Speech by Minister Lawrence Wong at the Committee of Supply Debate 2019: Building our Future City and Home
Mar 7, 2019 14:30
Mr Chairman, we are commemorating this Bicentennial year, because the arrival of the British marked a major turning point in our history. The British also put in place our first town plans. They provided some basis to guide our urban development. But these plans were limited in scope and inadequate to address our growing housing and employment needs.
That is why after independence, we established our own long-term urban plans for the whole of Singapore. We have been updating these plans over the years to guide our development. Each time, it gets more comprehensive to meet our growing needs, and now, we have even started planning underground spaces. URA will launch the Draft Master Plan 2019 (DMP19) exhibition later this month, and we look forward to public feedback and inputs on these plans.
Our ability to do such detailed long-term planning is a major asset, which few other countries or cities are able to do. That is why every year we host thousands of visitors at the Singapore City Gallery in the URA Building, because they are keen to come and learn from us.
Beyond planning, implementation is also important, and that is why we are doing more to coordinate the implementation of new infrastructure, especially transport infrastructure which takes a long time to build, and that is something which Mr Png Eng Huat highlighted earlier. With good long-term planning and effective implementation, we can continue to build a better city for Singaporeans, now and in the future.
Let me start with what we are doing for our HDB estates, because this is where many Singaporeans live, and we want to ensure a first-class living environment for everyone.
Last year, we announced some significant long-term projects to rejuvenate our HDB flats and estates as they get older. They include initiatives like the Home Improvement Programme II, or HIP II, and Voluntary Early Redevelopment Scheme or VERS. These are major long-term undertakings – we will need time to work out the details, take in feedback and suggestions, and will provide an update when we are ready.
Meanwhile, we are working hard to address several more immediate concerns. Today, I will focus on three key priorities.
Keep public housing affordable and accessible
First, we will keep public housing affordable and accessible. Getting a home to settle down and start a family is a key milestone for many young couples. These aspirations are shared by couples all over the world. But in many other cities, they face big obstacles. I watched a Hong Kong documentary recently, called “有楼万事足”. One couple in their late 20s wanted to purchase a home but could not find something suitable within their budget. Private apartments are too expensive, and public housing options are limited. For every subsidised flat that is put out, there are close to 60 applicants vying for it. The cheapest 3-room unit was S$440,000. That is double the price of a 3-room flat in Singapore, which is also larger in size. The Singapore flat is larger in size and much cheaper, not to mention that our application rates are also far lower.
Housing is a major challenge in Hong Kong and it is so, virtually in all cities around the world. But in Singapore, young couples can realise their dream of owning their own homes. From time to time we hear comments where people say that we should not compare to other cities, and the price of our HDB flats today compared with that in the 70s or 80s is much more expensive. But remember, incomes have also risen considerably over this period. We really have to look at broader range of affordability indicators, not just the headline price. MND monitors these indicators closely and we are committed to ensuring the affordability and accessibility of HDB flats.
Today, all first-timers applying for a BTO flat in a non-mature estate are successful within two to three tries. Mr Png highlighted the example of someone who had applied six times but was still unable to get a flat. I am very sure that for such cases, because I have seen some of them myself, they would have applied for BTO flats in mature estates or Sale of Balance flats. I am not able to stop people from trying for the Sale of Balance flats or flats in mature estates, but given the limited supply of these flats, and the limited space we have in these areas, we really cannot meet all of the demands. Those who wish to try for a Sale of Balance flat or a flat in a mature estate will have to try their luck and hope for the best in the ballot. But if they choose to apply for a BTO flat in a non-mature estate, all of them are able to get it within two to three tries. In fact, the vast majority will get it within two tries, and 100% within three tries.
We continue to price these BTO flats at significant discounts to market, and we offer generous grants of up to $80,000 for first-timers. Mortgage service ratio for first-timers in these non-mature estates is less than 25%. It is significantly below what it used to be in the past. I asked my parents who bought their HDB flat in the 70s, they said that indeed, at that time when they bought their first flat from HDB, it was about $25,000, which was about the price in the 70s. But then, their combined income was less than $1,000 per month, just a few hundred dollars, and they had to fork out almost 50% of their income every month for mortgage servicing.
Today, the mortgage servicing ratio is less than 25%, below what it used to be in the past. It is also well within international benchmarks of affordability. Internationally, when we look at housing affordability, they will typically look at the servicing ratio of around 30% to 35%. We are keeping well below that. Not to mention that the vast majority of these first timers are able to service their loans entirely with CPF, that means with zero cash. And even for those who use cash, it is very little. These are indicators which we track, and our commitment is to ensure that HDB flats remain accessible and affordable for all Singaporeans.
As highlighted by Mr Alex Yam, we will continue to provide affordable housing options for different flat buyer profiles as well. We have flats of different sizes for first-timer and second-timer families; also 2-room flexi flats for singles and the elderly. We monitor the application rates closely to ensure sufficient supply. The application rates for singles are still high as Er Dr Lee Bee Wah mentioned, but I assure her we are trying our best and that they are coming down. When we started, application rates were about 38 times, and now the application rates for singles is slightly over four times. We are determined to continue to bring it down, and we will continue to build more 2-room units to meet the demand.
We are also very mindful of the needs of our vulnerable families such as divorcees and single parents, and SPS Sun Xueling has just shared how we will continue to help them. In short, we will strive to meet the housing needs of Singaporeans in different life stages. We will ensure that no Singaporean is left without adequate housing.
For first-timer couples, applying for a BTO flat is a major decision. One consideration is the location of the flat. Very often, potential buyers want to know the planned locations of future BTO sales exercises so that they can decide whether to put in an application now or to hold back and wait for a subsequent sales exercise. We have been careful about revealing too much information on future sales, not because we want to withhold the information, but because there will always be unexpected changes to building plans, for example due to changes in market conditions or demand.
But I understand why buyers would like more information to plan ahead. We will now share upcoming BTO projects half a year in advance. This means that for the upcoming BTO exercise in May, we will share the list of BTO sites for both the Aug and the Nov 2019 launches. I hope that this change will help flat buyers make more informed choices on their application.
We have also been studying ways to improve our BTO application processes. I spoke about this last year and I challenged HDB to shorten the balloting time. I am very happy to share that HDB has done a fundamental review of its processes, and it has succeeded in reducing the time taken from six weeks to three weeks. This will take effect from the May 2019 BTO exercise onwards.
Mr Gan Thiam Poh asked for more support for first-timers to live near their parents; and also for families with children. These are indeed groups that we look out for. HDB will continue to offer more 3Gen flats to facilitate inter-generational living. We also offer various priority schemes, e.g. the Married Child Priority Scheme (MCPS); Multi-Generation Priority Scheme (MGPS); Parenthood Priority Scheme (PPS) for first-timer parents; and Third Child Priority Scheme (TCPS), targeted at the groups Mr Gan mentioned. Based on our experience so far, applicants on these priority schemes generally have a good success rate.
Last year, we launched the first batch of shorter-waiting time flats, where the waiting time is reduced to two to three years by bringing forward the construction timeline. Mr Gan Thiam Poh also asked if we can do more. Indeed, we would like to do so and we are doubling the number of shorter waiting time flats to 2,000 this year. As I have explained, there will be a limit to how many such flats we can offer due to factors like site availability. But we will continue to review how much more we can do and whether we can compress the timeline further.
Those who need flats more urgently can go for the Sale of Balance Flats (SBF) or the Re-offer of Balance Flats (ROF) exercises, where the flats were not taken up under the SBF goes under the ROF pool. Last month, I shared that we will be allowing flat buyers to book flats from an open ROF pool at any time of the year. This will start from June this year, and we will share the details of how to go about the application process in due course. I think this will help buyers with urgent housing needs to secure a flat quickly, because they do not have to wait for the next sales exercise and the ROF pool will be there for them at any time of the year.
But as Mr Alex Yam cautioned, we have to also make sure that the process is fair for everyone. We are starting with a small number of ROF flats in this open pool. We will study the effectiveness and response to this new option, and continually improve HDB’s sales processes.
Besides buying new flats from HDB, there are also many options from the resale market. I thank Mr Yee Chia Hsing for his “sales pitch” to his residents to buy flats from the resale market. As he rightly noted, we cannot simply meet demand through building new BTO flats entirely, because there may be a risk of oversupply of such new flats. We always have to find the right balance between the new flats and the resale market. And that is why we have been enhancing grants for resale flats significantly over the recent years.
We have enhanced the CPF Housing Grant for first-timers, Proximity Housing Grant (PHG) for those who live near or with their parents and now in total, grants of up to $120,000 are available for families buying a resale flat, and these grants could help subsidise almost half the price of their flat.
One couple who chose to purchase a resale flat and benefited from these grant enhancements is Mr Sean Morier and Ms Shannon Tan. They purchased a 5-room resale flat in Simei last year to live with Shannon’s father, Mr Tan Choong Ngiak. They benefitted from both the CPF Housing Grant and the Proximity Housing Grant, totalling about $70,000, a significant help for their purchase. As you can see, the couple has five children, including a recent addition to the family. It is a big family and I am glad they also have a bigger home now to raise their family and to have closer inter-generational family bonding.
With the enhanced grants, resale flats have become more attractive – there are 5% more transactions in 2018 than the year before. To give an illustration, five years ago, one in 10 first timer families bought a resale flat. Today, about one in 4 first-timer families buy a resale flat because the grants have been enhanced and people can see that between BTO and resale, many still want BTO but resale is quite an attractive option with the enhanced grants. We will continue to monitor the market closely, and review the quantum of grants to ensure the right balance between BTO supply and resale flats. Overall, our priority is to ensure that HDB flats remain affordable and accessible for Singaporeans.
Support lower-income and vulnerable families
Our next priority is to support lower-income and vulnerable families, in particular those who are currently in public rental housing today. Several Members have asked if MND can do more to help these families own their own homes. We have been and will continue to do so, because we believe that home ownership remains central in providing stability and progress for families.
SPS Sun Xueling has shared several initiatives that we are doing, including the setting up of the Home ownership Support Team (HST) and changes to the Fresh Start Housing Scheme. Even with these changes, Fresh Start remains a targeted scheme for a select group of families with young children. There are others in rental flats who do not qualify for Fresh Start, but would still benefit from some help to purchase their own homes
Today we have a Step-Up CPF Housing Grant (SUHG) of $15k – it is a specific scheme to help households who own 2-room flats who wish to buy a larger 3-room flat. It is a very specific scheme for those who already own a 2-room NME flat to move out to a 3-room flat. We will expand SUHG to cover second-timer families in rental flats, because we want to do more to help these families move back to home ownership. So we will extend the SUHG to those who can benefit from it and are ready to purchase their own homes.
We will also broaden the scope of the SUHG. Currently, it is limited to 3-room new flats in non-mature estates. But some households may prefer to purchase a resale flat, as we just discussed. We will allow the SUHG to be used when households upgrade to 2-room or 3-room flats in non-mature estates, be it new or resale. It is really an expansion of the grant in terms of the people who can apply for it, as well as the scope of the grant by extending to resale flats.
The expansion of the SUHG is part of our broader efforts to help our rental families progress, and we have seen positive outcomes. As you have heard just now, the number of public rental households progressing to home ownership has almost doubled over the last five years from 700 to 1,300. With the above measures, we will try our best to help more public rental households achieve their aspirations of home ownership.
Even as we do more on this front, we will also take care of those who continue to live in public rental flats, and ensure that they have a good living environment. As several members highlighted yesterday, new rental blocks are better-designed and also better integrated with the rest of the precinct. Now, we even have sold and rental flats within the same block, and on the same floor.
This is not the case for the older rental blocks. Some of these blocks were built 40 to 50 years ago to meet the housing needs of the post-war population, and there is a need for redevelopment of these rental blocks together with the rest of our housing stock.
With redevelopment, we can move some of the tenants in the older rental blocks to newer flats where they can enjoy a better living environment. Relocation is not easy, especially for the elderly and those with young children, and we will support them in the transition. HDB will work closely with partners, including local service providers, to ensure a smooth handover of services provided for the tenants. We will provide details on the selected sites when we are ready.
All this will take time. But meanwhile, as SPS shared just now, we will continue to maintain and improve our existing rental flats, I think that is something that Mr Saktiandi Supaat and Ms Cheryl Chan highlighted.
Sometimes, there are misperceptions that rental flats are not eligible for upgrading, unlike sold flats. Let me be very clear – that is not true. All rental blocks older than 30 years old have undergone upgrading programmes such as the Main Upgrading Programme (MUP), Home Improvement Programme (HIP), and Lift Upgrading Programme (LUP). In fact, we do more with rental flats with specific improvement works that go beyond the scope of HIP such as the installation of new tiles and new windows. We also provide EASE and repairs of spalling concrete and ceiling leaks for free.
As SPS shared just now, for some of the older blocks, we will do more to improve the ventilation and lighting along the corridors.
Beyond looking at the designs of the blocks, we will also improve the design of the flat itself to better meet the needs of tenants. Singles in public rental flats share a 1-room rental flat under the Joint Singles Scheme (JSS). We recognise that some tenants prefer some privacy. We have tried out partitions in some new rental flats to create separate sleeping areas for each tenant. The feedback from these tenants has been positive. HDB will make available these partitions for all JSS units, in both existing and new rental blocks.
Meet the Needs of the Elderly
Our third priority area is to better meet the needs of our elderly, especially with the rapidly ageing population in the coming years.
Mr Saktiandi Supaat and Mr Alex Yam asked about the monetisation and housing options available for seniors. One scheme of course is the Lease Buyback Scheme (LBS).
Earlier this year, we extended the LBS to 5-room and larger flats, and the response has been positive. In Jan and Feb 2019 alone, just within these two months, some 160 households from 5-room and larger flats have applied for the LBS, and I agree with Mr Alex Yam that we have to do more to raise awareness of the scheme. That is why my MND colleagues and I, over the past few months, have been going around, constituency by constituency, reaching out to grassroots leaders and residents, to explain to them what are the schemes available. I think more seniors are aware of the LBS and various monetisation options today, but we will continue to do more to raise public awareness.
One couple who has applied for the LBS is Mr Mohamed Salleh and Mdm Normah. They opted for LBS for their 4-room flat, as they wanted to retain their flat to host their four children and 11 grandchildren when they visit. So they preferred to keep their flat, rather than move to a 2-room flexi flat. On top of that, they have been living in the estate for the past 32 years and are familiar with the surroundings.
With LBS, after keeping 25 years of their lease and selling the remainder to HDB, they were able to top up their respective CPF Retirement Accounts, which means they get a payout of about $950 per month for life. On top of that, they received the LBS bonus and cash proceeds of $110,000. It is an effective way for those who wish to monetise and unlock the value of their flats for retirement. The LBS option is available for all HDB flat owners.
We understand that LBS may not be an option suitable for everyone. Some may wish to right-size to a 2-Room Flexi flat. The options are available. Mr Saktiandi asked if MND can facilitate the sale of flats if seniors face difficulties, be it due to market sentiments or the Ethnic Integration Policy. We have discussed this before in this House. We recognise the concerns, and HDB will continue to do its best to assist, including by deferring key collection and giving them more time to sell.
One issue with regard to the purchase of older HDB flats is CPF rules, specifically the restriction in CPF usage for flats with less than 60 years of lease remaining. Some banks also take reference from these CPF restrictions when assessing how much loan to extend. As a result, both the CPF and loan quantums may be reduced for the purchase of such flats.
The CPF rule is intended to safeguard the retirement adequacy of buyers who purchase older flats, but its design has led to some unintended consequences. For example, if a buyer would like to buy a 39-year-old flat, he can use full CPF; but one year later, because you hit this less-than-60-years requirement, the amount of CPF will be restricted. And there is no good reason why this should be so just because the flat became one year older.
MND and MOM have been studying this issue. In fact, the focus should not be on the remaining lease of the flat. What we want to ensure is that buyers purchase flats with leases that are long enough to last them for life. If that is done, we can relax CPF usage rules, even if the remaining lease is less than 60 years.
I have explained the thinking behind how we intend to change the CPF restrictions. The details are being worked out, and we will announce them soon, for implementation in May this year.
As seniors right-size, we will provide more housing options for them. There are 2-room flexi flats with shorter leases which have proven to be popular among the seniors. As far as possible, we are building these flats with convenient access to amenities, for example, in Kampung Admiralty.
Assoc Prof Daniel Goh, Mr Gan Thiam Poh and Mr Murali Pillai also noted that some seniors are looking for alternative residential options, like assisted living. SMS Amy Khor shared about this yesterday.
Assisted living means “home and care” combined. That is why MND and MOH must come together to offer assisted living. It is not something one ministry can do. When you go for assisted living, you are not just buying a flat, but a package of care services tied to the assisted living flat. That is very important. It is not just the hardware – the flat plus the services are combined as one package. Typically, in such assisted living apartments, there will be more communal and shared spaces for residents to interact with each other. There will be services that are part of the package, and the individual living units will be smaller. That is the typical typology of an assisted living apartment.
As this assisted living model is new, we will conduct Focus Group discussions to seek views on the proposed concept for assisted living in public housing. We will take in feedback and views from the discussions, and ensure that seniors will welcome such an option, and the model will be sustainable for the service providers. We will work towards the launch of our assisted living pilot site for public housing at Bukit Batok next year.
We have also been exploring such retirement housing models for private residential sites. We are studying potential sites to pilot these assisted living typologies, which includes, as suggested by Mr Murali, the option of converting vacant school sites into retirement homes. The key here is that when we put out these sites for private developers or private players to bid, we do not want it to be simply a property play. We do not want them to take the site, build something and sell the units. With assisted living, this has to be a package of services plus residential units combined. We will need to craft the appropriate rules and safeguards to ensure this happens. We are working on them and will provide details when we are ready.
Enhance Liveability of all HDB Towns
Besides the three priority areas I have outlined, many Members highlighted the importance of ensuring that our homes and estates remain liveable and vibrant. I fully agree with them.
HDB takes its role as master developer and planner very seriously. For new towns, much effort goes behind the scenes in planning and developing our HDB estates, and ensuring the town has a full range of amenities and facilities. HDB is always looking to improve, taking in feedback and suggestions on how the next project can be done better. For example, I visited Punggol recently where we opened the new-generation Neighbourhood Centre at Oasis Terraces. This is a prime site where the Neighbourhood Centre is located. It is a waterfront site next to an LRT station. We could have sold this to a private developer, but we decided that it is central to the neighbourhood, and we wanted to make it an HDB Neighbourhood Centre.
HDB developed it as a Neighbourhood Centre with integrated facilities, rooftop gardens, greenery, play areas and lots of common spaces for residents to interact with one another. The feedback and responses from residents has certainly been very positive. This is the first of our new generation Neighbourhood Centres and we will be doing more in the coming years.
I would also like to assure Dr Tan Wu Meng that HDB is continually looking at ways to improve the design of new flats so that there will be more common spaces to facilitate interaction between residents.
For our older towns, we have various upgrading plans in place. At the flat and precinct level, we have the Home Improvement Programme (HIP) and the Neighbourhood Renewal Programme (NRP). Mr Png highlighted some issues with the quality of HIP workmanship in some projects, as well as clothes drying rack on the lower floors. We will look at these issues specifically.
Er Dr Lee Bee Wah offered several suggestions – using CIPC funds for designated smoking points, smoke-free flats, and TOL charges for essential services. Again, these are suggestions we will look into.
Mr Png Eng Huat asked about lift access for blocks without the LUP. I think he and several other members had asked this question before. We are continuing to explore technical solutions for remaining blocks where lift upgrading is not viable today. Meanwhile, as we have explained in this House, for those who are in urgent need of direct lift access due to medical conditions or disability, they may approach HDB for assistance.
Er Dr Lee Bee Wah and Mr Png Eng Huat asked about our plans for HIP, particularly the next phase of HIP. We have ramped up the pace of HIP to complete upgrading for flats built up to 1986. All such flats will be announced for HIP by the end of this year. We have not completed construction, because that takes a while, but we would have announced by the end of this year.
The big question is – what about HIP for the blocks built between 1987 and 1997? I am happy to share that we will start selecting the flats for this batch of HIP from next year onwards. The scope of works will be the same as the existing HIP. There will be an essential component covering things like spalling concrete, waste pipe replacement and electrical load upgrading which will be fully paid for by the Government, and there will be an optional component covering bathroom upgrading and door replacement, which will be highly subsidised.
There are a total of 230,000 flats in this batch. We are starting the announcement next year. It does not mean everything will be completed next year. It will have to be done in phases over a period of time, but we will commence the process from next year onwards.
As Er Dr Lee Bee Wah highlighted, we also upgrade private estates through the Estate Upgrading Programme, or EUP. We will select estates for the next batch of EUP by the second half of this year, and we will continue to review and see what more can be done for private estates.
Beyond upgrading, we are looking at VERS and longer-term plans to systematically redevelop and rejuvenate our older HDB towns. As Mr Chong Kee Hiong said, this ought to be done not just at the individual block level, but also at the precinct level. We are planning well in advance for this because we do not want public housing in Singapore to degenerate into urban slums like what has happened in other cities. Public housing must continue to integrate Singaporeans of all backgrounds. We must never become segregated by class, race or income.
This also relates to the point made by Assoc Prof Walter Theseira about the differences in the prices of HDB flats across the island and whether this would lead to more social stratification. I think he has raised valid concerns and it is something we are aware of, and we are continuing to watch out for, including looking at different ways in which we can mitigate against this.
In the longer term, the best way to tackle this is to ensure that every part of Singapore is well developed, and that every HDB precinct has good amenities and facilities, convenient access to transport networks, as well as job centres close to home. That is what we have been doing, and the upcoming Master Plan will continue with more efforts in this direction.
It does not mean that we can automatically equalise property values, but at least we can temper some of the excesses in the market. When you speak to Singaporeans, you find that they have an attachment to a particular place and it often goes beyond monetary value.
I grew up in the East, and my friends and neighbours would always say the East is special and they would never move. Indeed, many of them still stay there, and their children are still staying there. When I joined politics in 2011, I served in Boon Lay. Many residents in the West have a close affinity for the area and have many special memories growing up there. Now, I am an MP in Marsiling Yew Tee, in the North. My residents are proud to be in the North. They call Woodlands the “Star Destination” and I have come to grow fond of the area too.
Are there price differences in flat values between different parts of Singapore? Yes, there are. But the residents in each area take great pride in where they stay. It is about the memories they have of the place, the sense of community, the connection and identity with where they grew up, and you cannot attach a price tag to these. So we have to continue working hard to make sure that every HDB town, every HDB precinct is kept liveable and vibrant, both now and in the future.
Transform our City
Besides upgrading our housing estates, we will also remake our city. Every major city in the world is constantly inventing and reinventing itself. That is the only way for cities to survive and thrive. Indeed, throughout history, cities have risen and fallen. Detroit was once the envy of the world, one of the most prosperous cities in the United States, and it went into decline and became bankrupt.
Today, we enjoy high international standing as a modern liveable city, a beautiful city in a garden. But what we have today can be easily replicated in other cities and they can very likely do it better as they have more space and more natural endowments. We cannot afford to stand still.
As we remake our city, we must also prepare ahead for new challenges and threats. One major challenge is climate change. The scientific evidence is clear – the world is warming up and it is happening sooner and more rapidly than people had expected.
This is why we are redoubling our efforts to make Singapore one of the greenest cities in the world. Several Members have raised this, and I am glad that they did, because it is a critical part of our development plans.
When we say we are not done building Singapore, we are not just referring to more buildings and physical infrastructure. A major part of this effort is to actively green Singapore for future generations. This means conserving and enhancing existing greenery where we can, as well as safeguarding spaces for greenery even as we continue to develop. A greener Singapore will, in turn, help to mitigate extreme temperatures, and provide a natural respite from traffic, noise and congestion.
Today, we have more than 4,000ha of gardens and parks, 3,300 ha of nature reserves, all linked together with park connectors. As 2nd Minister Desmond Lee highlighted yesterday, we are continuing to maintain and enhance our greenery. We are expanding our green spaces and our network of park connectors, for example, with the Coast-to-Coast trail and first segment of the Round Island Route ready this year. We are also working to ensure seamless connection along a large stretch of the Rail Corridor, up to Tanjong Pagar, by 2021.
We are embracing green in the broader sense, not just biodiversity and greenery but also advanced clean-tech solutions – be it solar panels, electric buses, autonomous shuttles, zero-energy buildings or district cooling systems. We are testing out sustainable technologies at both the building- and district-level. These are all examples of what we are doing to be a leading sustainable city.
Technology is a major game changer here. That is why we are also investing in R&D in a whole range of urban solutions – from building materials to smart sensors to underground space. For example, we are trying out coatings or construction materials that absorb less heat and can help lower the ambient temperature. Once proven to be technically feasible and cost effective, the team will look into implementation.
Let us be very clear – our next phase of development cannot just be a continuation of business as usual practices. We will set higher eco-friendly standards and new urban practices for sustainable living. That is also how we can stay relevant and useful to many other cities around the world, all of which are grappling with similar issues.
Even as we do all this, we recognise that tackling climate change requires a concerted global response, and there is no certainty how this will evolve in the years to come. According to projections by the UN panel, if global emissions continue on their current trajectory uncurbed, sea levels could rise by around 1 metre in 2100. Even if countries pursue all the measures committed under the Paris Agreement, that is a big if, sea levels are still going to rise, at a lower level of around 0.7m.
Of course, there are many uncertainties surrounding these projections. But there are more downside risks than upside. For example, if the Antarctic ice sheet melts faster than expected, the sea level rise would be dramatic and it may well happen earlier – causing significant global impact by 2050 – and that is just 30 years from now. Imagine what this means for our little red dot which is low-lying and surrounded by water. So climate change is not a remote issue, it is an existential threat.
That is why we have been carefully studying the risks and impact of sea level rise, and looking at detailed measures to protect our coastal areas. Major investments will be needed in the form of reclamation, sea walls or pumping stations. The Dutch are used to this. Many of them are living below sea level today, in Rotterdam, and we are learning from their experience with our polder project in Pulau Tekong. We are sizing up the full extent of the infrastructure that is needed. These are long-term investments, but we are preparing well ahead and putting in place the necessary protective measures within the next 20 to 30 years.
Remaking our city is not just about preparing for challenges. There are also many exciting opportunities ahead, and we have plans to make Singapore stand out as a leading city for Asia and the world.
We are planning for three major gateways in the East, West and North. These key developments will help support our growth and create more jobs across the island. There will be more opportunities for Singaporeans to work closer to their homes.
We will also have to focus on the centre. We have plans for the East, West and North, but the Centre and the South cannot be neglected. We will rejuvenate our city centre.
The city centre has historically been at the heart of economic, civic, and cultural activities, and we will ensure it remains attractive and vibrant. We have just revealed exciting plans for Orchard Road and we want Orchard Road to be more than just a shopping destination. There are different precincts along the 2.4km stretch, offering more diverse and vibrant lifestyle destinations, so that we can make Orchard Road one of great streets of the world. Nearby, we have the Civic District, Fort Canning Park, and Bras Basah and Bugis. We can connect all this together to create an expanded arts, cultural and heritage precinct.
Within the city, the core area is the CBD. Downtown CBD – Raffles Place, Tanjong Pagar/Maxwell, Robinson/Shenton – is largely dominated by older office developments, quite unlike the Marina Bay CBD extension which was planned as a mixed-use district. Most of the buildings in the CBD are privately owned. We have an existing scheme to allow intensification of commercial buildings through bonus plot ratios. Most eligible buildings have already made use of this to maximise their development, so it is timely for us to review.
We will explore new incentives to better support rejuvenation in the CBD. Specifically, we want to encourage more mixed uses in the CBD, such as residential and hotel, so that there will be activities beyond office hours. This will also better optimise and intensify the use of prime CBD land, so we can make our CBD not just a place to work, but also an attractive and vibrant place to live and play.
Our plans are not just confined to the main island we live in. Singapore is made up of more than 60 offshore islands. We have major development plans for Sentosa and Brani to offer new attractions for tourists and Singaporeans. We have started reclamation work in Pulau Tekong for military training. We will also carry out improvement works on Pedra Branca. These works will enhance maritime safety and security in the area, and provide more rapid response for search and rescue.
In the longer term, we have two major sites for future development. These are at Paya Lebar and the Greater Southern Waterfront. At Paya Lebar, the relocation of the airbase will free up 800 ha of land and also remove current height restrictions in the area. It is a new area bigger than the size of Ang Mo Kio town for both public and private housing. For the Greater Southern Waterfront, the movement of ports will free up 1000 ha. In addition, there are non-port areas like the Pasir Panjang Power District, Keppel club and Sentosa, which will contribute another 1000 ha. Altogether, the footprint of the Greater Southern Waterfront is 2000ha of prime waterfront land, six times the size of Marina Bay.
These are long-term developments. For the Paya Lebar site, work will only start after 2030. For the Greater Southern Waterfront, the project will take more than 20 years, but we will make some moves within the next five to 10 years. For example, in Pasir Panjang, we will push the existing substation there underground. SP is working on this, and it will be the largest underground substation in Singapore. We will repurpose the former power station buildings and open up the area to the public. We will enhance green spaces in Mount Faber and develop Pasir Panjang Linear Park. In the area where Keppel Club is today, we will develop new housing and residential options after the land is returned back to the Government. Over time, we will redevelop and stitch together the entire waterfront from Pasir Panjang to Marina East. It will be an exciting new waterfront development with green and blue spaces for all to enjoy.
Mr Chairman, let me conclude. Over the last 50 years, Singapore has transformed way beyond what anyone could have imagined. Our homes, transformed from kampongs to beautiful high-rise buildings with sky gardens, and surrounded by playgrounds and parks. Our city, transformed from overcrowded slums to a green and vibrant metropolis.
To our founding Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew, this transformation from mudflat to metropolis was a unique opportunity. As he put it in an interview with the Centre for Liveable Cities, and I quote, “I’m pleased that we redeveloped the city when there was a chance to do it… That was a chance of a lifetime”.
That was a chance of his lifetime. But now we have the chance of our lifetime to re-imagine and re-make our city. This is much more than just having bigger and taller buildings. As Mr Lee once said, Singapore is more than a place on the map. Our city must reflect who we are as a people – our spirit and our values. We want to make Singapore an outstanding place where all can strive for a better life, even in an uncertain and volatile world. We want to create new versions of urban living, each more fulfilling and sustainable; more beautiful and fun than the previous one. This is where the human spirit will flourish and inspire.
We invite all Singaporeans to join us in this exciting journey. We are definitely not done building Singapore. Our best days are ahead of us. There is much more we can achieve together. Thank you, Mr Chairman.