Speech by Minister Lawrence Wong at the Official Opening of Oasis Terraces

Feb 17, 2019

A very good morning to all of you. It is still the period of the festivities because there are 15 days of celebration for the Chinese new year so I shall start by wishing everyone a very Happy Chinese New Year!

How many of you here are residents around Punggol? Are you enjoying Oasis Terraces? I have seen the plans for Oasis Terraces many times, as we were designing and developing it but this is my first time here on site to see the actual development. I think you will agree with me that the actual place looks very good - it is better than the design and it is a wonderful place to be. So I think you should start by acknowledging the hard work of the HDB team. This is a labour of love for them. It is our first new generation Neighbourhood Centre. When you look at it, it looks different, it is new generation, it is better than what we had before, and we should acknowledge and thank HDB for doing its part by bringing something like this for all of our Punggol residents. 

In many ways, HDB is our most successful policy innovation. Every year, we get many visitors from other countries coming to Singapore to learn about what we do in HDB. They want to understand what makes HDB successful. And very quickly, they realise it is more than just about building high-rise public housing apartments. It is also about the design of the entire HDB estate that makes it special. And Neighbourhood Centres are an integral part of this special HDB experience. I say this not just as MND but also from my own personal experience growing up in Marine Parade. I grew up in Marine Terrace, where we also had a Neighbourhood Centre. Further down the road you have Parkway Parade. At that time in the eighties, it was a beautiful new mall, everybody wanted to hang out there. But there is always something special about going to a HDB Neighbourhood Centre that you cannot find in a shopping mall. In a Neighbourhood Centre, you go to the shops, you buy the groceries, you buy food, you buy provisions. You do it day after day, week after week. After some time, you get to know the shopkeepers, the shop owners; you meet your fellow residents and neighbours very frequently and within the centre itself, there is a big community plaza where the parents will gather after marketing, they will interact with one another and the children will play together. So there is that special sense of emotional connection and familiarity in a HDB centre. It is what planners call a third place, a place outside of home and work where people get together, socialise and build that sense of community. That is why HDB Neighbourhood Centres are special, and that is why we are committed to building them. 

In the past, we tried different ways of building Neighbourhood Centres. At one time, we even allowed private developers to build Neighbourhood Centres. But we found that this did not work so well because the private developers were not so keen to build Neighbourhood Centres in new towns until there are enough residents moving in. That meant that the residents who moved in early found that there were not enough amenities when they were moving in. So this did not work so well. After reviewing this method, eventually we decided it would be better for HDB to lead in the building of these Neighbourhood Centres because Neighbourhood Centres are an important feature in our HDB estates. We should not just leave it entirely to the market or the commercial or private developers. It is better for HDB to lead and there are several advantages of having HDB lead and develop Neighbourhood Centres. 

First, HDB is a master planner. They can ensure that the Neighbourhood Centre is well-integrated with the overall plans for the town, is coherent in design and there is seamless connection with transportation nodes and the surrounding blocks. 

Second, unlike the private developer, HDB is not out to maximise commercial return. Just think about this wonderful site that you have here. If this whole area was developed by a private developer, this place would be sold to build a condominium . It is waterfront, it is next to the LRT site, it is such a prime site. But because it is HDB, we keep it as a Neighbourhood Centre and in the way we design it, we do not maximise every single plot ratio. We have many open spaces, public spaces for residents to gather and to mingle, and to achieve our social objective of strengthening family bonds and facilitating community integration. 

Third, HDB as a developer can also curate the tenant mix to meet the needs of residents. And here our approach has also evolved over the years. As a public agency, HDB has to be fair and transparent in the way it allocates the shops, through a tender. In the past, we did it simply through a price tender but that led to some unexpected outcomes. Because the highest bidder wins and then after a while, you do not have control over the mix of shops. And sometimes you have a few kinds of shops dominating the entire centre. It may be tuition centres suddenly overwhelming the centre, it may be clinics. You do not have the right mix. So now, we have shifted our approach. The tender is not just based on the highest price, it is also based on qualitative factors like your proposed business concept and the operating model. This allows us to better manage the tenant mix to address the needs of residents. And I think you can see all of these advantages here with Oasis Terraces. It has got a great location, it has got many open spaces, rooftop gardens for the community to grow and harvest your fruits and vegetables, an outdoor playground for children, and a fitness centre at the rooftop. 

There is one another thing that we have been doing in HDB which is different. That is involving residents in our developments so that we can get your inputs to shape your living environment. And this is what we have done here in Punggol where we actively engaged many residents in several rounds of consultation sessions. We are happy that many of you participated in these sessions and I think many of you are here today. You shared with us your views and we have taken in many of your suggestions. For example, there are many more family-friendly dining options. I think Punggol must be a place with very young demographics. I see a lot of young families with children. Many of you want more family-friendly eating places so we have more of these options. We have the supermarket, we have a childcare centre, we have a Polyclinic run by SingHealth, with a wide range of care services and they have especially catered these services to the younger demographic in Punggol as well. So this is really a new and improved version of our Neighbourhood Centres, truly new generation Neighbourhood Centres. HDB will be building more of these. You have it here in Punggol. I guarantee you people staying elsewhere are knocking on MND and HDB’s doors saying, “when is my turn?” Even I have asked HDB, “when can you build one in my own constituency?”

HDB will be building another five more centres in towns such as Sembawang and Hougang. Punggol residents can look forward to a second Neighbourhood Centre at Northshore Plaza, next to Samudera LRT station, which will be completed next year. These are new centres. But there are also many towns with existing shopping centres and we have not forgotten them. We are planning to upgrade them over time. We have completed the upgrading of Loyang Point in Pasir Ris and we will be doing more over the years. We will systematically upgrade these centres. We also have the Revitalisation of Shops Scheme, which provides support for such upgrading. 

So all of this in conclusion, is part of our commitment to renew and rejuvenate our HDB towns. Each new version of HDB living will be better than the one before. That is our commitment to Singaporeans. We want to provide good quality, first-class living environment for all Singaporeans now and in the future. And with that, I ask all of you to make full use of this Neighbourhood Centre. Come here often with your family and friends, get to know one another, make full use of the facilities here and enjoy yourselves with your families. On this note, I wish all of you a very wonderful Sunday morning and a very Happy New Year once again. Thank you very much.