Committee of Supply 2014 - Speech by Minister of State Desmond Lee "Working Together to Build a Liveable and Green Singapore"

MND Press Release 10 Mar 2014 08:00 PM

Sir, I serve a constituency in Jurong West. In my conversations with older community leaders and residents, I would be reminded from time to time that, not too long ago, Jurong was a swamp. Nobody thought it could be an industrial hub and a residential heartland. But our pioneers dreamt, persevered, and their vision of Jurong became reality.

In 1965, Singapore was an improbable nation-state. Our pioneers worked hard, thought far, had big dreams, but were very much pragmatists, and in less than the lifetime of a generation turned this place into a city of opportunities – modern, green and constantly rejuvenating.

Back in the early days, our preoccupation was survival and providing the basic essentials for our people. Today, our focus is increasingly on quality of life: liveability, sustainability and inclusiveness. And if you had visited the exhibition or had been consulted on the URA Draft Master Plan 2013, you would have seen some of the ideas being proposed to enhance our living environment, and to celebrate our heritage and green spaces. We agree with Ms Penny Low’s comment on the need to be people-centric when we plan urban spaces – housing areas and community areas. This is what URA and other agencies are precisely doing, building on experience from past Master Plans, and applying lessons learnt from consultations, studies and continuous research.

Yet, in tackling the challenges of tomorrow for our land-scarce city-state, we should retain the ‘Can-Do’ spirit of our pioneers – forward-thinking, hardworking, sensible and pragmatic. This means constantly thinking out of the box and looking for innovative solutions, but being disciplined in urban planning, having a clear sense of where the trade-offs lie, and keeping a careful eye on the long term.

Ms Faizah Jamal made a passionate speech and was concerned that the Government was overly people-centric in our development.

We must provide for the needs and aspirations of Singaporeans and improve their quality of life in this small city-state. Within our confines, we have to provide for everything that a sovereign state needs. Unlike cities in large countries, we do not have the luxury to put our utilities, our defence needs and our nature reserves outside the walls of the city. Even then, we have protected more than 3,300 hectares in 4 Nature Reserves, designated 20 nature areas with significant biodiversity, including 2 more last year, planted extensive Nature Ways to facilitate movement of biodiversity between natural habitats, and embedded pervasive greenery through our parks and into our urban areas. Our passionate NParks officers work closely with agencies and with many nature volunteers on reforestation and conservation programmes, biodiversity research as well as public outreach and education especially the youths. And this work goes on day after day.

All of this is possible only because our pioneer generation of leaders, most notably former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, had consciously and deliberately made greening part and parcel of Singapore’s planning and development DNA from day one, and this continues to this very day.

Our efforts have not gone unnoticed by the international community. NParks was pivotal in facilitating the formulation of an index for biodiversity to guide sustainable development of cities. This has been endorsed by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and is now known as the Singapore Index on Cities’ Biodiversity. This honour was accorded to Singapore because of the conservation efforts of our small city state, which is a model now adopted by other cities.

At this point, let me share with you two new projects in two very different parts of Singapore which tell contrasting, vivid stories of how we hope to better the lives of our people in a uniquely Singapore way. With your permission, Sir, I have prepared some pictures to illustrate my point.

Marina Bay – Reclaiming the Impossible
Not far from Parliament House, Marina Bay stands as the extension of our new CBD. Gardens by the Bay, the Esplanade, and Marina Bay Sands, well recognised and iconic developments for Singaporeans and visitors alike, are in fact new developments which were built in the past ten over years. With plenty of room to grow, Marina Bay is well positioned to serve as Singapore’s premier business and financial hub for the region.

Marina Bay did not just appear overnight. Our pioneers took a bold leap of faith more than 40 years ago, when they started reclaiming Marina South and Marina Centre from the sea. They saw the potential for Marina Bay to become an attractive waterfront location for the expansion of our financial centre. But we did not want it to be another Raffles Place or Shenton Way, where offices dominate. We wanted it to be a “People’s Bay”, nestled amongst gardens and flanked by water, grounded in our heritage and historical memories, such as Clifford Pier, Merlion Park and Collyer Quay, for Singaporeans to live, to work and to play.

So we gradually reclaimed around 360 hectares of land at the Bay, about nine times the size of London’s Canary Wharf. We deliberately planned for seamless connectivity between Marina Bay and the city, complemented by an integrated network of walkways both above and below ground. We provided well-landscaped open spaces for people to relax and gather in, and devoted 100 ha of land to waterfront gardens. Gardens by the Bay has brought nature ever closer to Singaporeans. It is the pride of Singaporeans and well-liked by locals and visitors, including some otters that have visited the gardens!

Over the years, more and more Singaporeans have taken the initiative to enliven and energise Marina Bay. Today, we see street performances, grassroots activities and arts festivals held at this Bay. The Countdown party draws around 300,000 people to the Bay each year, as well as over half a million New Year wishes in the wishing spheres on the waters of the Bay. Just last Friday, I had the privilege to open the i Light Marina Bay festival, where artists, students, and the community pooled their talents to create a magical display of art and light. It was tremendously heartening to see many young Singaporeans participating actively in an eco-friendly, low carbon footprint way to bring life and light and splendour to this beautiful place.

We will do more to realise Marina Bay as the “People’s Bay”. More affordable food options will be introduced along the Waterfront Promenade. There will be an open area for small-scale events, recreational activities and sports. We will also launch a pilot mobile transporter tour in the area soon, for a trial period of one year. Water activities are also expected to increase at the bay when the People’s Association water venture facility at Marina East is completed by end of this year, and canoeing, dragon boating and sailing activities are available to the community.

With these enhancements, we expect Marina Bay to be abuzz with even more energy and excitement, and become a more popular waterfront destination for our families and friends to visit and to enjoy.

Pulau Ubin – Nature, Heritage and Recreation
Let me now turn to another part of Singapore, this time in the north east, to describe an area that is altogether different, that excites different impulses and senses, but which also presents opportunities that require the collective participation of Singaporeans to realise.

When we speak of Pulau Ubin, we think of a small island untouched by the hustle and bustle of Singapore, immersed in the rustic charm of yesteryear. An island which reminds us of life in the early days. An island which Singaporeans love to visit to be in close touch with nature and for activities like camping, cycling and hiking. It is a place close to the hearts of many Singaporeans.

Ubin is certainly all that. But it is also much, much more. In the 50s, Ubin was a bustling island with 2,000 residents, many of them involved in farming, fishing, and the quarrying of granite for construction. In fact, granite from Ubin had been used to build the Causeway and the Horsburgh and Raffles lighthouses. So the history of Ubin tracks the history of Singapore and is very much part of our heritage.

As farming and mining declined, so too did the number of residents. It now has less than 100 residents. But unknown to many, Ubin is a wonderful treasure trove of biodiversity. These include species which are endangered or not found in the rest of Singapore. Habitats are being enhanced and species are being discovered, with the help of many Singaporeans in the community. For instance:

a. In the 1990s, Prof Ng Soon Chye, former President of the Nature Society (Singapore), together with a French researcher, had approached NParks to carry out a joint study of the Oriental Pied Hornbills on Ubin. The study revealed the breeding ecology of the hornbills and, as a result, they installed artificial nest boxes on the island. From one breeding pair of hornbills, we now have over 60 of them on the island. . Some of them have even flown across to other parts of Singapore, including Changi and Pasir Ris.

b. In 2003, NParks carried out a comprehensive survey of butterflies on Ubin with the help of butterfly enthusiasts led by Mr Khew Sin Khoon. More than 100 butterfly species were documented. This group went on to form the Butterfly Circle, an interest group. It advised NParks in planting up Butterfly Hill, a little known knoll created out of wasteland left over from Ubin’s granite quarrying history. Today, over 130 species of butterflies can be found there.

c. The Greater Mousedeer was presumed to have gone extinct from Singapore by the mid-1990s. It was rediscovered on Ubin in 2008 through a partnership project between NUS and NParks to study wildlife. These mousedeer are doing well on Ubin and are still frequently photographed by our remote cameras set in the forest.

d. The “Eye of the Crocodile”, scientific name Bruguiera hainesii, or known by the Malays as Berus mata buaya, is a mangrove tree that is listed as “Critically Endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It gets its interesting name from the breathing pores on its trunk which look like the scaly lids of the crocodile eyes, and which help the tree to take in oxygen in the muddy mangrove environment. It is the most endangered mangrove tree species in the world, with an estimate of less than 250 of these trees left globally. Of these, at least 11 are in Singapore – Dr John Yong from the Singapore University of Technology and Design had discovered the first one at Sungei Loyang, and subsequently helped to find one of two trees on Pulau Ubin. The largest tree was found along the Kranji Nature Trail by Ms Ria Tan, who is a passionate naturalist who set up WildSingapore, a popular nature blog.

These are just some of the many examples of how agencies like NParks have been working with passionate volunteers and experts to document Ubin’s biodiversity, preserve its rustic character, enhance its natural environment and sensitively provide access so that the public can enjoy Ubin’s natural charm.

Building on these efforts, we will initiate a conversation soon with Singaporeans, including the islanders, interest groups and experts, on how we can sensitively enhance the natural environment of Ubin and protect its heritage and its rustic charm. We will seek ideas about nature and heritage conservation, and about education and nature-based recreation. Minister Khaw has asked me to lead this project, and I am humbled and privileged to do so. We will consult and engage widely. And we will not rush, because the process is as important as the outcome and we want to hear from as many Singaporeans as possible. Our collective ideas, when implemented, can be a gift for many generations of Singaporeans. Some of these ideas, if ready, will also be meaningful in our commemoration of Singapore’s 50th anniversary next year. We will share more details about “The Ubin Project” later this year.

I hope Members will support this initiative. And I hope Singaporeans, young, old, and the young-at-heart, as well as the heritage and green community, will rally around, support this project and share your memories, ideas and impressions with us.

Let me now turn to the remaining cuts filed by honourable Members. First, on urban planning.

Urban Planning
A/P Fatimah Lateef, Ms Sylvia Lim and Ms Lee Li Lian asked about how plans for new developments had been properly coordinated and smoothly implemented.

In Singapore, land use planning is a structured process overseen and coordinated by the Urban Redevelopment Authority, in consultation with all relevant agencies. Agencies will look at a wide range of parameters, such as the overall planning intention for the area, transport capacity, utilities, greenery and recreation, amenities like shops, schools, hawker centres, food establishments, and so on.

Agencies will then assess the use, scale and intensity to determine whether developments can be supported by local infrastructure, or whether the plans need to be adjusted appropriately to avoid adversely affecting nearby residents and businesses. They will also seek feedback regularly to make sure the planning parameters remain relevant.

But, Sir, sometimes, there are gaps between what is desirable from the planning perspective, what is feasible, and what residents want. Sometimes, there is a limit to how much new infrastructure we can add in the area around developments, as the area may already be built up. This is part and parcel of intensification, to make good use of our limited land. Sometimes, implementation may be held back by technical issues. It is often tricky to synchronise precisely an increase in demand for new developments, with the expansion of supporting infrastructure, which does usually takes years to build. As a result, residents may experience temporary inconvenience, which agencies will do their level best to mitigate. For instance, we have required developers of Government Land Sales sites to inform residents living nearby about upcoming developments. We have also mandated that contractors reduce noise nuisance from construction. Overall, our agencies recognise the need to plan and implement ahead of demand in a coordinated manner, and will continue to do so.

I note that Ms Sylvia Lim had mentioned earlier about certain instances where certain surveys seemed to have been done after the developments had been pushed through. We will be grateful if she could provide us with the specific examples in order for us to look into this matter more effectively.

Sir, on Ms Lee Li Lian’s specific concerns about food establishments, as I mentioned earlier, the availability of amenities is one of many parameters that we look at when planning new towns. We assure her that agencies do plan for adequate food establishments in her constituency, as had been responded to on a number of PQs last year. Residents in the ward are currently served by two commercial centres located near LRT stations and are within a walking distance of about 5 to 10 minutes for most residents. There are 15 food establishments in the area including coffee shops, food courts, cafes and restaurants. Nevertheless, more such facilities can be considered when there are more residential developments.

Foreign Worker Housing
I would also like to thank Mr Yeo Guat Kwang for his cut on foreign worker housing. Sir, to build homes and other facilities for Singaporeans, including transportation and infrastructure, we need foreign workers. The Government will continue to launch new sites for purpose-built dormitories that meet the housing, social and recreational needs of these workers. We have also launched and will continue to identify new sites to build recreation centres for these workers.

As mentioned by the Acting Minister for Manpower in his earlier speech during the MOM COS, the Government is considering enhancing levers to ensure that foreign worker dormitories better meet workers’ needs. In that regard, the move by the Dormitory Association of Singapore Limited, or DASL, to develop a set of standards, and to consult government agencies on these standards, is very much welcome. The Government will work very closely with the industry on these initiatives.

Sir, on behalf of MND, I would like to thank Members for their interest in the work of MND, and look forward to working with all of you and fellow Singaporeans to realise our dream of a sustainable, highly liveable and green home and city.

Ministry to seek ideas on protecting Pulau Ubin
Melody Zaccheus The Straits Times AsiaOne 13 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE - Lovers of Pulau Ubin will be asked to give their ideas on how the popular island can be protected and enhanced.

The Government hopes that a wide range of people, from island residents to interest groups and experts, will give their views in an upcoming consultation announced in Parliament yesterday.

It wants the process to address "nature and heritage conservation, and... education and nature-

based recreation on the island", said Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee.

The 10.2 sq km island, about the size of Changi Airport, hit the headlines in April last year when a notice by the Housing Board led islanders to believe that 22 households would be evicted so an "adventure park" could be built.

The Government clarified shortly after that the island will be kept in a "rustic state for as long as possible".

Ubin's population has dwindled from 2,000 between the 1950s and early 1970s to just 38 today, but more than 300,000 visitors throng the place every year.

Mr Lee told Parliament yesterday that preserving and enhancing Pulau Ubin's rustic character and natural environment while sensitively providing access for the public require help from all Singaporeans.

He noted how the National Parks Board (NParks) has worked with researchers and nature groups to study its biodiversity.

In 2003, for instance, NParks conducted a survey with the help of butterfly enthusiasts and documented more than 100 species.

The enthusiasts - who call themselves ButterflyCircle - advised NParks to plant Butterfly Hill, a knoll made out of wasteland left over from Ubin's granite quarrying industry. The knoll is home to over 130 species today.

Mr Lee, who will be leading the project and the conversation, said the ministry will build on these efforts, adding that it will "consult and engage widely". More details on the project will be announced later this year.

During the debate, Nominated MP (NMP) Faizah Jamal asked for more to be done to conserve places such as Pulau Ubin and Chek Jawa. She also called for a national nature conservation policy where, among other things, there is a fair distribution of nature areas across the island.

Nature groups and wildlife enthusiasts said the Pulau Ubin initiative is a step in the right direction. For years, it has lacked a central body to coordinate efforts to enhance its green and rustic character, said the Nature Society (Singapore).

"This process will allow the Government to take into consideration the multiple views on what Ubin can grow to become - like a biodiversity hub or an ecotourism site," said society vice-president Leong Kwok Peng.

Madam Kamariah Abdullah, 54, who opens her 100-year-old Malay kampung on the island a few times a month to visitors, hopes the authorities will also consider conserving the kampung homes. "The kampung vibe and the people living here are integral to the island's identity," she said.