where feasible, we aim to make every road a Nature Way.

During a recent dialogue with friends from the nature community, they shared that the work of greening Singapore cannot be done by MND alone. They are quite right. The transformation of Singapore into a City in Nature – a qualitative change – requires close collaboration with other agencies. We will infuse this into our planning and development systems. 

But Government efforts alone will not be sufficient. Various members also asked how Singaporeans can be more involved in the greening of Singapore. We want a whole new generation of Singaporeans to carry on this responsibility to keep planting and nurturing trees, for the benefit of future Singaporeans. 

Mr Lee Kuan Yew sowed the seeds of Singapore’s greening movement with the planting of a Mempat Tree in 1963, at a time when the Government was also grappling with serious challenges of unemployment, public health, illiteracy and so on. Greening to our pioneers was serious business back then, and it remains a key priority of national development today.

A few years ago, I organised a Nature Way planting in Jurong West. I was standing next to an elderly lady who was there with her grandson, and they were participating with neighbours and friends in planting the Nature Way. After they had shovelled soil around their sapling, I could not help but overhear this elderly lady asking somebody to help take a photograph of her and her grandson next to the sapling. She told her grandson in Mandarin, “Boy, let’s take a photo and remember where we planted this tree. Next time when Ah Ma is gone, come and visit the tree with your family. It will be a lot taller by then; you can remember Ah Ma by that tree.” This story stuck deep in me about how our greenery can bind Singaporeans and families in Singapore together, and how one generation takes it upon itself to plant trees for the next generation to enjoy – literally planting trees for the next generation, and figuratively taking responsibility for the long term, not just for ourselves, but for the future.

We want this DNA to run deep in our future generations. We will continue this legacy with a new movement – the One Million Trees movement. Today, we plant around 50,000 trees a year. We will double the pace and plant one million trees over the next ten years. We will do so along our roads, in our parks, estates and green areas. Along some of our coastal areas, we will plant mangrove trees. We may lose some streetscape greenery due to developmental needs, but we will plant back what is lost and more.

I recently met with a number of partners who are passionate about greening to discuss how this One Million Trees movement can galvanise the length and breadth of Singapore. We spoke also on how we can bring on board a broad spectrum of Singapore – especially the next generation – to have a stake in greening Singapore, to have a stake in making sure this place remains liveable not just for themselves but for the next generation. It will involve schools, communities, corporate organisations and many more.  

In fact, more than 200 stakeholders have already pledged their support to plant more than 120,000 trees. This includes companies on Jurong Island, Keppel Corporation, the National University of Singapore, OCBC, Shimizu Corp, UPS, and many other community groups, organisations and individuals. I am encouraged to see that everyone is doing their part to keep Singapore green.

We also want Singaporeans to be more actively involved in the design, development and programming of our parks. Over the next five years, Singaporeans can join in the designing, building and management of 50 new and redeveloped parks, as my colleague Minister Lawrence Wong had announced recently. This includes signage design or promoting park etiquette, and partnering our gardeners to do landscape planting. It is one thing for a park to be built near you; it is another for a park to be built near you, in which you have had a hand in designing, conceptualising and building, and literally knocking the nails into some of the furniture for the park, planting the trees etc. It also gives a sense of ownership, custodianship and stewardship of the green spaces around you.

We will also step up efforts to build awareness amongst Singaporeans so that we can live harmoniously with nature. To have 48,000 NParks volunteers working closely and passionately with us today is something we are very proud. We hope to grow this number to some 70,000 over the next 10 years. We invite you to join in our efforts, forge closer bonds with fellow Singaporeans and strengthen our sense of ownership of our environment.

A Leading City through Co-Creation

Even as we enhance the quality of our green spaces, we will energise and rejuvenate our city. Various members asked about ongoing efforts to rejuvenate our CBD and the city, and progress of MND’s work over the year. 

We aspire to be amongst the leading cities in the world, where people want to live, work and visit. We have introduced the CBD Incentive Scheme for this purpose. A successful CBD must have a good mix of office spaces, a lively street life, with diverse offerings. To encourage the development of different neighbourhoods in the CBD, we introduced incentives for the conversion of older office buildings into residences and hotels. Interest and take up have been encouraging, and URA planners are working with interested building owners on this.

We have also introduced the Strategic Development Incentive Scheme to encourage commercial building owners to partner neighbours to comprehensively redevelop a few plots, where transformation is not limited to one building, but a whole area along the street or precinct, for the public to enjoy. URA is in dialogue with several building owners who are keen, with potential to rejuvenate different parts of our city.

But a leading city is nothing without its people and its soul. This is not just about buildings and shops, but one that reflects the Singaporean attitude, innovation, openness, daring, and verve. DPM Heng spoke about the spirit of partnership at the launch of the Singapore Together movement last year. At MND, we embrace it, and will do more to partner Singaporeans.

Members have asked how we intend to do so. We have private sector partners from 10 precincts all across Singapore on the pilot Business Improvement District (BID) programme; the programme is making good progress. These stakeholders seek to take a people-centred approach in creating spaces that will draw people into them. For example, we saw The Lawn next to The Sail and Marina Bay Financial Centre being activated for the first time during the Marina Bay Singapore Countdown. We expect many more such new initiatives in the coming year and months.

Community feedback was key throughout the Draft Master Plan 2019 process – and this is another example of how Singaporeans get involved in rejuvenating our city. We exhibited the plan in March 2019 after rounds of consultation, and gazetted it eight months later. We assessed each public feedback thoroughly, and incorporated ideas and suggestions where appropriate. 

I am confident that the plan has been made better because of our collective efforts and because Singaporeans care and participated. 

Members asked about heritage and conservation of buildings to maintain the character of a city. As a city-state, we have to meet the national physical needs for retaining links to our past, retaining links to our national collective memory.

To date, after a 30-year journey, we have conserved close to 7,200 buildings across our island, with some in the heartlands. Recent additions include the former Bukit Timah Fire Station, former Railway Station Staff Quarters, and SCGS campus at Emerald Hill.

In our conservation efforts, partnerships are key. In the case of SCGS, a group of alumnae worked with stakeholders and the public to garner support for conservation. We also engage industry partners and the stakeholders in determining which building to conserve, and how we can sustain the built heritage of places.

In the next bound of greening Singapore and energising our city, it is partnerships that are key. Commitment by Singaporeans across all walks of life to work together with us, to imagine the next Singapore, to work hand-in-hand, to keep our city green, to keep our city lively and buzzing.

Apart from partnerships, we also have to thank many of our colleagues and officers who work assiduously behind the scenes to make this a reality. For example, the arborists, conservationists, botanists, scientists in NParks and Gardens by the Bay will dream for a yet more green Singapore, as well as the city planners, innovators who think of ways to energise community partnerships in order to make our city that much more vibrant and exciting. We look forward to continued partnership with Members of this House. Thank you.