Speech by Minister Desmond Lee at the Launch of the Long-Term Plan Review Public Engagement

Jul 17, 2021

I am very glad to see so many young people joining us this morning, as we kickstart a very important public engagement process for the Long-Term Plan Review. You are the future of Singapore – the future stewards, future leaders – and we want to hear your hopes and dreams, as you set up homes and a family, or reach your next milestone in life. 

Long-term planning for any city is important, but especially for one with unique traits and unique constraints such as Singapore. 

We are both a city as well as a country, one of the very few, if not the only city that is a state, fully independent. So we have to think creatively to fit all the needs of a typical country, within the confines of our city limits. From land for housing and industries, to things that we might not think about every day, but that are also critical – our seaports and airport, military bases, reservoirs, and so on. Things that normally countries put far beyond the limits of a city – essential but not so desirable services and needs - but for us it is all within the city, because there is no other place to put them. 

That is why we have to plan sustainably, not just for today or tomorrow, for the long term, and steward our scarce resources not just for today’s use, but also for the future – your generation, and your children and their children, in the years to come. 

Take our natural environment for one. It is important for us to be good stewards of our natural spaces, both to protect our native biodiversity in this city-state, and to make our island more liveable for all of us. But unlike other countries, we do not have large spaces outside our city where we can safeguard vast tracts of nature. So we have to find innovative ways to integrate nature into our city, and make Singapore a City in Nature – by setting aside more nature parks, naturalising our green spaces all around the city, and so on. In other words, our City in Nature vision is a way of addressing our land-use pressures. It is not something we do in spite of our constraints, but because of it. 

This is just one example of how we are finding this balance, to meet the many needs and aspirations of current Singaporeans and those in the future, not yet born. The model of our city that you see in front of you illustrates this very clearly too. We have very few large swathes of “fresh” or undeveloped land to work with. And we do not have the luxury of locating less popular amenities, such as industrial areas, especially heavy industries, in another province or district, far away from residential estates. While some people may enjoy vibrancy and convenience at their doorstep, others prefer peace and quiet and do not want shops or coffeeshops and recreational facilities to be too near their homes. In planning our city, we therefore need to juggle multiple needs and cater for different scenarios. This is today’s challenge. 

This is a challenging task, but also one full of possibilities. We can dream up different ways to make Singapore an even better place. To do this, we need the help and support of all Singaporeans. 

That is why we are here today, that’s the entire reason why we are kick-starting this important exercise, to embark on the Long-Term Plan Review – or for short, LTPR. This is the start of yet another exciting stage of our journey. We are looking for bold and imaginative ideas, to chart the Singapore Story for the next 50 years and beyond. 

The Long-Term Plan Review is not a totally new exercise. We review our long-term plans for Singapore every 10 years, based on changing trends and needs, to ensure that we can continue to provide a sustainable and high-quality living environment for all. Strategies that are developed during our past long-term plans, such as the Concept Plans, can still be seen today. 

Our very first Concept Plan in 1971 made strong imprints on the urban structure around us today. Many of these ideas seem natural now, they seem like a given, that it should be the case, but when they were first suggested or conceptualised, they were seen as bold, even radical. When you listen to what I’m going to say next, don’t put yourself in today’s context, imagine that you were the person who conceptualised it, all those decades ago. 

In the Singapore of the past, it is very different from the Singapore of today. Imagining ideas that today we say, “we need it, and we are glad that you thought about it”, and thinking about where did they develop it from. They did not just deal with our immediate preoccupations as a fledgling nation, but envisioned the modern city that we could be, decades into the future. So they were not thinking about themselves alone, but thinking about our generation, many of whom at that time, were not even born. So, many people were then skeptical about these ideas. They wondered if these ideas were even practical or necessary. But that is the value of long-term planning, by setting our sights further, and looking at trends and needs many years ahead, we can embrace and work toward a much more ambitious vision. And over time, many of these ideas bore fruit, and we benefit from them today. 

One of the bold ideas back in the 1971 Concept Plan was to uproot and relocate the civilian airport, which had been in Paya Lebar since 1955, to Changi. With the airport in Paya Lebar, the planes flew right over dense residential areas like Geylang and Katong, causing a lot of noise pollution. If instead the airport were to be placed in Changi, near the coast, planes could arrive and depart near the water. And there would be more room to reclaim land and expand the airport, as passenger and cargo traffic continued to grow. 

But the move to Changi would be a huge undertaking, and costly, and we already had a thriving airport. Some wondered if it would be worth the large investments, if it was worth taking the risk. There was a lot of debate, and eventually it was decided that Changi was the right location for our long-term development, and so we did it. As we know now, the move turned out worthwhile. It created room to grow Changi as a global aviation hub and a key symbol of Singapore, notwithstanding the challenges that it faces today. 

The 1971 plan also seeded the idea of our MRT network. It conceptualised a rapid transit system to relieve traffic congestion in the city centre, and support the transport needs of satellite towns. I took my first MRT ride when I was in primary school, it was really very new, and it was a lot of buzz and excitement for all of us, and for our parents. Today, our MRT lines are a crucial backbone of our transport system. But back in the 70s, it was far from a given that we would build any MRT tracks at all. Many people thought we should go with a bus-only system, because the MRT would cost a tremendous amount more. But again, our pioneers looked many years ahead, saw that we would have limited land for more roads, and decided that a rail system was necessary to meet our future transport needs. Plus, a good rail system would also boost investor confidence and drive economic growth for Singaporeans. 

Now, so many of us benefit from the MRT every day, and it is difficult to imagine a Singapore without this mass rapid transit system. And year after year we launch new lines, intensifying our rail system to push for more public transport roadshare, to go green. And we have our 1971 Concept Plan, our planners in those days, Singaporeans leaders of that time, to thank for that. 

There are many other dramatic ideas that were born from our past Concept Plans and our planning reviews. The entire Marina Bay area was first conceptualised in the 1971 Concept Plan. Government started reclamation work for it in the 1970s, and over the years, we continued to plan and add on to it, bit by bit, and they were reclaiming it and planning it not for their generation – many of them are not around today to enjoy the fruits or see the development of Marina Bay – they built this plan for a future Singapore, for future generations of Singapore not yet born. And they did it to give us the iconic skyline and architecture we see today – from the Marina Bay Sands to Gardens by the Bay and more. 

The 1991 Concept Plan suggested combining seven separate islands into one big one for industrial use. That raised eyebrows, but Jurong Island has brought us many new jobs, and continues to be important for us today. And the 2001 Concept Plan drew up an Identity Plan and a Parks and Waterbodies Plan, to enhance the character of Singapore’s natural and built environment. These were outcomes from the focus group discussions conducted back then, and we can see today how these plans led to the development of many of our best-loved parks and urban projects, such as the Southern Ridges. 

Now today, here in Singapore, we face very different circumstances. We are already highly built-up, and have significantly less land to work with. So we need to make even better use of our land, and be even better stewards, to continue building our city for our children and their children. And we need to rejuvenate existing spaces, to sustain Singapore’s competitiveness and keep it an exciting place to live while protecting the markers and hallmarks of our past, our heritage, our old buildings that reflect the continued history of our city. 

We’ve already laid the groundwork for some of our future urban transformation plans for Singapore. These include big and exciting projects such as the Rail Corridor, the Greater Southern Waterfront, Jurong Innovation District, the future relocation of Paya Lebar Airbase, the Underground Masterplan and the Nature Conservation Masterplan. As these come into fruition in the coming years, they will create new and interesting spaces for all of you and our future generations to put to good use. What that use will be, it is for us to discuss, to dream, to imagine, to debate; to throw out ideas, curve balls, and see what we make of this land that we as stewards – hoping to emulate the stewards of the past – can do for generations beyond our lifetime. But we are never quite finished planning for Singapore, and never will be. 

We are also facing more uncertainties, with emerging trends and complex challenges that will impact how we live, work and play, and how we interact with the countries around us. The existential threat of climate change, economic and technological disruptions and change, and the COVID-19 pandemic and future pandemics, are just some examples of significant developments that will change how we plan for our future city. We must not only plan for what we know now, but also prepare for what we might know about, the known-unknowns or even the unknown-unknowns, and keep our plans adaptable and flexible. 

Through the 2021 Long-Term Plan Review, we will consider all these trends and more, to find new and better ways to keep our city resilient and sustainable for future generations. 

For example, if working and learning from home becomes more of a norm, do we need to relook how we design our estates, neighbourhood centres, and maybe even our homes? Would we need less office space, or should we provide more co-working spaces in our heartlands? Or should we have more mixed-use developments in our city centre, so that people can live right where they work, and we can keep our commercial districts lively and vibrant? 

Or consider the rise of e-commerce. How will it change what our malls and heartland shops will look like in the future? How do we respond, and how should we help them to respond? And how should we reconfigure our urban logistics to facilitate that last-mile delivery to your homes? Do we need more local warehouses for sorting of goods, or more pickup points for things that we order? 

As our population ages, will we need to set aside more space for dedicated eldercare facilities? Or do we weave them into our housing estates or have more mixed-used developments, like what you see in Kampung Admiralty? Will we need new housing models, to meet our seniors’ care and social needs as they age? 

As we fight climate change, how can we introduce more infrastructure to support walking, cycling, and electric vehicles, so that we reduce our overall carbon footprint? And how can we best plan our city to protect it from the impacts of climate change, such as rising sea levels, or much more extreme weather? 

As our needs continue to evolve and change, from housing to industries, how can we balance the trade-offs and continue to meet the wide variety of needs and aspirations? How can we ensure that we continue to protect our natural environment, and integrate it better into our city? 

And learning from this pandemic, do we need to set aside buffers in our land-use plans, that we can quickly convert and pivot for contingency uses? During this pandemic, we needed land to rapidly set up quarantine and isolation facilities, to safeguard public health. Do we need to set aside more space to produce goods and services, or even food, that meet our own needs, so that we need not be so reliant on imports from abroad during a crisis, even as we diversify? For example, land for farms and agritech; so, we can produce more of our own food, or do we need more land for stockpiling essential materials for construction and other economic activities? 

So there are many questions, questions that we will need to address for today’s needs, questions that we need to address learning from this pandemic, so that’s in the mid-term, and we must always keep an eye far on the future, even if it is for an era where we are no longer around. This is a small city-state, so many challenges we’ve overcome, so many more challenges that will come our way, and we have to constantly think about the needs of future Singaporeans. From now until next year there are many questions for us to think about, URA will reach out to Singaporeans to gather ideas and discuss our hopes for the future. 

We welcome a diversity of views and want to hear from Singaporeans from all walks of life. Young people like yourselves, but also others in different phases of life, like our seniors. Singaporeans of all ethnicities, religions, and cultural backgrounds. Singaporeans from the private, public and people sectors. Singaporeans of different abilities, and who are differently abled. And households of all sizes, including those who live on their own. 

We hope these dialogues will be conducted inclusively, and in a frank, open and constructive spirit. We may not always agree with each other, but we must be ready to listen to one another, and strive to find common ground. Through these conversations, I believe we can come to a consensus on what we value and believe in, for a future that is inclusive for all Singaporeans. 

And along the way, where there are good suggestions that we can act on immediately, we can convene Alliances for Action, or AfAs, to pilot these ideas. Not just an idea, but roll up our sleeves, come together and work together. These AfAs are workgroups led by citizens, community groups, and even by industry, and supported by the Government. They aim to explore new ideas through real action – if you have a big idea, you try to scope it, prototype a viable project that test-beds this bigger idea that you have, and see whether it can be done. And success and failure in different terms are equally welcomed outcomes. These are proofs-of-concept and can be worked on in a relatively short time. Through the AfAs, we can go beyond just discussing big, philosophical, lofty ideas, to start taking small steps toward our aspirations. 

We invite every Singaporean to join in our Long-Term Plan Review. It’s an exciting chance for us to shape the next chapter of this Singapore Story. And we all have a stake in this. We look forward to everyone’s contributions to build our future Singapore together. I look forward, together with Indranee, to have a heart-to-heart dialogue with all of you later. Thank you.