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Govt cuts land sales under weight of supply

For H1 2014, MND will launch through confirmed list eight sites that can generate 4,630 private homes

Supply on the reserve list will also be trimmed 15.1 per cent to 6,955 units (including 605 ECs) in H1 next year from 8,195 units (inclusive of 535 ECs) - PHOTO: ST

[SINGAPORE] The 4,630 private homes that can be generated from the confirmed list sites slated for launch by the government in H1 next year is not only down 22.3 per cent from the current H2 2013 slate but is also the lowest half-yearly quantum since H1 2010, when the figure was 2,925 units.

Across the board, the Ministry of National Development (MND) is scaling back the Government Land Sales (GLS) Programme for private housing, commercial and hotel sites for the first six months of 2014 to factor in the large supply pipeline. The move is seen as an attempt to engineer a soft landing.

For H1 2014, MND will be launching through the confirmed list eight sites that can generate a total of 4,630 private homes (including 2,165 executive condominiums) against 5,960 units (including 2,785 ECs) in the current slate. In all, there will be seven pure residential sites on the confirmed list in the first half next year, down from 10 currently.

MND noted the confirmed list supply will be "added to the existing large pipeline supply of about 97,400 private housing units (including ECs)".

Supply on the reserve list will also be trimmed 15.1 per cent to 6,955 units (including 605 ECs) in H1 next year from 8,195 units (inclusive of 535 ECs).

"The government is indirectly acquiescing to the fact that if they continue the previous torrid pace of supply for housing, the market will swing from deficit to glut for completed housing stock come 2017," observed Savills Singapore research head Alan Cheong.

DTZ's head of Singapore research, Lee Lay Keng, noted that transaction volume in the private residential market has fallen significantly since the total debt servicing ratio framework took effect in late-June.

SLP International executive director Nicholas Mak said the four EC sites in the confirmed list outnumber the three private condo sites, which is unprecedented. Tan Tiong Cheng, chairman of Knight Frank, said the "government probably thinks that bids for EC sites have been too aggressive lately". This, along with an expected drop in EC demand arising from the recently introduced 30 per cent mortgage servicing ratio cap for EC buyers, should help to moderate prices, he added.

For commercial space, the combined confirmed and reserve list supply of 193,340 sq metres (2.08 million sq ft) gross floor area (GFA) for H1 2014 reflects a big drop from 268,050 sq m under the current slate. It is also the lowest since H1 2006, when the total supply was at 125,505 sq m.

Savills' Mr Cheong said: "They are holding back supply of new office sites because come 2016-2017, a massive spike in supply from Marina Bay and Tanjong Pagar/Cecil Street is expected."

MND said two reserve-list sites - a white site in Marina View and a commercial land parcel in Sims Avenue - will "provide opportunities for the market to initiate the development of more commercial space, over and above the 1.1 million sq m GFA of office space in the pipeline, if there is demand".

No hotel site will be available via the GLS Programme in the next half-year for the first time since the reserve list system was minted in H2 2001. MND pointed to "a healthy pipeline supply of 12,700 hotel rooms".

Nonetheless, a spokesperson for the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) highlighted that developers may choose to develop some hotel rooms for the Sims Avenue commercial site and Marina View white site, after setting aside the minimum quantum of space that has to be developed for other uses (for example, offices). The current slate has three hotel sites, all on the reserve list. Two have been triggered for launch - at Havelock Road and East Coast Road. The third plot, at Race Course Road, will be removed from the reserve list to "facilitate a review of the land use intention" for the site.

Summing up its strategy, the Ministry said: "Supply from the GLS Programme, together with the large supply from projects in the pipeline, is expected to be adequate to meet the demand for private housing and commercial space over the next few years."

In all, seven new sites have been introduced for the next half, five of them through the confirmed list. These comprise two adjacent EC sites in Yishun St 51 near the Orchid Country Club Golf Course with tender closings at the same time under the "batched tender" system, and another pair of adjoining sites for private housing development along Fernvale Road near Jalan Kayu, also with simultaneous tender closing, plus an EC site in Sembawang Avenue.

The two new sites on the reserve list are a private housing site in Margaret Drive and an EC site in Sembawang Road/Canberra Link.

Most of the new sites are not "super hot", as SLP's Mr Mak put it. Industry players have been urging the authorities to head in this direction to put a lid on rising land prices. "If you put up prime sites when developers are hungry for land, you'll see bullish bids," said Chia Siew Chuin, director of research and advisory at Colliers International. She noted that the sites that have been carried over from the H2 2013 GLS Programme are more attractive than the new sites.

While market watchers agreed with the government's strategy of clipping land sales to avoid a glut building up, the soft-launching plan could go awry.

"One scenario is that with fewer sites on offer, if new entrants continue to bid, they may pit themselves against local players who will also need to replenish landbanks to continue their business. This heightened competition could start driving up land bids again, which could portend further hikes in private home prices," suggested Colliers' Ms Chia.