Complete Property Market Updates of Singapore

June 19, 2008

Making of a lively, liveable global city

Filed under: Commercial,General — Propertymarketupdates @ 5:48 am

URA’s Master Plan looks at softer features of urban life and new needs like population growth

EVERY five years, Singapore’s city planners draw up a plan that will change the face of the island and affect the lives of everyone living and working here.

It is a gargantuan undertaking, ironically made more difficult by the country’s small size.

This is because the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) needs to pack a good number of objectives into planning for a space that is just 704 square km.

It needs to ensure, for example, that there is enough space for companies and businesses to site offices and factories. Otherwise, land cost issues could deter them from locating here and crimp economic growth.

But it also needs to pay attention to the living environment. This means setting aside land for homes in attractive surroundings and ensuring that there are enough leisure options to keep the island’s residents entertained.

It is these principles that have guided the 2008 URA Draft Master Plan, released by Minister for National Development Mah Bow Tan yesterday.

‘The challenge for our planners is to make it possible for this vision to be realised given our limited land resources,’ he said.

And getting the balance right is crucial in what is increasingly becoming a high-stakes contest between global cities to attract investment and top talent.

‘You have cities that are very environmentally friendly, but tend to be very boring,’ said Mr Mah.

‘Or, you have cities that are very lively, very vibrant but not so liveable…the air quality is not so good.’

This is why the theme of URA’s new master plan is ‘Where our future is. Great opportunities, good life’, he added.

The plan envisions Singapore in 2020 as a city that is ‘distinctive in its ability to offer a unique combination of economic opportunity, vibrant lifestyle and quality environment, for a cosmopolitan population’.

Urban planning is not new in Singapore and started before the country gained independence in 1965.

The first master plan was forged in 1958 by the British colonial government. It regulated land use by zoning areas and introducing land density and plot ratio controls that dictated how much built-up space would be allowed in a given area.

Land was reserved for schools, infrastructural facilities and other community uses. New satellite towns away from the city centre were also planned.

Since then, the master plan has undergone eight reviews and various amendments.

The most significant was in 1998, when the Government implemented major plot ratio changes in a forward-looking plan to make better use of land.

‘There was a fundamental change in thinking in 1998. The Government put out 55 development guide plans, which gave a clear idea of its development directions for each region,’ said Knight Frank’s managing director Tan Tiong Cheng.

With that understanding, land owners and developers could, for the first time, plan confidently. They knew, for instance, what type of developments were slated for which site and how high the buildings could go.

‘That was the first new Master Plan, so major changes were made then,’ recalled Mrs Cheong Koon Hean, chief executive officer of the URA.

Before that, the planners made updates to the plan, rather than relook it from a fresh perspective, she said.

The next master plan review in 2003 was a broader, large-scaled plan that focused on parks and waterbodies as well as identity and heritage.

It was not a significant departure from before, as major changes had already been introduced in 1998.

Experts say this year’s master plan review is more focused. Apart from detailed plans for Jurong, Kallang and Paya Lebar, the emphasis was also on the softer features of urban life and new needs like population growth.

In 2005, the URA started drawing up a plan for more leisure offerings.

‘We were looking into how else to make Singapore an even more fun and restful place,’ said Mrs Cheong.

URA planners looked at the whole island, took stock of what Singapore already had and acted on the results of a lifestyle survey which showed, for instance, that people liked to see parks near their homes.

Then, they worked out a plan – the first islandwide one – that capitalised on Singapore’s green assets.

The resulting Leisure Plan, unveiled earlier this week, adds 900ha of park land and triples the size of Singapore’s park connector network. One result: A stunning new 150km round-island cycling route.

In the North and West regions, for example, many of the new homes planned will be located near reservoirs and parks such as Jurong Lake and Lower Seletar Reservoir.

But the URA also looked carefully at each of Singapore’s five regions.

A team of six key planners worked on the proposals for each region, while teams of around 10 key planners drew up the detailed plans for the new growth areas such as Kallang Riverside.

In all, more than 300 officers comprising urban planners, architects and technical staff got involved.

Hours were spent walking the ground to get a feel for the areas under study. And the URA went overseas to get ideas.

‘We looked to cities like New York for its exciting nightlife and rich arts scene and to Seoul for its success in creating beautiful urban waterways,’ a URA spokesman told The Straits Times.

The plans for Kallang Riverside, for example, have their roots in waterfront housing and hotel developments in the United States city of Miami as well as Barcelona, Spain.

Another theme that runs clearly through the 2008 Master Plan is the decentralisation of urban activity to commercial nodes outside the Central Business District.

It is a strategy that first made an appearance in the URA’s 1991 concept plan, with the Tampines Regional Centre identified as the first decentralised commercial hub.

Today, Tampines is dubbed the ‘Shenton Way of the East’, with many banks having set up backroom operations there.

The idea, as Mr Mah puts it, is to ‘bring jobs closer to homes and homes closer to jobs’.

Therefore, under this year’s plan, Paya Lebar Central will be further developed and more jobs will be introduced to the North, North-east and East regions in various business and manufacturing parks.

Conversely, more housing will be introduced in the West region, which traditionally has been an industrial stronghold, in areas like the Jurong Lake District, Hillview and Choa Chu Kang.

With leisure amenities also coming up in all these regions, and transport links between the regions strengthened, the hope is that people will need to travel less to the city. And this will reduce the burden on the country’s transport infrastructure.

Finally, with tourism now being a key pillar of growth, the new master plan has set aside more land for hotels to cater to tourists coming here to enjoy the attractions.

New hotels have been planned for areas such as Chinatown, Singapore River, Paya Lebar and Sentosa.

Initial reactions to the plan have been favourable, with developers applauding the clarity of the plans.

‘It gives you a good idea of what the Government will be doing in the next five to 10 years and gives us investors more confidence,’ said Mr Allen Law, director of the Park Hotel Group.

‘In less developed countries, you don’t know what type of supply may spring up next to your development.’

And for all the proposals for change mooted, some appreciated that certain policies would not change.

For example, there are no major plot ratio changes this year, which developers said may be a good thing, given the current market uncertainty.

The property market has had its quietest period in years as many buyers kept to the sidelines this year.

The URA has also pledged to release new land parcels at a pace that is in line with market demand and conditions.

Overall, Mr Simon Cheong, president of the Real Estate Developers’ Association of Singapore, said the 2008 Master Plan provides for a very sustainable global city, which will offer a lot of opportunities for developers.

‘It’s very comprehensive and not a cut-and-paste approach,’ added Mr Cheong. ‘There’s already a soul in Singapore and you want to maintain that.’

The public is invited to give its feedback on the 2008 Draft Master Plan at an exhibition being held at the URA Building in Maxwell Road until June 20. It is open between 9am and 7pm from Monday to Friday and 9am to 1pm on Saturdays. Admission is free.

Source : Straits Times – 24 May 2008

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