A Timely Update

October 24, 2014

We have many MPs who care a lot about animal welfare. So when I broached the subject of updating our legislation to raise the standard of care for animals, a few of them spoke out passionately. I decided that we should work together on this.

First, I asked MP Yeo Guat Kwang to chair the Animal Welfare Legislation Review Committee (AWLRC) to review the subject comprehensively. He took an inclusive approach, inviting many representatives from animal welfare groups, vets, community, grassroots leaders and the pet industry to join his Committee.

Second, Mr Yeo’s Committee consulted widely. This was necessary as issues relating to the welfare of pet animals evoke strong reactions among our residents. They are not in agreement on how best to ensure the welfare of animals while balancing the interests of the various stakeholders.

Third, patiently, Mr Yeo sought out common ground and settled on what was do-able and acceptable to most, if not all. Their final report of recommendations was a good piece of work, to which MND readily accepted.

Under normal arrangement, the next step would be for MND to work with the AG’s Chambers to draft a Bill for the necessary legislative amendments. I decided that it would be wonderful if Mr Yeo could rope in a few more MPs, to do the follow up by presenting a Private Member’s Bill in Parliament to amend the Animals and Birds Act.

In our Parliament history, there have not been many Private Member’s Bills. On MND matters, there has been none.

So, MPs Yeo Guat Kwang, Alex Yam, Gan Thiam Poh, Edwin Tong and Vikram Nair, made history when they tabled their Bill for first reading early this month.  If passed, the Bill will give teeth to many of the recommendations put forth by the AWLRC. It will set new animal welfare standards for individuals and businesses in Singapore, and engender greater responsibility amongst pet owners.  It will also update the penalties for convicted acts of animal cruelty.

The Bill is the fruit of more than two years of hard work. Numerous consultations were organised to ensure that all views were considered. It reflects a diversity of perspectives from animal lovers and those who are less comfortable being around animals. We need the understanding and cooperation of all, as we try to balance these diverse views. The key objective is to achieve a harmonious living environment for everyone. In this journey towards higher animal welfare standards, Mr Yeo’s Bill marks a big step forward for us and our companion animals.

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4 Wheels Good, 2 Wheels and 2 Feet Even Better

October 22, 2014

4 Wheels Good, 2 Wheels and 2 Feet Even Better

Cities are increasingly finding it important to make themselves friendly to pedestrians and cyclists. Cities should be safe and convenient for walking and cycling. Walking and cycling are referred to as “active mobility” and are promoted because they are healthy, non-pollutive and fun!

Our Centre for Liveable Cities (CLC) and the US-based Urban Land Institute (ULI) have jointly studied this subject in their research project Picture 1‘Creating Healthy Places through Active Mobility’. They published their research findings in a book which was launched today in Singapore and New York.

Their conclusion is that when more people walk and cycle, there are substantial benefits to the individual, society, environment and the economy.

Singapore’s planning has always embraced active mobility.

Our Park Connector Network is wonderful. It has brought greenery and recreation closer to our homes, letting us walk, jog or cycle safely, under shady trees. Amidst our dense city and busy streets, the network lets us enjoy a sense of spaciousness, relaxation and freedom.

Our city is quite walkable, with good pavements along most roads, pedestrian priority at traffic junctions, and sheltered walkways to protect us from the sun and rain.

But we are not perfect.  In fact, some cities, like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, have raised active mobility to a higher level. Walking and cycling as modes of transport have been honed to be the normal way of life.  In these cities, they make up more than half of the modes of transport.

Picture 2Bench-marked against them, we are way behind. Cycling merely makes up 1-2% of our transport modes here.

We must now go beyond cycling for recreation. We want it to be a viable transport option for short trips to the supermarket, coffee shop, hawker centre or the nearest MRT station. To do so, we must make such trips safe and pleasant.

Our National Cycling Plan envisions a cycling network of 700km by 2030, including intra town and inter town networks. Next year, we will have developed 100 km of intra-town cycling paths in Yishun, Punggol and Bedok. Eventually, all 26 HDB towns will have similar networks to connect homes to neighbourhood centres and MRT stations.

Meanwhile, we are exploring bike sharing schemes, and increasing safety education programmes, such as the Safe Cycling Programme for Youth for students from secondary schools.

There are many more such ideas and practical measures in the book ‘Creating Healthy Places through Active Mobility’. Read it at this website.

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Changing Gear

October 20, 2014

For 3 years, 2011, 2012 and 2013, we launched more than 25,000 BTO flats per year, for a total of 77,000 flats.  This is a record construction programme, but necessary to meet pent-up demand especially by first-timers.  The effort has been effective in clearing their waiting queue.

Picture2Now that the housing market is stabilising, we have started to change gear.  This year, the BTO programme has been reduced by 10% to 22,400 units.  We are on track to deliver on this schedule.

As for the 2015 BTO programme, we have studied the recent BTO application rates, and will further pace it down, by another 25%.

In the past few years, we launch BTO exercises every other month, i.e. 6 times a year, at an average of about 4,000 units per launch.  From next year, we will launch BTO exercises quarterly, i.e. 4 times a year.  We will maintain the BTO launch size at about 4,000 units.  This means a BTO programme of about 16,000 units next year.

This should be sufficient to meet demand, without causing a glut in the public housing market.

We are also taking steps to further help families live close to one another.  Currently, they get extra ballot chances.  In future BTO exercises, we will set aside a certain proportion of flat supply for those applicants who want to live close to one another.  In addition, first priority will also be given to those who are applying to live under one roof. First priority will also be extended to parents who own a flat in the mature estate and apply for a flat in the non-mature estate to live near their married child.

These suggestions came up during the recent Housing Conversations.  We are happy to adopt them at the next BTO launch next month.

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Greening the World

October 15, 2014

GreeningTheWorld

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and BCA have extended the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between them for three more years, to 2017.  Their collaboration in setting up the BCA Centre for Sustainable Buildings (BCA CSB) has been of mutual benefit.

The MOU extension will allow BCA CSB to support and assist UNEP to work with countries in the region to green their buildings and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The BCA CSB is the first centre collaborating with UNEP in Asia, and one of the few such centres in the world. This partnership is an endorsement of Singapore’s leadership and efforts to drive sustainable development.

This year, BCA CSB’s various workshops to share best practices and train the trainer attracted many participants from our region, including policy-makers, academics and practitioners.

BCA CSB has also documented BCA’s experience of retrofitting an existing building at the BCA Academy into a Zero Energy Building – a first in South East Asia, raising awareness about sustainable building developments.

Picture2These initiatives underscore our commitment towards supporting green efforts within Singapore and the region, and will contribute to global efforts to reduce carbon emissions from buildings.

In Singapore, the building sector uses up one third of our total electricity supply. When the BCA Green Mark scheme was launched in 2005, there were only 17 green building projects. Today, it has grown to over 2,100 projects, and represents the greening of more than one quarter of Singapore’s total gross floor area.  Much has been achieved, but much more still needs to be done.

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5th in food security: Not Bad

September 30, 2014

Food security remains a global challenge.  How countries fare are regularly tracked.  For example, the Economic Intelligence Unit publishes its annual Global Food Security Index (GFSI) covering 109 countries around the world. GFSI measures three key areas: i) Availability, ii) Affordability and iii) Quality and Safety of food.

Singapore’s challenges are especially acute as we are inevitably highly reliant on food imports. But challenges can be addressed with sound policies and practical strategies. Despite our handicap, we can still ensure that food is available, safe, nutritious and affordable for all.

We have been tracking our progress on the GFSI score.  Last year, Singapore ranked 16th.  This year, we came up 5th.

Moving up 11 notches on the GFSI for a tiny city state without much agricultural land is no mean feat.

Although we import over 90% of our food, we support some local production to play a useful complementary role. Last month, the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) launched a $63 million Agriculture Productivity Fund to help our local farmers boost yields and raise productivity.  Our ambition is for our local farms to, over time, transform into a high tech and progressive one.

The improvement in our GFSI ranking was mostly due to (a) stability in our local production, (b) sufficiency of supply, and (c) having a nutrition plan in place.

We have also scored well in the new indicator for food loss. Our programmes and R&D projects to reduce food losses in the early stages of food production, which include post-harvest handling techniques, cold chain management, and conversion of food manufacturing waste, have been notable.  Meanwhile, we must press on with reducing general food wastage among consumers.

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Making Right-sizing Easier

September 24, 2014

At Meet-the-People sessions, I sometimes meet elderly residents who intend to right-size to a smaller flat but face some cash-flow difficulties in the process.

The sale proceeds for their existing (larger) flat will be enough to pay for the new (smaller) flat, but they need to sell the flat first to raise the funds for the new purchase.  For example, they have to make a downpayment for their new flat, which is at least 10% of the purchase price.

HDB told me that, in 2013, 47 elderly cancelled their new flat bookings, because they were unable to raise the downpayment. They must have felt disappointed, having to abort their plans because of a cash-flow problem.

Today’s announcement by HDB will help address this issue.

Henceforth, flat buyers right-sizing to a 2-room or 3-room BTO flat will only need to pay half the downpayment when they sign the Agreement for Lease. They need only pay the other half together with the balance purchase price when they get the keys to their flat.

I am glad that the HDB has made this change.

 

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When cars go out of fashion, what happens to car parks?

September 16, 2014

It seems hard to imagine at the moment, but a day may (soon) come when cars go out of fashion in Singapore.

It is already happening in some European cities. Youngsters no longer see a need to take driving lessons, let alone buying a car. People are walking, cycling, taking public transport. The occasional car needs can be satisfied more cool-ly, via Uber or Zipcar or many such local ridesharing equivalents.

That will transform lifestyles and city landscape, for the better! Car parks will become excessive and redundant.

To help re-imagine such a scenario, URA is supporting PARK(ing) Day on Friday, offering all its parking lots for the public to transform into creative, temporary public ‘PARKS’. This is part of a global PARK(ing) Day initiative.

The mission is to get everyone to envision a city with fewer cars, and more space for people, for living.

All ideas are welcome. We have so far received about 50 registrations, from community groups, local businesses and student bodies. The variety and creativity of the entries are inspiring.

One group intends to create a display area to showcase growing crops on roofs and walls, and harnesses solar energy to power fans and lights. Another intends to set up a pop-up repair café, where people can learn how to mend everyday items such as furniture, shoes and clothes, thus reducing the amount of waste.

You may have other ideas. Do join us on PARK(ing) Day, and continue to share your thoughts on how to enliven our public spaces and our city.

For more information on where the ‘PARKS’ are created, you can visit URA’s PARK(ing) Day website.

 

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