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Incentives for developers, building owners to ‘transform’ city centre, build more homes

SINGAPORE — City centres are no longer just places to work, but have begun to evolve into spaces where people also want to live and spend their leisure time.

An artist's impression of an urban neighbourhood on Anson Road in the Central Business District.

An artist's impression of an urban neighbourhood on Anson Road in the Central Business District.

SINGAPORE — City centres are no longer just places to work, but have begun to evolve into spaces where people also want to live and spend their leisure time.

With this in mind, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) has pushed out two new schemes to help transform Singapore’s financial and commercial centre into a vibrant mixed-use urban neighbourhood which does not sleep.

The Central Business District (CBD) Incentive Scheme and the Strategic Development Incentive (SDI) Scheme were announced on Wednesday (March 27) during the launch of the authority’s draft masterplan.

These two schemes will replace the Bonus Plot Ratio Scheme introduced in 1989, which allowed for intensification of commercial buildings near designated MRT stations.

WHY IT MATTERS

The new schemes are meant to encourage developers to build more homes and hotels in the CBD, and for commercial building owners to collaborate and redevelop adjacent properties to revamp entire streets or precincts.

The aim is to rejuvenate “strategic areas” around Singapore, particularly Orchard Road and the Marina Bay area.

Ms Chou Mei, URA’s group director for conservation and urban design, said that in recent years, cities around the world have placed a “greater emphasis on becoming multi-experiential places to be”, by offering a dynamic mix of uses and amenities as well as high quality public spaces.  

Speaking at the launch of the draft masterplan, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong noted that there is a need to introduce a broader mix of uses to the CBD, which largely consists of office developments.

Through the CBD Incentive Scheme, URA is giving developers a higher gross plot ratio to encourage the conversion of existing office developments to hotel and residential uses.

The gross plot ratio of a site is the ratio of the gross floor area of a building or buildings to the land area of the site — or the permitted amount of development allowed for a site.

THE CBD INCENTIVE SCHEME

  •  This scheme applies to developments in the Anson Road, Cecil Street, Robinson Road, Shenton Way and Tanjong Pagar areas.

  • It will cover buildings in these locations within the CBD that are predominantly used for offices and are at least 20 years old from the date of their last Temporary Occupation Permit (TOP).

  • A gross plot ratio increase of between 25 and 30 per cent will be given, depending on the location and land use. They may be private residences with shops on the first floor or hotels or a mixed development with commercial and residential uses.

  • To safeguard the quality of the developments, only sites that meet a minimum site area will be eligible for incentives.

  • For Anson Road, the minimum site area is 1,000 sqm. Cecil Street, Robinson Road, Shenton Way and Tanjong Pagar will require 1,000 sqm for all corner sites, and 2,000 sqm for all other sites.

  • The scheme will take effect from the date of gazette for URA’s 2019 masterplan, which is yet to be determined but likely to be later this year.
     

The Urban Redevelopment Authority is looking to transform parts of the Central Business District into mixed-use areas. Photo: URA

THE SDI SCHEME

  • The aim of this scheme is to help rejuvenate commercial buildings islandwide that are at least 20 years old from the date of their TOP. These would include mixed-use developments with predominantly commercial uses.

  • In particular, URA is looking at those in areas such as Orchard Road, the CBD and Marina Centre, which comprise Marina Bay, Suntec City, Marina Square and Millenia Walk.

  • To ensure redevelopments have a “strong transformational impact”, proposals should include a minimum of two adjacent sites.

  • Predominantly residential developments across the island, as well as sites that fall within the designated areas for the CBD Incentive Scheme, will not be considered under this scheme.

  • The scheme is rolled out on March 27 this year for a period of five years from the date of gazette for the masterplan.

WILL IT WORK?

Industry players were split on the move to encourage people to live within the financial district.

Mr Chris Koh, director of property firm Chris International, believes that it might work.

Cities such as Beijing in China and even the Bonifacio Global City in the Philippines have vibrant city centres because they have residential, commercial buildings and even market places located together, he said.

“If we can achieve this, we will not only attract workers into the business district area, we will also attract tourists, and even locals might head in to shop,” he said.

However, Mr Ku Swee Yong, chief executive officer of real estate agency International Property Advisor, is wondering who might be willing to live within the CBD given the likely high price tag of properties in a prime location.

The wealthy, he said, will want to live in a larger home area outside of the CBD. “If you’re the head of a listed company, you’ll be living in a landed property.”

Mr Nicholas Mak, executive director at real estate investment firm ZACD Group, said that some families may also be put off by the lack of amenities such as schools or even market places.

On the other hand, it may appeal to the younger set with no children. Ms Ong Choon Fah, chief executive officer of property consultancy firm Edmund Tie & Company, said that a younger generation of Singaporeans, not just expatriates, will find the idea of living within the CBD appealing because of the convenience it offers.

She also noted that one- and two-person households are on the rise in Singapore.

“(These households) will not mind paying a little bit more (for a home) as they can save on transport to work or even parking fees.

“It may not seem so attractive now, but when we get all these amenities and put the puzzle pieces together, I think it can be very exciting,” Ms Ong said.

WHO ELSE WILL BENEFIT?

Generally, property analysts agreed that the SDI Scheme offers a good incentive for developers to tear down older buildings to redevelop the area.

Mr Ku pointed out that Singapore has many “old, small buildings” in clusters around Bugis Junction, Middle Road and Queen Street, for example.

“If there is no incentive to redevelop, some of the owners could hold onto those buildings and maintain them for another 20 to 30 years,” he said, adding that maintenance could be costly since the buildings may have been built with poorer quality material.

“Having the SDI Scheme nudges them to consider redevelopment to incorporate more efficient designs, better specifications, latest safety and security technology, more friendly access for the disabled, and so on."

Mr Ku added that in areas such as Kitchener Road and Lavender Street, there are many buildings of different sizes.

It would be ideal if these building owners could come together to decide what they want to do with their properties, he suggested.  

“The streetscape will then have a chance to get new life.”

An added benefit of the SDI Scheme, he said, is that there will be “a lot of work available” for architects and urban planners to redesign the eligible precincts.

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