A special orchid hybrid for our Chief Gardener

March 24, 2015

A special orchid hybrid for our Chief Gardener

Our Founding PM Lee Kuan Yew loved nature and visited the Singapore Botanic Gardens whenever he could. My colleagues in NParks enjoyed taking him around in the buggy. They have a great deal of respect and affection for Mr Lee. Deep in our hearts, we know who the Chief Gardener of Singapore’s Garden City was.

The making of a Garden City was a key element in Mr Lee’s development strategy. It differentiates us from other cities, setting a benchmark for other cities to emulate. None of this would have been possible, if not for Mr Lee’s vision and single-minded commitment to creating the best possible living environment for all Singaporeans to enjoy.

Mr Lee set up the Garden City Action Committee to ensure that different Ministries would work closely together to make greenery an integral part of Singapore’s infrastructure. He created NParks (and its predecessors) because he believed that an agency with staff trained in horticulture, botany and other areas required in maintaining greenery was needed to oversee the Green Campaign, as he called it. As a result of his efforts, our roads and neighbourhoods are filled with lush greenery and birds and butterflies.

For some time, we have been looking out for a suitable orchid hybrid to name after Mr Lee. NParks officers who have staffed him on his many visits to the SBG have a good sense of what he enjoyed and liked amongst the flora and fauna.

We have found a suitable candidate in a vigorous and robust hybrid – Arachnis hookeriana x Vanda Golden Moon. ItOrchid hybrids produces flower sprays that bear up to 10 flowers each, with each bloom measuring about 9.5 cm to 10.5 cm across. The sepals and petals are bright greenish golden yellow with light tessellations and a tinge of white at the base. Each bloom is complemented by a contrasting light brown waxy lip.

The parentage is the Arachnis hookeriana and the Vanda Golden Moon. Arachnis hookeriana is native to Singapore. It grows in full sun and produces lasting scorpion-shaped flowers. Vanda Golden Moon is a large-flowered Hawaiian hybrid that contains the regional species in its lineage; Vanda dearei from Borneo, Vanda sanderiana & Vanda lamellata from the Philippines, and Vanda curvifolia from Thailand.

Ironically, Aranda Lee Kuan Yew has just flowered and will remain in flower for the next 2 to 3 weeks. This new hybrid also matches the orchid hybrid that was named after Mrs Lee, Vanda Kwa Geok Choo.

The match is not only in terms of colour, form and stature, but both hybrids also share a few species in both their lineages.

CEO/NParks, Kenneth Er, presented Aranda Lee Kuan Yew to PM Lee and his family earlier this afternoon at the Istana. It would have been wonderful if we had the opportunity to present the Aranda Lee Kuan Yew to Mr Lee himself. It was not meant to be…I am certain Mr Lee would have loved the flowers.

Orchid presentation at the Istana

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Our Mentor, Our Inspiration

March 23, 2015

Our Mentor, Our Inspiration

Our Founding Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew has passed on. My Ministry has lost its greatest mentor and inspiration.

Mr Lee devoted his whole life to Singapore. Singaporeans owe much of what we have in Singapore today to Mr Lee. He was a rare talent and few people could see further ahead than he did. He used his tremendous foresight to position Singapore well and created an endearing home for all.

My Ministry has especially benefited from Mr Lee’s immense foresight and strategic insights. He inspired many policies in MND: HDB, Garden City, Clean & Green, urban planning, the Singapore Botanic Gardens, heritage conservation, Marina Bay, etc.


It was not too long ago, in the early 60s, that Singapore was filthy, disorderly, with slums and squatters and high homelessness. Mr Lee set up the HDB and started on the ambitious task to house a nation. Through the Home Ownership for the People Scheme”, he encouraged families to own their HDB flats, to have a stake in Singapore and its future.

Key handover50 years on, Singapore has achieved one of the highest home ownership rates in the world. Our endearing HDB towns are a lasting imprint of Mr Lee. Today, a third generation of Singaporeans is embarking on their own homeownership journey. The hugely successful story of home ownership in Singapore mirrors the successful story of Singapore as a nation.

The pervasive greenery around us which transforms Singapore into a City in a Garden is another lasting legacy of Mr Lee. In 1963, he planted the first Mempat Tree at Farrer Circus, kickstarting the annual nation-wide tree planting campaign which continues till this day. Even after he retired from the Cabinet, Mr Lee asked to be updated on the work done by the Garden City Action Committee. And whenever Mr Lee was free, he would visit the Botanic Gardens with the late Mrs Lee, and later to Gardens by the Bay after it was completed in 2012.

Tree planting

Mr Lee clearly took pride in what Singapore has achieved as a clean and green city. To him, greenery is not just sound policy that makes sense, but also a personal passion and lifelong commitment. In 2013, in celebration of our 50 years of greening, we invited Mr Lee to plant a rain tree at Holland Village Park. We were so glad that Mr Lee could join us on that momentous occasion.

I know many of you feel a deep sense of loss with Mr Lee’s passing. We all share in this loss. Celebrating 50 years of greening

As we mourn the loss of our Founding PM, let’s reflect on his achievements and be grateful to Mr Lee for starting Singapore on the right footing and building Singapore into what it is today. Mr Lee and his vision put Singapore on the global map of world-class cities. His life and work have touched the lives of generations of Singaporeans. Let us build on his legacy and make Singapore even better for future generations of Singaporeans.

At this time, our prayers and thoughts are with PM Lee and his family. We wish them strength and peace in this time of sorrow.

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Shifting the Balance

February 20, 2015

Four years of hard work, ramping up new home construction, is seeing results. As flats and apartments take 3 or 4 years to build, we are enjoying the harvests of the hard labour.

As supply-demand rebalances, property prices are adjusting. 2014 was the first full year which saw home prices in decline. This was a great relief for home buyers. As the decline was moderate, it was also a relief for home sellers and home owners. A collapse of housing market benefits no one.

As projects’ completion dates vary, we put up a chart last year to track the pipeline supply of new homes for 2014-2017. A total of 200,034 units were projected. With the tapering of HDB’s BTO supply, the new figure stands at 195,788. Home buyers have plenty of choices.

As we move into 2015, we are updating the chart to show the pipeline supply for 2015-2018.

Our current stock is about 1.28m housing units: 960,000 in HDB; 320,000 in private sector.  By early 2018, our stock would have grown to 1.43m housing units, an increase of about 11%.

Our residential market has achieved a better balance between sellers and buyers.

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Promoting Design Diversity

February 11, 2015

At Sembawang Greenvale, a new housing estate near Sembawang Park, we have piloted a new set of planning guidelines.  These new planning guidelines by URA, Envelope Control Guidelines, give architects and homeowners greater flexibility in configuring the interior spaces of their homes.  This was in response to suggestions by our architects and homeowners.  We thought it was a good idea.  But before nation-wide adoption, we tried it out in one new housing estate.  The results are positive.

How is this achieved?

URA guidelines used to spell out the height control at each storey of a home.  The new guidelines free this up, and define only the outline of the building – specifically, a maximum height of 15.5 metres for three-storey homes and 12 metres for two-storey homes.  Existing detailed guidelines on building features such as the attic floor and basement, as well as height restrictions on each floor, will no longer apply.

The new guidelines should be good news to those who want flexibility in interior design.  Owners can ‘layer’ their homes creatively, to bring in natural light and ventilation, and are most likely to benefit those who live in intermediate terraces.

This new Envelope Control Guidelines as applied at Sembawang Greenvale will be introduced island-wide by URA from 11 May 2015.  Do continue to share your ideas at https://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/feedback-redirect.aspx on how we can make our living environment better.

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Happy Birthday, HDB and Thank You!

January 31, 2015

Tomorrow, HDB turns 55.

A recent survey by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) asked Singaporeans to name 10 events that they thought were most important to Singaporeans.  The formation of HDB on 1 Feb 1960 was on the top 10 chart.  I am glad that HDB’s role in nation building has resonated strongly with Singaporeans.

Its early years were exceptionally challenging.  HDB’s first chairman, Mr Lim Kim San, led HDB to break new ground and laid a strong foundation which successive generations of HDB staff were able to build upon.

Working along with Mr Lim were many HDB staff.  Through their hard work, perseverance and personal sacrifices, HDB grew and moved steadfastly towards its mission.

Mr James BongAmong the oldest is Mr James Bong, now aged 89.

He first worked in the Singapore Improvement Trust, and joined HDB when it was formed.  He was a Resettlement Officer.  In those years, squatters were common in Singapore, and living conditions were squalid.  The most immediate and important task then was to resettle and rehouse the squatters in better HDB homes.

While resettlement from slums to modern HDB now seems obviously positive, convincing the people then to move into high-rise flats was an arduous task.  Officers like Mr Bong faced strong resistance from the squatters as it meant changes to where they lived, how they lived and where they worked.  Tremendous patience and a human touch were needed.  Mr Bong did just that!

There are many other HDB pioneers like Mr Bong.  The impact of their contribution will long be remembered.  They laid the solid foundation, from which we can now move public housing to even greater heights.  “My Nice Home Gallery”, the plans for upcoming Bidadari and Tampines North etc show the transformation of HDB towns in the past 55 years.  A transformation that I am sure our HDB pioneers will feel proud of.  I think we have not disappointed them and I hope to continue to build upon their vision, to achieve greater success.

Appreciation tea for HDB pioneers

Thank you HDB Pioneers and Happy Birthday, HDB!

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Some things are harder to share

January 21, 2015

In 2011, Time Magazine included “the sharing economy” as one of ten ideas that could change the world.  While it has yet to change the world, the sharing economy has begun to make its presence felt.  Think Uber and its robust reception in US, Germany, S Korea.  Some love it; some ban it.

The sharing economy is based on a simple idea that you don’t have to own everything you need, but someone does, and more value can be created for everyone through sharing.  Sharing is of course not new.  Human beings have always shared things.  What is new is our ability to use technology to connect what some people have, to what other people need in an efficient way.

Thus, in many cities, Uber connects car owners to commuters via convenient easy-to-use mobile apps.  It has been great for commuters, but the taxi drivers are not amused.  In Germany, they lobbied the Government to ban Uber. But overall, there are certainly great consumer benefits if more cars are shared and put to greater use for more people.

However, some things are harder to share than others.

Airbnb is an online community platform which allows home-sharing, renting out spare rooms to say, tourists for a few days.  But it has become hotly debated in many cities. New York City has banned it while Amsterdam and San Francisco allow it but are considering tighter regulations.

While it earns extra income for the home owners, their neighbours would not like to see their quiet neighbourhood becoming a hotel district.  I myself think it’s not a good idea.  We certainly do not allow such arrangements in HDB towns.

URA has been receiving views and comments from private home-owners. Some shared that they would enjoy the international friendships and cultural exchanges, but many others are uncomfortable with the presence of transient visitors in their community and utilising common facilities intended for bona fide residents. To them, short-term rental arrangements would result in the loss of privacy and sense of security.

To get a fuller picture, URA is conducting a public consultation on short term stays for private homes. If you have a view on this subject, do share it with them.

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First Flat, First Home, Lasting Memories

December 31, 2014

Naturally, we attach strong feelings to our first: our first date, our first kiss, our first job, our first child etc.  Our first experience lingers on and evokes strong nostalgia.  They often make lasting memories.

Among the many firsts, our first HDB flat, which for most Singaporeans, is often also our first home, occupies a special place in our heart.  This is where we build our family, bring up our children and from where we build our network of neighbours and close friends.

In most other cities where most people rent their homes, people often move and shift to new places as they change jobs. In Singapore, we are unique because of HDB and its highly successful “Home Ownership for the People Scheme” which entered its 50th Anniversary this year.  Home owners, unlike tenants, largely stay put in one place.  The stability allows us to build deep community ties and lasting friendship and memories. Our first HDB flat therefore takes on special role.

How many Singaporeans today live in their first flat and their first home?

Today, 6 out of 10 owners of 900,000 flats in Singapore live in their first HDB flat. This is a remarkably high percentage of 61%.

Among the 26 HDB towns/estates, the percentage ranged from 53% (Woodlands) to 77% (Tanjong Pagar/Chinatown/Bugis).  The other high-scorers are Marine Parade (74%), Kallang/Whampoa (68%), Bt Timah/Geylang (67%) and Ang Mo Kio/Bishan/Punggol/Serangoon (66%).  Not surprisingly, the attractions of (central) location and comprehensive facilities make most owners living in mature estates decide to stay put.  (Punggol with its superior layout and design was a pleasant exception, also partly due to its relatively young age.)

Knowing that the majority of Singaporeans will live in their first HDB flat for most, if not all, of their lives, we have to make sure that we put in our best to make all HDB towns an endearing town and all HDB flats a lovely home.  This is our promise.  This is our pledge.

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