Speech by Dr Cheong Koon Hean, CEO, Housing & Development Board, At HDB Awards 2011, 2 November 2011
Date issued : 02 Nov 2011

Mr Khaw Boon Wan, Minister for National Development
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

  Good evening. Thank you for joining us at this HDB Awards 2011 ceremony and dinner. I am very happy to see many familiar faces from the construction and real estate industry gathered here. Many are partners and friends who have provided invaluable support to HDB over the years.

2I would like to thank Minister Khaw Boon Wan for taking the time to grace our awards event this evening. As we know, Minister Khaw is a strong advocate for the provision of quality affordable housing for Singaporeans. We appreciate his guidance and support for our work in meeting Singapore’s housing needs.

3Last year, HDB celebrated its 50th anniversary – a very significant milestone. We began the HDB journey in 1960 with a simple goal – to house an emergent young nation. And in this goal, I think we have succeeded. HDB completed its one millionth flat last year. We now house 82 percent of the population, with more than 90 percent owning their own homes. Over the years, I have had the opportunity to discuss housing challenges with various cities, and many tell me that HDB’s feat in housing provision is unparalleled. HDB’s efforts have clearly been well recognised internationally – with two United Nations accolades and several international awards under HDB’s wing.

4Foreign visitors, in particular, are often struck by the high quality of Singapore’s public housing. Even locally, some of my friends point to a development while driving by and ask me ‘Is that a HDB flat?’ Here is a slide of four housing projects. Guess which two of these are HDB developments? Yes, images B and C are HDB Developments – B is Punggol Waterway Brooks, and C is Dawson Sky Terrace. Certainly the quality of our HDB developments has improved over the years, and they provide value for money housing for Singaporeans.


5The fulfillment of HDB’s mission could not have been possible without the excellent relationship between HDB and our industry partners. Be it architects, engineers or contractors, public housing would not be what it is today without your sterling contributions. Tonight’s awards dinner is therefore an excellent platform for us to affirm, recognise, and acknowledge our industry partners in helping HDB deliver quality homes for Singaporeans.

6I had the pleasure of participating in the jury deliberations for this year’s design awards. The winning entries demonstrated significant design innovation – design innovation that respects tradition and heritage, design innovation that is sensitive to its existing physical environment, and designs that are sustainable. They have a strong aesthetic appeal while serving clear functional needs. On behalf of HDB, let me say a big `Thank You’ to all of you for your great partnership with us. My warmest congratulations too to all the award recipients tonight.


7It has been a year since I joined HDB. I have found HDB to be an organization with many dedicated and committed colleagues. There is an amazing reservoir of professional experience ranging from town planning, to architecture, to structural design, R&D innovations and real estate. This combination of professional know-how has been instrumental in improving the quality of life for Singaporeans in HDB towns. Still, HDB cannot rest on our laurels as we will be facing new challenges ahead.

8First, our peoples’ needs and aspirations have changed over the years. HDB’s customer base, at more than 3 million, is diverse and varied. Some are low income families who want a basic roof over their heads. Others are middle income families who want a better living environment, and flats with even better designs and furnishing. At the same time, we face the prospects of an ageing population. HDB needs to address all these needs and aspirations, and yet ensure that the fundamentals of affordability and quality are not compromised.

9Second, HDB as a responsible master planner and developer must do its part to achieve national sustainability goals. HDB can contribute significantly to national efforts as it is the largest developer of housing in Singapore.

10For example, HDB will launch some 50,000 flat units over the next 2 years – equivalent to one Ang Mo Kio town. This will translate to a construction volume of some 60,000 to 80,000 units per year for the next 3 years. The sheer scale of HDB’s building programme provides opportunities for HDB to be a game changer of the building industry in the area of sustainability, as well as productivity.
    11Third, we recognise that our residents want to have more say in their living environment. Engaging our residents in the development of our towns will help us to better cater to their needs. At the same time, we need to encourage greater ownership by the community and harness their energy to help improve their own living environment.


    12To meet these challenges, HDB needs to further strengthen our professional capabilities. This evening, I would like to share with you our new ‘Roadmap for Better Living in HDB Towns’. This Roadmap will set out the key priorities for HDB’s professional focus over the next 5 to 10 years. This enables HDB to deliver a better living environment and meet the evolving lifestyle aspirations of our residents. Partnership with private sector expertise and the community will play a big part in this approach.

    13The Roadmap will be underpinned by three key thrusts. Essentially, we aim to develop:
        1) Well-designed Towns,
        2) Sustainable Towns, and
        3) Community-Centric Towns.
    Let me elaborate on these thrusts and on how it will benefit our residents.


    14In a small, compact city state like Singapore, good design has always been crucial in giving us a livable and pleasant environment, one which makes us feel `at home’. And we can do even more. Good design does not have to be expensive. All it takes is to give more attention to injecting good design into various aspects of town development – be it the master plan at a macro level, or the flat layout at a more micro level. Good design can be applied to develop functional, efficient and quality buildings, as well as create a beautiful environment, providing a better living experience for all.

    15In recent years, HDB has farmed out individual parcels of land to private sector architects to design our flats. More than ever, HDB must have active oversight of the master plan and urban design to ensure better coordination and to guide our consultants to attain the overall planning vision for our towns. A good master plan will secure for our residents a well planned town with easy access to good public transport and comprehensive facilities. In addition, innovative urban design can shape and give each town a distinctive identity and character. HDB will therefore strive to introduce fresh and innovative ideas in the master planning and urban design of new areas, such as the next phase of Punggol Eco Town, Bidadari and Tengah, as well as to guide more closely their development.

    16Let me illustrate what I mean. HDB’s master plan for the first phase of Punggol Eco Town ensures that the town is well served by a rail network as well as many facilities. Punggol Waterway, which opened last week, is an innovative feature that will define Punggol. It is both an eco feature as well as a wonderful recreation facility for residents and all Singaporeans. Some have called it the Venice of Punggol. Perhaps what’s missing in Punggol Waterway are the gondolas!

    17HDB has also recently prepared urban design guidelines to steer our consultants’ designs for the projects along the Punggol Waterway. Our guidelines will help to maximise visual and physical access to the water by having tiered building heights, with lower buildings in front and the taller buildings behind. In doing so, we create more units with views of the water and create more value for our residents.

    18In HDB’s Remaking Our Heartland plans for the East Coast area, a key idea is to rejuvenate the town centre. Bedok Town Centre will be transformed into a vibrant new hub, with a new shopping mall, housing and a new bus interchange integrated under one roof. A new hawker centre next to it will replace the old. Tying all these together is a new Town Plaza, which is planned as a focal point for the community to organise events, thus increasing vibrancy. We have also worked out detailed urban design guidelines to provide a public space for the new integrated sports hub to better tie in with the town centre mall.

    19Good design should percolate even to a detailed level. Designing a town with proper covered links to the MRT station or proper cycling tracks will be welcomed by our residents and cyclists. Community groups will appreciate well-designed public spaces that facilitate their activities. A thoughtful interior flat layout will help our residents to maximise the useable space within their flat. These efforts do not cost the earth, but they make our day-to-day living so much better!

    20The creation of such well designed towns cannot be accomplished by HDB alone. We intend to tap widely the expertise of private sector professionals, tertiary institutions and companies to seek out good designs and sustainable urban solutions. We will also encourage stakeholders such as our grassroots leaders and residents to give us ideas and suggestions to ease day to day living for them.


    21The second thrust in our Roadmap focuses on ‘Sustainable Towns’. HDB will support the Singapore Sustainable Development Blueprint efforts by pursuing suitable green initiatives and sustainable solutions for our towns. Building sustainable towns means that residents will be able to enjoy a cleaner, greener, and more comfortable living environment. For example, well oriented buildings and micro climatic modeling will help our towns to capture cool breezes and improve natural ventilation, thus minimising the use of air conditioning. Energy efficient light fittings will translate into cost savings for town councils, residents and households.

    22The newly set up HDB Building Research Institute will drive many of the sustainable development initiatives. HDB towns are excellent `living labs’ for innovative urban solutions. Already, HDB is pioneering groundbreaking work to test bed solar generated power in Punggol, as well as Ang Mo Kio, Bukit Panjang, Marine Parade, Bishan, etc. Since the first test bed project in 2009, the cost of solar photovoltaic systems has already dropped by 50 percent. The private sector is welcomed to reap the benefits from the economies of scale generated by HDB. We will derive useful and practical lessons from our test beds and apply them to other HDB towns. The experience will also help to establish Singapore as an urban solutions hub for other cities with similar high density, high rise environments.

    23Developing sustainable public housing also requires HDB to increase productivity and resource efficiency. Today, HDB already leads in the use of precast technology. Some 70 percent of our building components are prefabricated compared to less than 30 percent used in private sector developments. This has enabled us to reach higher construction productivity of 2.28 man days per square metre compared to 3.13 man days per square metre in private sector developments. Residents also benefit from better quality finish for their flats. HDB will continue to review our design guidelines and explore more innovative construction methods for greater productivity and quality.


    24Our third thrust under the Roadmap is to develop Community-Centric Towns. We will further increase our focus on the ‘people sector’. The first two thrusts on design and sustainability represent the ‘hardware’ elements of public housing. However, physical infrastructure alone does not make a vibrant and endearing town. It needs to be complemented by the `heart-ware’ of building cohesive and resilient communities.

    25HDB has set up a Community Relations Department to spearhead community engagement efforts in various HDB towns. We want to create suitable platforms and activities for our residents to bond and interact, so that ties can be forged and deepened. For example, HDB works with other agencies to organise welcome parties to encourage residents to get to know each other. We promote good neighbourliness by recognising exemplary acts of neighbourliness through our Good Neighbour Awards.

    26Going forward, we want to encourage more residents to take ownership of the facilities, the neighbourhood, and the town they live in. For example, with the opening of the Punggol Waterway, there is scope for the community to activate the use of the waterway and to take good care of it, for the benefit of all.


    27The ‘Roadmap for Better Living in HDB Towns’ is a forward-looking approach that will guide HDB in shaping our towns over the next 10 years. We want to further improve the HDB living environment through strengthening HDB’s professional capabilities, with the help of private sector expertise and the community. We welcome you as our partners to join us in shaping the public housing landscape of Singapore. By pooling together our professional capabilities and ideas, we can make Singapore an even better home for all.

    28Thank you. I wish everyone a most enjoyable and pleasant evening.

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