It is confirmed! We have a World Heritage Site in our midst

July 4, 2015

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Our Singapore Botanic Gardens has now joined the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew as an UNESCO’s World Heritage Site.  Though widely expected, the decision still came as a great gift for SG50.

There are many things special about Singapore Botanic Gardens. First, it is the best preserved example of tropical colonial botanic gardens, laid out in the English Landscape style. Second, the Burkill Hall is believed to be the only surviving example of an Anglo-Malay plantation-style house in the region. Third, the Gardens house more than 1,200 species of orchids and 2,000 hybrids – the largest collection in the world.

But what make the Gardens endearing are the people, who inject energy and soul into the place. The Gardens is well-loved and close to the hearts of many Singaporeans – the elderly who practices taichi every morning near the Swan Lake; young couples enjoying the cool shade under the Burmese Banyan tree; friends watching a performance under the stars at the Bandstand; and nature enthusiasts marvelling at the rare specimens of ancient giant Dipterocarp trees in the Gardens’ primary rainforest.

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After all these years, couples still take their wedding photos at the Gardens and their children still play on the lawn by the Tembusu tree.

Indeed, each of us has memories tied to the rich history of the Gardens. The Gardens draws more than 4.4 million visitors annually, making it the most-visited botanic garden in the world.

We have lined up a series of activities for the public to learn more about our first World Heritage Site during the Jubilee Weekend. Come take a look!

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Less cars, more street life

July 2, 2015

Car-free Circular Road, Haji Lane and Ann Siang Hill during weekends have been a great success. As the streets get closed off, they come alive with activities: tables and chairs spilling onto the roads, diners enjoying a leisurely cuppa, youngsters hanging out at quirky boutiques, and tourists soaking up another aspect of Singapore. People stroll freely and safely. Closed to cars, the streets come alive.

These initiatives were started as pilot projects in 2013 by local stakeholders with the support of the URA. Progressively, we have seen more communities coming forward to initiate similar projects.

More recently at Everton Park, the local community came together to convert a quiet back lane to support a vibrant street festival. Many residents were pleasantly surprised to discover the community space and enjoyed many of the activities such as free haircuts, face-painting and kampung games.

We want to see more streets being turned into public spaces for community to enjoy. Today, the Urban Redevelopment Authority launched their “Streets for People” programme, to facilitate this.

This programme will help support new community-initiated car-free zones aimed at transforming streets and back lanes into temporary public spaces.  The programme offers varying levels of support, including providing road closure essentials such as safety barriers and signage, and up to $5,000 of seed funding. URA will also facilitate consultation with relevant government agencies.

For more information, visit http://ura.sg/streetsforpeople. Let’s participate in the Streets for People programme, and enjoy our streets.

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Supporting strong family ties

June 19, 2015

Strong families make strong communities and a strong nation. This is why we don’t just build flats; we also help families live closer together.

There are many benefits for such an arrangement. Grandparents can help look after grandchildren, and children can support their parents and grandparents.

Since 2011, we have enhanced various priority schemes and introduced a new flat type to help extended families live together or close by for mutual care and support. They have produced good results:

• 24% of BTO flat applicants applied under one of these schemes. They enjoy higher success rates than those who did not.

• This proportion is even higher (up to 36%) in mature estates like Tampines and Bedok.

• The Married Child Priority Scheme (MCPS) is the most popular and accounted for about 90% of these applicants in 2014. Since its last enhancement in November 2014, 6,200 families have applied under the scheme. In addition, almost half of all parents applying to buy new flats to live closer to their married children in non-mature estates were moving from mature estates, and now enjoy higher chances of success.

• Other schemes are also becoming popular. The proportion of applicants applying under the Multi-Generation Priority Scheme (MGPS) or for 3Gen flats has doubled from 5% in 2013 to about 10% in 2014. 284 pairs of families (parents and married children) have applied under the enhanced MGPS since September 2013, and over 600 multi-generation families will be moving into their 3Gen flats.

As the statistics show, more would like to buy a flat with or close to their extended families in mature estates. We have tried to meet these needs, by launching more flats in mature estates.

We have launched the first BTO project in Tampines North last year, and we will launch the first BTO project in Bidadari later this year. We expect application rates in Bidadari to be high. To help families live closer together, we will give priority to those whose parents live in Toa Payoh, Potong Pasir, or within the 2km radius.

However, there is limited land for us to launch BTO projects in mature estates. That’s why we also give an additional $10,000 under the higher-tier CPF Housing Grant of $40,000, to help first-timer families buy a resale flat to live together or close to their parents or married children.

We will also study whether we can further help those who wish to buy a resale flat to live near their parents.

Our goal is to promote mutual care and support across all towns in Singapore. Our mission is to build strong family ties, generation after generation.

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Ubin is for all

June 14, 2015

Ubin is for all

Singaporeans love Pulau Ubin for its lush greenery, rustic landscape and laid-back charm.  Animals are fond of Ubin too.

Ubin is home to a treasure trove of biodiversity, some of which are not even found on mainland. For example, the Ashy Roundleaf Bat is a native of Ubin and the Lesser False Vampire Bat is only found in Pulau Ubin and Pulau Tekong.

We are helping these animals, bats and birds, with some of their housing needs :)

NParks is setting up bat houses across P Ubin for the bats to roost.  We are also making provisions to encourage nesting for three uncommon bird species — the Red-wattled Lapwing, the Baya Weaver and the Blue-throated Bee-eater.

Other resident wildlife in Ubin — including herons, crakes, rails, kingfishers, dragonflies, and frogs — will also benefit from our housing programme.  We are installing floating wetland units at the Pekan Quarry. They can look forward to having more nesting and roosting sites.

In time to come, these efforts should see even more birds, bats, insects and many more on the island!

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Enhanced Lease Buyback Scheme Gets a Good Reception

June 12, 2015

Through the Lease Buyback Scheme (LBS), the elderly living in HDB flats can use the tail-end of their flat leases to fund their retirement plan, without leaving their flats. Since LBS was launched in 2009, we have taken on board public feedback and made several enhancements to the scheme.

The latest enhancements took effect on 1 April 2015. We extended LBS to 4-room flats, raised the income ceiling from $3,000 to $10,000, offered varying leases, and allowed households with two or more owners to get more upfront cash.

The enhancements were well received. Over two months, 450 households applied for LBS. If all are successful, this will be a 50% increase over the 965 households currently participating under LBS.

A quick look at the profile of the new LBS applicants:

First, half (214) of the applicants are 4-room flat owners.

Second, the other half (236) own 3-room or smaller flats. They must have found the new LBS more attractive now.

Third, 32 (7%) have monthly income exceeding $3,000.

Fourth, households with two or more owners make up 50% of applicants, compared to 33% of existing LBS households. They will enjoy extra upfront cash due to the lower CPF top-up requirement.

Meanwhile, we are reviewing the Studio Apartment and 2-room flat schemes to address the frequent public feedback on the differences between them. Both flat types are identical in physical size but offer different terms to suit different clientele. We will see if the schemes can be restructured while continuing to serve our residents’ needs.

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Additional Findings

June 4, 2015

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Our researchers at the Singapore Botanic Gardens discovered two new species of plants recently – Hanguana rubinea and Hanguana triangulata. The two species are not just new to science but are found only in Singapore! This makes the discovery especially significant.

Picture1Until these latest finds, botanists had assumed that there was only a single species, Hanguana malayana, in Singapore. But while examining a group of forest herbs belonging to the genus Hanguana, our researchers noticed remarkable differences in the plants, such as their size, flower structure, colour of the ripe fruits, and even the shapes of their seeds. As these plants are sometimes situated close to walking paths, visitors to Bukit Timah or MacRitchie would have passed these plants many times without realising that some of these are in fact new species.

With the discovery of the Zingiber singapurense (a ginger) last year, we now have three plant species found nowhere else in the world. These discoveries prove that size does not matter when it comes to biodiversity.

Besides the discovery of the new species, our researchers’ forest surveys have yielded other amazing results. For example, thirty plant species presumed to be extinct in Singapore have been rediscovered. And six species were found to be new records to Singapore.

These discoveries testify to the importance of biodiversity research. It allows us to better understand our local flora and fauna.

Incidentally, the two new Hanguana plant species have red and white berries, our national colours. At SG50, they are nature’s timely gift to us.

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Green Therapy

May 21, 2015

Mr Lee Kuan Yew greened up Singapore as he felt strongly that “a blighted urban landscape, a concrete jungle destroys the human spirit. We need the greenery of nature to lift our spirits.”

To better understand and quantify greenery’s benefits, NParks is embarking on two research studies, in collaboration with NUS and KTPH:

Park Prescription examines the positive effects of physical activity in parks with clinical research;

Horticultural Therapy investigates the effects of parks and gardening on the mental health of the elderly.

We hope to gain further insights on such greening effects through research.

But Singaporeans know instinctively all along — that green spaces promote physical and mental well-being.  Who does not want to live in or near a garden?

That is why we set out to ensure that 80 per cent of homes in Singapore are within a 10-minute walk from a park, and aim to raise this to 90 per cent by 2030.

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