Budget debate

Calls to help innovation take root in the heartland

Trendy cafes located near a busy market in Toa Payoh Lorong 1. More help can be given to businesses located in HDB estates to enliven them, MPs said.
Trendy cafes located near a busy market in Toa Payoh Lorong 1. More help can be given to businesses located in HDB estates to enliven them, MPs said.ST FILE PHOTO

Even as plans are under way to build an industrial park focusing on innovation in Jurong West, the heartland should not be neglected, several MPs said yesterday.

The Jurong Innovation District will bring researchers, students and businesses together to develop new products and services.

But innovation should take place in Housing Board estates too, and more help can be given to businesses located in these areas to enliven them, the MPs added.

Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland- Bukit Timah GRC) said some heartland community clubs and libraries already function as flexible mobile workstations to let people work closer to home.

"These well-equipped and broadband-enabled smart work centres can also serve as initial workspaces for budding start-ups," he said.

Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh said there are merits to decentralising mega industrial districts and creating "innovation estates" in public housing estates.

Neighbourhoods will be more economically vibrant with the increased activity, and the different estates "could evolve into diverse specialisations". Bedok, he said, could well be a powerhouse for developing financial technology.

He added that he is worried the new industrial park in Jurong will be a "high-tech island detached from the rest of Singapore".

Mr Saktiandi Supaat (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) and Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC) said more could be done to help heartland shops and old brands survive, even as the focus is on helping start-ups succeed.

Mr Saktiandi noted that many small retailers are in the heartland and suggested that lunchtime parking rates could be lowered to attract visitors, so that town centres will not become "shuttered centres".

Ms Foo said home-grown companies and ageing family businesses could be given counselling services and advice to help them prepare for succession or reinvent their business model to stay alive.

"We must put in place measures to preserve and build on the precious value of these companies accumulated during Singapore's growing years," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 05, 2016, with the headline 'Calls to help innovation take root in the heartland'. Print Edition | Subscribe