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A more people-centric Master Plan

It takes a holistic approach, focusing on quality of life

[SINGAPORE] The Draft Master Plan (MP) 2013 has moved beyond numbers and allocating land for various uses, into taking a more holistic approach to developing new activity clusters and encouraging green spaces.

Thought by various consultants as being more inclusive and people-centric, the latest plan shone the spotlight on the softer aspects of urban planning, such as quality of life, the creation of a more liveable environment, and sports and recreation.

While MP 2013 is still fundamentally driven by economics, there is a stronger emphasis on community engagement and the creation of identity, said Chua Yang Liang, head of research, South-east Asia, at Jones Lang LaSalle.

But in light of the possibility of the population hitting the 6.9 million mark by 2030, some consultants were surprised that plot ratios were left largely unchanged in the latest plan.

"Perhaps the government is working towards a longer timeline and is looking to phase and gradually increase the plot ratios instead of a broad brush approach," said Colliers International research head Chia Siew Chuin.

"Phase-managing the increase could also prevent excessive speculative activities to realise potential values that could be tapped from increased building intensity," she said.

A sampling of 22 private residential developments that were either launched or sold via en bloc sales in 2013 did not show any increase in plot ratios, said Nicholas Mak, executive director, research and consultancy, at SLP International.

What stood out was the fact that the plot ratio for two of the properties, Hillview House and Lam Soon Industrial Building, were reduced from 1.92 in MP 2008 to 1.62 in MP 2013.

Both developments are existing industrial buildings on freehold residential land.

Similarly, a cluster of terrace factories at Hillview Terrace saw their plot ratios reduced from 1.92 in MP 2008 to 1.62 in MP 2013.

However, plot ratios at Holland Village, which was identified as one of the key areas to be further developed, rose significantly.

For instance, within the Holland Village extension, two residential plots at Holland Drive, which were acquired by the government under the Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS) in 2011, had their plot ratios raised from 2.8 to 4.6 and 3.6.

Most consultants cited fears of another round of en bloc sales exerting upward pressure on private home prices as the reason for why plot ratios were not increased. "Revisions in plot ratios are always the first (thing) stakeholders look forward to in a new Master Plan. But it is probably time to be realistic and realise that this isn't a sure path for owners to enjoy windfalls through en-bloc sales," said Ong Kah Seng, director at R'ST Research.

Given that the government has successfully unlocked land from other sources, there was no need to increase plot ratios, said Alan Cheong, Savills Singapore's head of research and consultancy.

"We still have pockets of infield sites in the heartland. Why would we want to increase plot ratio in established areas and soak up demand which is going to the new regions that the government is planning?" he asked.

The key is to expand more land and provide more communal spaces, said Donald Han, managing director of Chesterton Singapore. "Currently, 5.3 million people live in approximately 71,400 hectare (ha), or 74 persons per ha. By 2030, another 76,000 ha will be made available for an increased population of up to 1.9 million. This reflects a lower density ratio of about 49 persons per ha," he said.

Meanwhile, more focus should be given to the manufacturing sector to ensure that the real estate hardware continues to cater to the fast-changing nature of the sector, said Ms Chia.

Having shown a willingness to modify existing real estate templates to update the housing environment for the current needs of the population, such as through the introduction of public housing flats for singles and multi-generation housing units, the government needs to adopt a similar strategy to ensure that manufacturing-related companies still have a place in Singapore's factories, and are not disqualified as commercial entities in the economy, she said.

"If the government wishes to promote all spheres of business with an entrepreneurial spirit, there should also be affordable 'no-frills' commercial premises made available for businesses, including small-and-medium enterprises," she added.

That said, there has been a real effort to rejuvenate all the old and existing industrial spaces which have been key drivers for Singapore from the 1970s, said Desmond Sim, associate director at CBRE Research. "(As) we are going through economic restructuring, it looks like the industrial zoning will be zoned by clusters. So if a food manufacturer is in Defu and Defu is going to (focus on) light industrial, they will encourage the food manufacturer to move to a food belt like Bedok . . . This more concerted effort to cluster complementary industries together allows for economies of scale."