Speech by Minister Lawrence Wong at the REDAS Bicentennial Event

Aug 21, 2019

I am very happy to join you for this REDAS Bicentennial event this morning. 

It’s very fitting that this event is taking place right here at Raffles Place. As all of you know, this is a site that has witnessed many significant milestones in Singapore’s history. In fact, soon after the British came in 1819 and made Singapore an open port, traders from all over the world came here, and it was Stamford Raffles who decided that the business centre for Singapore should be relocated from across the Singapore River, to this very site. It was then completely a swamp, and they had to level a nearby hill to get the sand to fill up the swamp. They called this Commercial Square in 1822. This became the commercial heart of Singapore, with big Asian and European shops, offices and go-downs adjoining one another. It was only later that this Commercial Square was named, fittingly, Raffles Place, after Raffles himself in 1858. 

But it was not just a continued journey of success because Raffles Place had also seen its share of ups and downs. During the Second World War, Japanese planes singled out Raffles Place as one of their targets for destruction. The next major disaster happened in 1972; this was when a fire completely destroyed Robinsons department store. 

Through these trials and tribulations, Raffles Place became stronger, and the fortunes certainly took a significant improvement with the next major milestone in 1987 – it is the opening of the MRT station. Over the last thirty years and more, many new buildings have sprouted around Raffles Place. When you trace the history of Raffles Place over the last 200 years, in many ways it mirrors the history of Singapore – it has undergone many changes but true to its original intent, Raffles Place remains a bustling and vibrant commercial square at the heart of our financial and business district.

As Prime Minister said at the National Day Rally, Singapore is a multi-layered city. We have different layers built over many decades, even centuries. We have a rich history and heritage that goes back beyond 200 years, to 700 years. At the same time, we are not stuck with our history, we are always adapting and changing to stay relevant and keep pace with the world. Each time we build something new, we are doing so on the foundations of previous generations. We want to remember our past, and we want to appreciate the world of our founders and pioneers. At the same time, we are actively taking steps to adapt and change, to move forward and remake our city. 

We have many new urban transformation plans for the future. Within the city itself, we are completing Marina Bay, and we are very soon, in the next few years, starting the first phase of the Greater Southern Waterfront project. It is a huge project, it will take many years, even decades, to complete. The first phase starts soon, with Keppel Club – once the land comes back to the state, and Pasir Panjang Power District. Outside the city, we are developing new areas too, in Jurong and Tuas anchored around our new mega port, in Changi with Terminal 5 development project, in Punggol, and Woodlands in the north, and in the future, in Paya Lebar when the airbase moves out. 

With all of these transformations, the city centre itself cannot afford to stand still. That is why we introduced incentives for CBD rejuvenation just a few months ago. I am very glad that several property owners around Raffles Place, the CBD, have already stepped forward to express interest in taking up these incentives, to redevelop their project. I hope the interest goes beyond just interest, to actually translating into concrete projects. 

Of course beyond the hardware and building infrastructure, urban development must be responsive to the needs of the community, and that requires active place management. That is why we started the Business Improvement Districts, or BIDs, for the private sector to come together and do something to make the precinct more vibrant, with support from the Government. One of the new BIDs is Raffles Place Alliance, and I understand that the Raffles Place Alliance is partnering REDAS to organise today’s event. I think you are off to a good start, and may this be the first of many activities and events that you will do to activate Raffles Place. 

We are also very happy for the support of REDAS and so many real estate partners and stakeholders who are here this morning. The journey we have taken over these 200 years shows that building a city is really a never ceasing and long-term endeavour. And maintaining this long-term perspective requires effort. It is actually very difficult, because all of us are subject to pressures for short-term results. In fact, we are living in an age of ‘instant’ – with technological changes and advancements, there are so many things that we want that comes with an instant solution. For example, if you have a question, you can google and get an instant answer; you want to buy something, you can order online without leaving the comforts of your home. 

We are all used to short-term results and instant answers, this is true for the Government and businesses. In the business sector, you come under pressure for short-term profits. In Government, once the elections are here, we have to produce a report card and show short-term results too. All of us are subject to short-term pressures. But if we are only building for the short-term, and we only focus on the next one to two years, that would be very short-sighted and we would be short-changing Singaporeans. 

We have to look ahead, plan for the long-term, that is why URA has a Master Plan that looks at the next 10 to 15 years. That is why we are anticipating 50- to 100-year problems like climate change, and putting in place solutions today. This long-term perspective is critical in building a city, and we are very happy that we have long-term partners like REDAS in building this nation. 

This year is REDAS’ 60th Anniversary; incidentally, it is also MND’s 60th Anniversary. We can celebrate together. MND was one of the first few Ministries that were formed when Singapore became self-governing in 1959. All of us are here for the long-term, we are committed for the long haul, and we understand what it means to have a long-term perspective, and to be a long-term sustainable operator. 

This ability to plan and operate for the long-term is a significant competitive advantage for Singapore, because very few countries, if any, are able to do this. Building a great city is the work of generations, and we look forward to strengthening this partnership with REDAS, with our developers, with all our stakeholders, in this exciting journey to reimagine, rebuild and remake tomorrow’s Singapore together for the next century. Thank you very much, and please enjoy the rest of the activities.