Speech by Deputy Prime Minister, Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies and Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat at the Real Estate Developers' Association of Singapore (REDAS) 61st Anniversary Celebration on 18 January 2021.
Mr Chia Ngiang Hong, President, REDAS
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am happy to be part of REDAS’ 61st anniversary celebration.
REDAS was founded in 1958, in a period of turbulent change and uncertainty. One of the most visible manifestations of Singapore’s tremendous progress since then is our transformed cityscape. Since Independence, we have sought to make the best use of our limited land. We made a deliberate effort to green our city, even before sustainability became fashionable. We made sure that every Singaporean had a stake in our city through affordable public housing. And as our society matured, we continued to redevelop and rejuvenate our city.
Over the last six decades, our circumstances have changed dramatically. But our goal of building a green and liveable city has not.
Overcoming the Crisis Together
Last year was extremely challenging for the whole world and for Singapore. It was also an extremely challenging year for the construction sector. Construction came to a halt during the Circuit Breaker and took some time to safely resume. The Government did all that we could to help businesses and workers who were hard hit. Building on your feedback, the Government extended strong support to the sector, through the Jobs Support Scheme, Foreign worker levy, waivers and rebates, and a $1.36 billion construction support package to help firms restart safely and quickly.
Together as a society, we have made significant progress in stabilising the situation and the economy. The built environment sector is also getting back on its feet. But the road to recovery is long, as much depends on the trajectory of the pandemic globally. We must remain vigilant and adapt as the situation evolves.
Transforming the Built Environment Sector
Technology and innovation have been critical tools in this fight against COVID-19. For example, the BuildSG COVID-Safe Platform and BluePass tokens have allowed for better safe management and contact tracing. Developers and property agents have also turned to digital tools to facilitate viewing and sales.
While the disruptions caused by the pandemic will eventually fade, the disruptions from technology and innovation have accelerated, and will drive change at an even faster pace. As the world works towards recovery, there will also be a greater premium on sustainability and resilience. We must set our sights beyond COVID-19, and ask ourselves what we should do differently going forward.
Thankfully, we have strong foundations to build on. Many of you have been actively reshaping the Built Environment cluster through the Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs). We will need to refresh our ITMs, and explore how we can work and collaborate differently to innovate better.
Adopting a start-up approach: Alliances for Action
One such approach is the Alliances for Action, which is a new way of working together. Convened by the Emerging Stronger Taskforce, these Alliances represent an industry-led approach focused on speed and agility, and on action. The Alliances adopt a “start-up” mindset – rapidly prototyping new ideas, and scaling those which are successful.
The Alliance on Digitalising the Built Environment is one that will be familiar to you. The cloud-based Integrated Digital Delivery Dashboard is a project that the Alliance is championing. REDAS is leading this pilot.The Dashboard enables developers to better monitor and manage their projects based on live data from design, to construction and eventually management of the property. If successful, the Dashboard will be extended to all developers to catalyse wider adoption of digitalisation.
I encourage all of you to support this Alliance. I also encourage you to come together to create new ones to strengthen the industry – from how we can build smarter buildings to how buildings can be better managed and maintained.
Sustained Investments in Research and Innovation
Some issues lend themselves well to the start-up approach under the Alliances for Action. Others require sustained investment and effort, over many years, to yield impact. This is why the Government has consistently invested about 1% of our GDP on research and innovation. Last month, I announced our Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) plan for the next five years.
One key area of our RIE plan is Urban Solutions and Sustainability. Climate change is an existential issue for Singapore. We will have to do all that we can to mitigate the effects of global warming.
This includes making our built environment more climate-resilient. Already there are studies showing that Singapore is heating up twice as fast as the rest of the world. This is compounded by the urban heat island effect – where our buildings and roads trap the heat from our tropical environment. Greenery helps to some extent. URA’s Landscaping for Urban Spaces and High Rises programme, or LUSH, integrates greenery into our built environment. I am glad that many developers are embracing this. But we need to do more. As part of our network of global research partnerships, we are working on the Cooling Singapore project, to better understand the urban heat challenge, which then helps us to develop innovations. New solutions could include the use of cool paints and reflective glass coatings to lower absorption of heat energy from the sun. If the sector can grow its capabilities in sustainability, it will give you a competitive edge when you expand overseas.
Hence, beyond the investment by the Government in our research efforts, I hope to see our industry taking the lead. For example, Surbana Jurong has worked with NTU and the NRF to set up a corporate laboratory to develop sustainable solutions for the industry. These include digital technologies to scale up productivity in the built environment. Ngiang Hong mentioned earlier in his speech on how we can build a more sustainable and resilient built environment. I encourage you to further work with our researchers and urban planners, to innovate and enhance our built environment and sustainability.
Putting people at the centre of all we do
As we innovate and find new ways of doing things, we must never lose sight of our ultimate goal, which is to improve the lives of our people.
As our population ages, our built environment will have to better cater to the lived experience of our seniors. This means designing amenities and accessibility to meet the needs of our seniors. We will also need new housing typologies, such as assisted living – which integrates senior-friendly homes with care services.
At the same time, we must continue to enable young Singaporeans to own their homes and fulfil their aspirations. This is why we pay close attention to the property market, to ensure that it remains stable. Despite COVID-19, asset prices in the world have been going up. In our local property market, we are also starting to see renewed positive sentiments and some gathering of momentum in prices. We will remain vigilant as the economic outlook remains very uncertain. We do not want to see the property market run ahead of the underlying economic fundamentals.
Over the last six decades, REDAS has been an important partner on our nation-building journey. We are never done building Singapore. As we seek to overcome the crisis and emerge stronger, REDAS will continue to play a critical role. Under the leadership of Ngiang Hong and his committee, I have every confidence that REDAS will step up to the challenge. Indeed, during this crisis, REDAS has gone beyond rallying the industry to re-open safely. You also raised over $850,000 to purchase 200,000 care packs for migrant workers, and to support our healthcare workers. The care and support you have shown strengthens our sense of togetherness as a society. I commend REDAS for your efforts. Let me also congratulate Mr Chong Hock Chang, who will be receiving the REDAS Luminary Award after this, for his dedicated service to the industry.
We begin the new year with a glimmer of hope. Vaccination is underway. But much uncertainty remains. We must stay vigilant, and work together to overcome this pandemic.
But we must also look beyond this crisis to build a more sustainable, caring and liveable city. To do so, we will need to refresh the Industry Transformation Maps in the Built Environment sector, and find new ways of working differently to innovate better. As the lead for building projects, developers set the pace for industry transformation. I trust that you will step up the pace of transformation and bring other industry players along. I look forward to our continued partnership with REDAS to build a better future for ourselves and our children, and to emerge stronger for a better tomorrow.
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