Singapore needs land that can be easily converted to other uses: Desmond Lee

Fiona Lam
Published Mon, Jun 21, 2021 · 09:45 AM

IT is important for Singapore to be adaptable in its city planning and to maintain a liveable and connected environment, as seen from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The government will start engaging the public in July on the Republic's long-term development plans, Minister for National Development Desmond Lee said on Monday.

"Even in land-scarce Singapore, we still need land that can be easily converted to other uses," Mr Lee noted in his speech at the World Cities Summit 2021.

"While it is important to make efficient use of scarce resources, the pandemic has shown that we also need to buffer some 'white space' that can be quickly adapted for emergencies," he added.

For example, former schools and convention centres were converted into quarantine and community care facilities at extremely short notice, and hotels were activated to serve as isolation facilities.

Unused public buildings such as HDB flats that were vacated for redevelopment and the Sports Hub were also deployed as alternative housing, the Centre for Liveable Cities (CLC) wrote in a commentary published on Monday.

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Mr Lee, who is also Minister-in-charge of Social Services Integration, said that in the longer run, the country will need to review its broader approach to land-use and city planning, as the coronavirus outbreak has changed many aspects of the way people live, work and play.

This may include how much office space is needed as remote-working gains pace, and how workplaces and homes should be designed, for example.

Next month, Singapore will kick-start public engagement for the Long-Term Plan Review (LTPR) exercise, in which the authorities review plans for long-term land use every 10 years.

The LTPR, conducted by the Ministry of National Development (MND) and the Urban Redevelopment Authority, guides future development and is crucial given the city-state's small land area. The last major review was conducted in 2011.

"As part of this effort, we will gather Singaporeans' ideas and aspirations for our future city," Mr Lee noted on Monday.

CLC, a division of MND, stated in its commentary that cities require “just-in-case” measures to be prepared for emergencies, and must therefore plan and build in capacity for contingency uses. In addition, “just-in-time” facilities are needed to adapt to major disruptions, as it is unrealistic to expect a city to be fully prepared for all eventualities.

“Building in spare capacity entails holding and maintenance costs, and possibly some wastage, as spare capacity remains idle and eventually becomes outdated or must be refreshed,” the centre added.

Multi-use facilities can help to close gaps between “just-in-time” and “just-in-case” measures. For one thing, the involvement of hotels in Singapore’s Covid-19 response demonstrates a potential new “dual use” for such properties, CLC suggested.

“Conversations are afoot in exploring the business viability of including more hotels in emergency preparedness plans, as assets that can be mobilised for crisis response in the future. New infrastructure projects should also be planned with due considerations for potential dual or multi-use,” it said.

In his speech, Mr Lee also highlighted that a liveable environment and connectivity across the city-state has been “critical”.

The pandemic has kept people within the city but away from crowded urban and indoor areas, which led to parks and green spaces becoming important places for many individuals to seek respite and recreation.

And besides physical or transport connectivity, digital connectivity has also been vital, as in-person interaction dipped as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak. "A solid digital infrastructure has allowed us to continue working and learning, including with overseas partners - with the World Cities Summit being just one example," Mr Lee said.

Other lessons learnt from the Covid-19 crisis include the importance of trust throughout society and the importance of both government leadership and active community involvement, he added.

An effective pandemic response requires citizens to make sacrifices, which they will only accept if they trust that these are for the greater good, Mr Lee noted. "Trust is hard to build but easy to lose. And a crisis can easily divide a society if everyone only looks out for themselves."

In Singapore, a strong tripartite relationship, where workers, businesses and the government come together often, has helped find solutions that are in everyone's interest, Mr Lee said.

"We also need to nurture this same spirit of dialogue and collaboration throughout our society," he added.

Furthermore, while governments are needed to coordinate efforts, community is the glue that holds people together.

Community partners such as volunteer groups, non-governmental organisations, religious and secular organisations and companies have stepped up to contribute. They are good at providing "last-mile support", to identify needs on the ground and respond quickly, Mr Lee said.

READ MORE: 

  • Pandemic will change Singapore's land-use plans and designs: Indranee
  • Bigger homes, co-working spaces in public libraries among ideas for new urban normal

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