Budget 2018 Speech by 2M Desmond Lee: Transforming Our Built Environment

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Enable the Transformation of the Built Environment Sector, supported by Technology and a Productive Workforce

Mr Saktiandi asked how we will create a high tech Built Environment (BE) sector that creates good jobs for Singaporeans and improves opportunities for local firms. 

Built Environment Transformation

Over the past year, the Government has been partnering our industry, unions, and institutes of higher learning (IHLs) to formulate Industry Transformation Maps for key sectors in the Built Environment cluster. These are construction, real estate, security, environmental services, and landscaping. These five sectors cover the span of the infrastructure life-cycle, from conception, design, and construction; to operations and maintenance. We want to help firms level up their capabilities, seize new opportunities and create good jobs for Singaporeans. 

So we are now shifting gears to implement these plans. For example, the Construction ITM focuses on two areas to improve productivity and competitiveness in our sector. These are Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DfMA), and Integrated Digital Delivery (IDD).   

DfMA involves the prefabrication of building components in a highly automated and mechanised manner, just like the manufacturing process, before onsite assembly. This saves time, reduces reliance on low-skilled foreign labour, and results in more consistent quality. As Minister Lawrence Wong had said, we need to make major shifts in the way we build to achieve better results. Driving DfMA adoption for greater productivity is one such decisive shift. To help our firms do so, we will continue to create lead demand, and at the same time build more Integrated Construction and Pre-Fabrication Hubs (ICPHs) to ensure a sufficient supply of pre-fabricated building components. By 2020, we target to increase DfMA adoption rate to 40% of new developments, up from about 20% today. 

We are also pushing for greater adoption of Building Information Modelling (BIM) and Integrated Digital Delivery (IDD). As Mr Saktiandi has described, BIM helps firms visualise detailed building designs in virtual 3D form before they are actually built, thereby minimising potential issues during construction. IDD builds on top of BIM to connect various project parties through digital information. It also provides useful information about the building, for future maintenance or retrofitting. Since 2015, building plans for developments larger than 5,000 sqm have to be submitted to BCA and other regulatory agencies using BIM. 86% of our large consultants and 65% of our large contractors now make good use of BIM. We will also drive IDD adoption so that our Built Environment sector can reap further benefits from the entire construction and building life-cycle. To facilitate this, we will develop shared platforms and standards to increase IDD interoperability across the entire BE value chain. By 2020, we target to have between 40 to 60 projects adopting IDD, compared to 5 projects today. 

Sir, adoption of these technologies is not just for big companies. Many smaller firms are also building up their capabilities in DfMA and IDD, and one such example is Tong Hai Yang, which is a home-grown construction and interior firm. The firm set up a sub-division to explore DfMA and this led it to develop its modular Prefabricated Bathroom Units (PBUs), as well as customised solutions to improve the fabrication and on-site deployment of its product. Another example is Shin Construction, a local SME specialising in plumbing. As a plumbing sub-contractor for a residential development, Shin’s adoption of BIM helped eliminate potential clashes between mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) pipes and air-conditioning ducts. This helped the project team avoid abortive works and delays during the construction phase. 

As Er Dr Lee Bee Wah noted, local contractors also need to build up their capabilities and track record to succeed both locally and abroad. In this regard, Er Dr Lee said that stringent pre-qualifications in government projects could prevent local firms from qualifying and hence building up relevant experience. We should clarify that pre-qualifications are not intended to limit opportunities, but to ensure that tenderers have the ability to tackle important and complex public works, such as MRT or deep tunnelling projects. While it is up to agencies to set their own requirements, they certainly have to be fair, and not be unduly onerous. They should also ensure that their tenders obtain an adequate number of bids, to ensure fair competition. 

Our approach to help firms is to give them the resources they need to build up their capabilities, so they become more competitive. For example, contractors can tap on various schemes under BCA’s Construction Productivity and Capability Fund (CPCF), to build up their capabilities and to upgrade their workforce. About $530 million in funds have already been committed under the CPCF, benefiting over 9,000 firms, 90% of which are our SMEs. In tandem, we also reviewed our procurement framework to place more emphasis on quality and this will facilitate healthier and more sustainable competition. With improved capabilities, local contractors will better their chances of qualifying for more construction projects.

In addition, we will also try to help our local firms internationalise if they wish to do so, by finding opportunities for them to team up for large overseas ventures. If our firms can offer together a unique “Singaporean” way of undertaking the entire development cycle, such as through BIM and IDD, this will certainly enhance their competitive edge. One example of an opportunity is in Amaravati, the new capital city of the state of Andhra Pradesh in India. A Singaporean consortium comprising Ascendas-Singbridge and Sembcorp has secured a start-up area to kick-start the new city’s development. Singapore companies with the relevant expertise should consider whether they can export their services there as part of the consortium.

Real Estate ITM
Sir, we also launched the Real Estate ITM last month, focusing on two areas: one – property transactions and two – facilities management (FM). 

In the property transactions space, we aim to streamline the process to make it more convenient for buyers, sellers, and agents.

For Facilities Management, our goal is to transform the way we maintain our infrastructure so that we can be more efficient and effective. 

Mr Randolph Tan is quite right when he said that we need to make good use of technology and better streamline our building management operations. This is especially important as our buildings and infrastructure age, and as we continue to face manpower constraints. We will therefore encourage building owners and MCSTs to invest in better and more effective FM solutions, such as real-time monitoring and predictive maintenance. This will streamline their processes, enhance user experience, and reap long-term savings. This will of course also depend on the demand; that the buyers of these services, such as condos, industrial properties and commercial buildings recognise the value and the savings that can be reaped through having smart FM capabilities.  

We will also encourage consultants and developers to systematically consider maintainability outcomes in the design and construction phase. This will enhance the sustainability of our buildings, by reducing life-cycle maintenance costs arising from inefficient design.

To operationalise this, BCA will be bringing industry, unions and the government together in a Tripartite FM Implementation Committee (FMIC) to formulate, oversee, and review the implementation of the plans for this sector.


There are many synergies between the various ITMs under the Built Environment cluster. Platforms developed under one ITM could also benefit companies in different stages of the building life cycle. Firms in this ecosystem can do much more to work together across functions and across sectors. And to drive our Built Environment implementation efforts, BCA will set up a transformation office for the whole Built Environment sector, as previously announced. 

We will call this office Build.SG to reflect its purpose of galvanising industry transformation to build our future city. While its initial focus will be to implement the Construction ITM, its longer term goal is to reap synergies from the various ITMs in the Built Environment cluster. Build.SG will work closely with Trade Associations and Chambers (TACs), IHLs, and unions, to engage our industry and turn our ITM plans into action. In particular, it will focus on helping firms build capabilities and deploy key technologies; and lending support to firms keen on exploring overseas opportunities. Build.SG will also act as a one-stop career office to attract, retain, and up-skill PMETs in the Built Environment domain. 

Built Environment transformation is more than just about effecting firm-level change. Those working in the sector must also upgrade themselves to continue to thrive in the industry. And employers need to provide their employees with opportunities to do so.

I met Mr Muhammad Shaban at the launch of JTC’s J-Ops Command Centre last month. After graduating from ITE, Shaban joined JTC in 1995 as a lift technician carrying out lift maintenance work. With JTC’s encouragement, he expanded into more complex areas, such as Building Management Systems. Eventually, his expertise enabled him to start taking on greater responsibilities, including supervising less experienced technical staff. He is now a key member of JTC’s Building Management Division, overseeing day-to-day operations in the J-Ops Command Centre, which is a centralised command nerve centre that monitors building operations and performance across JTC’s buildings. There, he works with building managers and engineers in building diagnosis and fault detection.

We have invited Shaban to contribute to the improvement of the FM sector at the national level through the Tripartite FM Implementation Committee. And I am glad that he has agreed to take up this challenge. 

It is people like Shaban, with real, deep skills and experience, who thrive on new challenges, continuously upgrade their skills, and who are passionate about their work, that will enable us to transform our Built Environment sector and provide new opportunities for Singapore firms and Singaporean employees.
Cities of Tomorrow

In our BE transformation journey, we also want firms and the research community to partner us in creating new technologies and solutions. 

As part of this effort, MND and our partner agencies will be launching a series of calls for research ideas under the Cities of Tomorrow R&D Programme over the next few months, committing up to $40m of research funds. We hope that the industry and research community will collaborate with us in this journey to transform the Built Environment sector through innovation.

Future-Proofing Our Infrastructure

So far, we have spoken about our efforts to transform the Built Environment sector to grow our economy and create good jobs. 

However, as our city ages, and as our focus also begins to be on facilities management and maintenance of the city, we will also need to find ways to future-proof our infrastructure, so that it continues to be safe and functional.

Mr Chong Kee Hiong has asked how we ensure that buildings are designed and constructed to be structurally safe; enforce regular maintenance and checks; and grow a sustainable pool of local skilled technical staff to support this. 

Building for Safety

There are already measures to ensure building safety. For examples, developers must appoint a QP or Qualified Person, who is a registered Professional Engineer, to carry out structural design, and for more complex works, the design must be checked by independent Accredited Checkers. A QP and their site supervisors must supervise building works to ensure that they are done in accordance with approved plans. Building materials must also comply with prescribed standards, and be tested by accredited laboratories. BCA will conduct site audits to ensure compliance with requirements.

Ensuring Regular Maintenance

BCA also requires regular inspections to ensure buildings remain structurally safe.

As Mr Chong pointed out, it is also important to ensure that non-structural aspects like building facades are well maintained, especially as the city grows older. 

We have studied this, and will be introducing façade inspection requirements. The regime will focus on buildings taller than 13 metres and older than 20 years, as they may pose higher risks. Inspections must be carried out by trained personnel, and be conducted once every seven years. Now this takes into consideration the expected lifespan of some common façade materials, allows for detection of façade deterioration to facilitate timely repairs, and aligns with the typical length of Repair and Redecoration cycles or R&R cycles for HDB estates and the majority of condominium developments, to save costs. We aim to finalise the relevant legislation by end of this year. Building owners will be given about one year’s lead time to prepare, before the requirement comes into effect. BCA will continue to engage stakeholders on implementation details, to minimise the burden of cost. 

We will also support the new façade inspection regime, by introducing inspection guidelines and strengthening R&D efforts to look into more effective and productive ways to carry out façade inspections. This could include the use of camera-equipped drones to check building façade conditions, which I understand has been used overseas, by companies like Industrial Skyworks in Canada and Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates in the US.
Ensuring High-Quality Lifts

I also agree with Mr Chong that proper lift maintenance is important. That is why we earlier tightened BCA’s maintenance regime for lifts to ensure their safety and functionality.

For HDB lifts in particular, we have also put in place additional procurement and maintenance processes to improve lift safety and performance.  We are continuing to improve these processes, and are now studying how to better evaluate downstream maintenance costs in the procurement stage, so that HDB can better differentiate between lift suppliers. For example, we are studying the evaluation of tender pricing over a longer time period via longer lock-in maintenance periods for lift suppliers, as well as placing higher weightage on quality scores as compared to price scores in tenders.

The other part of the equation is to build a sufficient pool of competent personnel to conduct the required checks and servicing. 

Last year, BCA and our Labour Movement formed the Lift & Escalator Sectoral Tripartite Committee (STC) to look into ways to professionalise the industry and to attract more locals to join the sector. 

I understand that the STC will provide its full recommendations later this year. But one recommendation being seriously considered is a voluntary progressive wage model or PWM for local lift technicians. The PWM will be competency-based. Each wage level will be defined by specific skillsets and responsibilities. This sets out clear progression pathways for lift technicians, and ensures they are remunerated appropriately for their skills and effort. We hope that companies will come on board, and work together to build up a sustainable pipeline of skilled local lift technicians.

Ensuring Well-Maintained Public Housing

It is also important for us to ensure that our public housing remains safe and well-maintained. 

In that regard, some members have asked if we can do more to address maintenance issues faced by flat owners. Generally, while we strive to minimise downstream maintenance through high quality construction, flat owners also play a part in maintaining their flats as they age.  Nonetheless, HDB has, on a goodwill basis, continued to assist flat owners should they raise maintenance issues, and advise them on possible follow-up actions. In addition, we offer heavily subsidised upgrading works under the Home Improvement Programme (HIP) to address common maintenance issues for older flats built up to 1986. For issues such as ceiling leaks and spalling concrete which occur outside HIP, residents can apply for a 50% subsidy under HDB’s Goodwill Repair Assistance scheme, or GRA. Finally, for tiles originally provided by HDB, HDB will replace dislodged ones within 15 years from the date of sale to the first owner. This is more generous than the private sector provision. Taken together, these measures – including efforts at the local level, have helped keep the maintenance cost of our flats low for the majority of HDB residents. 

Other Cuts

Let me briefly address the remaining cuts.

Er Dr Lee spoke about difficulties faced by some landed property owners in accessing their neighbours’ property to undertake repair. If homeowners face such difficulties, they can seek help from their Neighbourhood Committees or other dispute resolution channels, such as the Community Mediation Centres, to try to resolve the issues amicably. Nevertheless, we will study to see if legislative changes are needed.

Ms Sylvia Lim spoke about owners of landed properties affected by breakaway works. There are already requirements on the homeowner to ensure that any breakaway works are done properly.  This includes plastering and painting the exposed wall. The appointed QP has a professional duty to ensure that the works are structurally safe and done in accordance with all requirements. 

Should issues like water seepage arise later on, we encourage neighbours to resolve them in an amicable manner, or via the dispute resolution channels which I mentioned earlier. If there are complaints about structural issues, BCA will investigate and take appropriate enforcement action for any breach of the Building Control Act. Having said that, similar to my response to Er Dr Lee, we will study whether legislative changes are needed.

Mr Png Eng Huat asked about the allotment of Heavy Vehicle Parking spaces. His concern is about the availability of Heavy Vehicle Parking lots at the local level. I understand that in his discussion with URA, as part of the ongoing Master Plan discussions, he has raised these queries, and we will continue to address them at the local level.

URA also allows mutual exchanges of season parking locations amongst drivers within its Heavy Vehicle Parks through an online platform. Through such measures, we hope to assist heavy vehicle drivers with their parking issues. Likewise, we continue to encourage employers to play their part by providing the necessary commute facilities for their staff.

Dr Daniel Goh asked if designs could be improved to mitigate noise pollution from vehicles in multi-storey carparks. Sir, noise mitigation is a consideration when HDB designs and plans HDB estates. Specific to carparks, HDB considers the orientation and distance between them and residential blocks, and the placement of physical barriers such as communal facilities as well as greenery, to screen the noise. We will continue to incorporate good planning considerations and make use of technology where appropriate, such as noise modelling, to mitigate noise impact.  

Dr Daniel Goh also asked about the impact of prefabricated construction methods on homeowners’ renovation options. Under both traditional and prefabricated construction, home owners are not allowed to hack or remove structural elements. However, flats built with prefabricated prefinished volumetric construction tend to have thicker structural columns. HDB is studying ways to give flat owners more flexibility for renovation even in such units. 

HDB has also facilitated renovations. For example, we no longer provide kitchen walls, so that home owners need not hack them during renovations. Since 2015, HDB has also used drywalls for non-load-bearing internal partition walls, and these are easier to remove compared to traditional concrete walls.

Lastly, some members have spoken about animal issues, and human-animal interactions.  Mr Louis Ng described his more recent experience working with AVA on animal protection issues.

 I would like to thank the Member for his encouraging words.  AVA’s officers will be very encouraged by what he has said. AVA will continue to partner Institutes of Higher Learning, Animal Welfare Groups (AWGs), and the broader public to address human-animal issues and develop solutions, using a humane, science-based approach that involves close partnerships with the community. This year, AVA will launch a Trap-Neuter-Release-Manage Programme for stray dogs. We look forward to working closely with AWGs and veterinarians to make this programme a success.    

Er Dr Lee asked for stricter laws against animal feeding, particularly for cats. Certainly, irresponsible feeding creates problems for everyone. In this regard, AVA has been working with animal welfare groups and other agencies to educate the public about responsible feeding practices. 

That said, we recognise that there are a small number of irresponsible feeders despite this increased engagement. So for hotspots with persistent cases, we will ask our agencies to step up enforcement. We welcome Members’ feedback on specific areas to focus on. We believe that this combination of measures, both education and enforcement, will help to reduce irresponsible feeding over time.


We are entering an exciting phase in the transformation of our Built Environment sector, which will lead to added growth and good jobs for Singaporeans. 

In this process, we will continue to future-proof our existing infrastructure, to ensure that they remain safe and functional in for the long term.

Collectively, we will continue to shape our urban environment into one that affords new and exciting opportunities for Singaporeans, and a vibrant and exciting future city.

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