Tag Archives: URA

Landed house market on upward trend amidst dropping prices

538 landed homes were sold in the second quarter – this is the highest quarterly volume since the fourth quarter of 2012. Overall, the number of landed homes sold has increased, driven by falling prices and limited supply of landed homes. URA flash estimates released recently indicated that prices of landed residential properties fell further by 0.4 % for Q2, down from a 1.8 % drop in the previous quarter.

The market for good class bungalows (GCBs) is lukewarm although the market for smaller bungalows in GCB areas is on a rise. Good class bungalows (GCBs) are the most prestigious segment of landed property in Singapore.

On the GCB front, a caveat was lodged on June 12 for the most expensive one sold this year. The latest GCB sold was a $46 million bungalow in Queen Astrid Park on a 29,709 sq ft site, reportedly purchased by the family who controls oil trading group Hin Leong.

20 sales have taken place in GCB areas so far this year, worth a total of $432.2 million. These include properties with a plot size of less than 1,400 sq m. This is markedly more than the 14 transactions in the same period last year, which totalled $298.36 million.

Another upmarket landed segment, Sentosa Cove, has contrasting statistics. Sales at the exclusive waterfront precinct shot to seven this year from just four for the same period last year.


CFE calls for government to review land use and planning guidelines

The Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) calls for greater land-use flexibility by allowing complementary activities to be located near each other–  value chains and industries can be integrated and synergies enabled among developments in a precinct.

Given the blurring line between services and manufacturing, the CFE also proposed that flexibility of land use be allowed in industrial areas as this will open the way for businesses of different sectors and functions to co-locate, find synergies and catalyse innovation.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) is working with state industrial landlord JTC and the Economic Development Board (EDB) under Ministry of Trade and Industry.

Industry players say Singapore may need to create more zoning categories or expand existing definitions of use for industrial space.

Another planning guideline – that of the “60-40 rule”, which requires at least 60 per cent of gross space in a building or strata unit to be used for industrial activities, with at most 40 per cent left for ancillary purposes – is another restrictive policy that needs review.

The government has, in the past, rolled out “white” sites and business park white zones in the Master Plan to offer developers some autonomy in deciding the most appropriate mix of uses for each site. However, it has remained prescriptive in listing permissible uses and planning specifications for these sites.

The US practises what is called “performance zoning”, under which land development and use are circumscribed by performance standards; for example, these standards can limit the intensity of development by stipulating the maximum level of noise or strain on the transportation system.


Scheme for underground links in Orchard Road

Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) has scheme that provide cash grants for malls to build underground links along Orchard Road. The incentive started in 2004 and gives up to $28.7k psm for the construction of underground walkways. However there are little take up for the incentive. The biggest obstacle cited is cost, among other challenges.  Another challenge is the fear among malls that the links will allow flow to competitors.


Conserve the old but add some new extra space – Pearl Bank

That is the gist of a plan by owners of the historic Pearl Bank Apartments – and they have won tentative backing from the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).

The URA sees merit in conserving the horseshoe-shaped project in Outram, at 38 storeys the tallest residential building here when built in 1976.

It is also prepared to consider supporting some increase in gross floor area (GFA), in line with the management committee’s plan.

The owners want a conservation order for the building and propose that the GFA limit be lifted so a new residential block can be added. If they get the approvals, they then hope to entice a developer to rejuvenate the building.

The committee has called an extraordinary general meeting with owners tomorrow to seek consent from subsidiary proprietors.

A URA spokesman said that as the proposal affects the entire development and interests of subsidiary proprietors, all of them must be aware of the plan and agree. But she also said it “welcomes the ground-up initiative by the management committee to conserve Pearl Bank Apartments as there are merits for its conservation”.

“When the distinctive horseshoe-shaped building was completed in 1976, it was the tallest residential building in Singapore and had the highest density for residential development,” she told The Straits Times.

The conservation bid was set in motion last month, when owners representing about 45 per cent of overall share value voted to submit the application for voluntary conservation and redevelopment to the URA. More than 98 per cent were in favour.

The committee said in the letter to owners that it received a positive reply from the URA, as the authority is prepared to consider a maximum 15 per cent increase in GFA over and above the existing approved GFA of 55,102 sq m. This is subject to a cap of 430 units in all, including the 280-unit existing block, it said.

Under the plan, drawn up by the firm of Mr Tan Cheng Siong, who designed the original block, a 27-storey residential block may be built on the area now occupied by a five-storey carpark.

It will have a rooftop garden, a swimming pool and a bridge to the existing block’s 28th-floor common space. The owners will also ask the Singapore Land Authority to extend the 99-year lease.

The bid for conservation and redevelopment comes after three attempts at a collective sale from 2007 to 2011 – with no takers, owing to the high asking price.


China Square Central could be site for future service apartment development

A serviced apartment could be built at China Square Central, a development right in the heart of Chinatown.

Property firm Frasers Hospitality is eyeing the site for one of its Capri by Fraser outlets, The Straits Times understands.

The company already has a Capri near Changi Airport.

Frasers Commercial Trust (FCOT), a related entity which owns China Square Central, said the Urban Redevelopment Authority has given provisional permission for new work at the complex at 18, Cross Street.

This includes possible alterations to the centre as well as an additional gross floor area of 172,223 sq ft for hotel use. The site, which had an assigned gross plot ratio of 4.2, has also been rezoned to have no gross plot ratio.

FCOT’s manager is “still evaluating and exploring all options” on the property, which may be subject to other regulatory approvals, as well as commercial and financial viability, it said, adding that “no decision has been made”.

Frasers Hospitality operates the 313-unit Capri by Fraser in Changi Business Park, which opened in 2012.

Capri units are hybrid hotel and serviced apartments and cater to guests on shorter stays.

Frasers Hospitality also operates four other brands – Fraser Suites, Fraser Residence, Fraser Place, and Modena by Fraser, which is focused on China.

While there are many boutique hotels in the Chinatown area, plus the 367-room Parkroyal on Pickering, there is just one serviced apartment – Ascott Raffles Place, said Mr Desmond Sim, CBRE research head for Singapore and South-east Asia.

Ms Chia Siew Chuin, director of research and advisory at Colliers International, said the serviced apartment sector is generally considered more resilient and less volatile than the hotel market due to the longer average length of stay. At the same time, rising demand for shorter stays has meant the emergence of a new class of serviced apartments with hotel licences, she said.

Apart from Capri, these include the Ascott Raffles Place and the Pan Pacific Serviced Suites Beach Road.

Experts note that there appears to be an ample supply of hotel rooms, with no urgency for new construction given the falling tourist numbers on the back of uncertainties in the region, including the political events in Thailand.

No hotel sites feature in the first half of next year’s Government Land Sales programme.

CBRE’s Mr Sim said that the plans for Chinatown would support retail activities in the area.


19 land sites released for sale; expected to yield 8,770 homes

Kallang Bay view

Nineteen land sites were launched for sale on Thursday (Dec 4) under the first half of the Government Land Sales (GLS) Programme for 2015.

The 19 sites – six Confirmed List and 13 Reserve List sites – can collectively yield up to 8,770 private residential units once developed, the lowest in five years.

These will include 1,010 executive condominium (EC) units and 265,000 square metres of gross floor area of commercial space, the Ministry of National Development (MND) said.

In October 2014, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan had said that the supply of sites under the GLS Programme will be reduced.

Confirmed List sites go on sale regardless of interest from developers, while Reserve List sites are triggered for a public tender only if a developer makes an acceptable opening offer.

The Confirmed List comprises six private residential sites, including one EC site in Choa Chu Kang. Altogether, the parcels can yield about 3,020 private homes, lower than the 3,915 units offered in previous land sales programme in the second half of 2014.

Property watchers said the reduction is expected.

Ms Chia Siew Chuin, director of research and advisory at Colliers International, said: “The Government is likely to have taken into consideration the upcoming supply and the fact that the sales market is very slow.

“All things considered, the Government would have then decided to pull back the number of supply in the private residential market.”

However, the significant drop in the number of ECs expected has taken property watchers by surprise.

Only one EC site is on the Confirmed List and it can yield up to only 490 units. This compares to the estimated 1,520 units that could be developed from the Confirmed List of the last land sales programme in the second half of 2014.

Real estate firm PropNex said this is due to the fact that second-timers will have to pay a resale levy when they buy an EC in future.

Mr Mohamed Ismail, CEO of PropNex Realty, said: “Therefore, the Government probably has been a little bit more cautious not knowing how the demand is going to be and not to flood the market.”

“The concern will only be because ECs are truly meant for the Singaporeans’ aspirations, and those who cannot afford private property. And I suppose overall, I think we need a healthy number of ECs, in the ballpark of about 3,000 every year,” he added.

The Reserve List comprises nine private residential sites, one commercial and residential site, two commercial sites and one White site – where multiple uses are permitted. These sites can yield about 5,750 private residential units.

“Supply from the GLS Programme, together with supply from projects in the pipeline, will be adequate to meet the demand for private housing and commercial space over the next few years,” MND said.


The residential sites on the Confirmed List are located in the Outside Central Region and Rest of Central Region, the ministry said.

The commercial and residential site at Holland Road, originally placed on the second half of the 2014 Confirmed List, is the first sale site to be launched as part of the Holland Village Extension plan unveiled in the Master Plan 2014.

A Concept and Price Revenue Tender will be called for this site to ensure that the future development “enhances the unique charm and distinctive urban village character of the Holland Village Identity Node”, MND said.

It added that the site was transferred from the Confirmed List to the Reserve List to give developers more time to study the site and tender evaluation criteria before triggering it for sale.


A second commercial site in Woodlands Regional Centre at Woodlands Square has been released for sale under the Reserve List.

“This will sustain the development momentum of Woodlands Regional Centre as a major commercial node outside the city, in line with the Government’s objective of decentralising employment centres to bring job opportunities closer to homes,” MND said.

The Reserve List will have two other sites for predominantly office developments – a White site at Marina View and commercial site at Beach Road. Together with the Woodlands Square site, these sites will allow developers to initiate the development of more office space if they assess that there is demand, the ministry said.

Apart from the GLS Programme, the Government will also make available other supply of land and properties through its various agencies. These include localised retail facilities at parks, selected HDB estates, industrial estates, MRT stations, sport facilities, community centres and the leasing of vacant state properties for commercial uses, MND said.


New property zone in the making

IN what could be a precursor to the creation of a new class of space – between office and light industrial – JTC Corporation is understood to be spearheading the development of a building, expected to be in Woodlands, that will provide affordable space for rental to companiesthat provide manufacturing-related services but do not have industrial production in Singapore.

This is in response to feedback in recent years from trade associations that there is a lack of affordable office space in Singapore. At the same time, many businesses do not qualify for the use of cheaper premises zoned for Business 1 (or B1) use, where typically light industrial and warehouse uses are allowed – since they do not have manufacturing operations here.

Moreover, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) has a planning rule that effectively forbids the use of industrial space as pure offices. In the past few years, the authorities have strengthened enforcement action against unauthorised use of B1 space.

This has led to calls from some quarters urging URA and JTC to relax the definition of permitted uses in the B1 zone – to keep pace with the changing industrial production landscape, with a blurring of the traditional division between manufacturing and services.

However, instead of relaxing B1 use – which could be seen as penalising those that have been adhering to the approved uses of this zone and condoning those that have been flouting planning regulations – the authorities seem to prefer a new intermediate zone between B1 and commercial.

Industry observers reckon that rental in the new building could be slightly higher than that for B1.

It is thought that JTC is planning a pilot project to get a sense of the level of genuine demand for such space. If there is deep demand, the statutory board could offer more of such space or even sell land with the new zone through the Government Land Sales Programme for development by the private sector, guessed analysts.

Market watchers commented that the Woodlands location is ideal to test demand for the proposed zone.

Its proximity to Iskandar Malaysia would allow companies to locate their factories in Iskandar where industrial space is cheaper and house supporting value-added services in the JTC pilot project, said a market observer.

Preliminary information about the new building could be released over the next few months, BT understands.

When contacted, JTC said: “URA’s Master Plan 2014 identified several new growth areas that will provide new commercial and business spaces and bring jobs closer to homes. They include the Woodlands Regional Centre, which is envisioned to be a vibrant live-work-play business hub with new transport connections . . .

“JTC is working with URA and the relevant agencies on the detailed plans for these growth areas. We are engaging industry players to get ideas.

The details are still being worked out.”

Market expectations are that JTC is likely to allocate space in the proposedprojectona rental basis to qualifying users only if they meet stringent criteria that are likely to include proof that their organisation is involved in manufacturing – even though production is located overseas.

Such tenants could potentially use the space for their headquarters, distribution hub, buying office, design centre, servicing and other approved functions. Clear-cut office uses such as the activities of advertising firms, lawyers and front-end operations of banks will not be allowed in the new zone.

DTZ South-east Asia chief operating officer Ong Choon Fah said: “The nature of manufacturing has changed with the knowledge-based economy and so there is a need for the definition of manufacturing space to evolve alongside this transformation.”

Currently, at least60 per cent of total floor area in each strata unit in a B1 development must be set aside for core industrial activities such as clean and light manufacturing, assembly and repair, or warehouse and storage.

The other 40 per cent may be for supporting purposes including ancillary offices.

However, standalone offices that do not support core manufacturing activity by the same occupier in the same premises do not qualify for B1 use. The rule is intended to ensure industrial space is used predominantly for industrial activities.

– See more at: http://news.asiaone.com/news/singapore/new-property-zone-making#sthash.gwEmjsVA.dpuf

JTC seems to be taking an incremental planning approach through the proposed intermediate zone between Business 1 (B1) and commercial uses. Had it opted for a big-sweep rezoning of some areas of Singapore from say B1 use to the new zone, that would cause major problems for both owners and tenants of B1 premises.

JLL head of South-east Asia research Chua Yang Liang said: “A step-by-step measured approach will allow JTC to test-bed the proposed zone, study the impact and adjust the concept if necessary before widening its implementation. To do a widespread change of use overnight from B1 could create severe knock-on effects in the market.

“For instance, there may be repercussions for occupiers who are validly operating within B1 premises if the landlord decides to go for an upgrade to this intermediate zone – because the landlord would then want higher-paying tenants commensurate with his additional investment in the property.”

Agreeing, an industrial property analyst said: “The whole look and ambience of the building would also change . . .”

On the other hand, if the owner decides to stick to B1 zoning, the genuine B1 tenants may continue to operate in the building but tenants whose activities don’t comply with B1 usage have to leave. Even if some time is given for the transition, such occupiers would still have to leave within a definite timeframe, he added.

From a landlord’s perspective, there could be big monetary implications. The owner of a B1 building considering getting his property rezoned to the new use with a view to complying with the law – for instance, if he has tenants whose activities are not permitted for B1 zone (such as pure office use) – would be staring at the prospect of paying a substantial differential premium to the state for the enhancement in use.

DTZ South-east Asia chief operating officer Ong Choon Fah said: “If you suddenly change the rules of the game, it could jolt the market. It is better to take an incremental planning approach and test out new concepts gradually.”

Knight Frank executive director (industrial) Lim Kien Kim said that JTC’s move to develop a new building under the planned intermediate zone would further weaken industrial rents. “The government has created a lot of Business 1 space in the past few years through the GLS Programme. So now they are clamping down on unauthorised use of such space and going to create legal space for these people. That will potentially drive down demand for B1 space and have an adverse impact on B1 rents and capital values.”

He also suggested that JTC should consider piloting the new zone at one of its projects such as Seletar Aerospace Park, CleanTech Park and MedTech Hub, where there is some vacant space – instead of developing a new building in Woodlands to try out the concept.

However, Mrs Ong said: “There may be some vacancy in these projects but they are intended for very specific use. It takes time to germinate and nurture ideas; for instance, one-north also took a while before it took off.

“As lead agency in this space, JTC will always push the boundary and experiment with new space because it can take a longer-term view. JTC has to be the initiator and innovator. Once the market has accepted the new concept, the private sector can start to develop.”

The authorities’ decision not to relax permitted uses for the B1 zone – at least for now – is unlikely to go down well with industrial property agents who have been lobbying for such a move. A key plank of their argument is that Singapore’s manufacturing landscape is changing; there is now less traditional “hard core” production here but more service type activity as the Republic ascends the production value-chain.

Of course, a broader range of uses for B1 zone would also make it easier for agents to lease out such space, boosting demand, rents and prices. There is market talk of investors who have been stuck with B1 units, especially those snapped up in projects built to office specifications instead of being designed to cater to the needs of genuine industrialists. It is difficult to lease out such units given the strict enforcement by the authorities against illegal use of industrial space.

Some analysts point out that had the authorities acceded to a request to allow standalone offices, for instance, that would penalise those who had been adhering to the approved B1 uses.

“Moreover,” Mrs Ong said, “it would undermine the push towards developing decentralised offices in places like Paya Lebar and Jurong East.”

The incidence of businesses illegally using B1 space as pure offices (that is, without any core industrial or warehousing activity) gathered momentum during the office shortage that preceded the 2008 global crisis. At the time, office rents were shooting up and more companies had quietly moved into premises zoned for B1 use, to keep a lid on rental expense.

Moreover, B1 developments are typically near major transport nodes and in established areas such as MacPherson, Ubi and Tai Seng – making them an attractive alternative space for office tenants.

Around the 2011-2012 period, there were mounting complaints that such tenants whose activities were not in compliance with B1 use, were driving up rents for genuine industrial users. About the same time, a string of new strata projects on B1 sites came to the market boasting features and specifications that more closely resemble office buildings than industrial premises. Units in such developments were the subject of much speculative demand.

So the authorities stepped up enforcement action against tenants and landlords who were flouting the rules on B1 uses. And in early 2013, a seller’s stamp duty was introduced on industrial property to discourage short-term speculative activity that could distort industrial property prices and raise occupancy costs for businesses.

URA changes for STRATA landed housing development

URA have revised the guidelines for strata landed housing developments to improve their compatibility with the environment of landed housing estates. This complements efforts to inject more greenery in Singapore’s urban environment in the recently announced LUSH 2.0 Programme.

There is a new set of formulae to determine the maximum number of houses allowed in various types of strata landed housing developments and new guidelines to enhance the communal facilities and greenery provision within such developments.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) has revised the guidelines for strata landed housing developments to improve their compatibility with the environment of landed housing estates. The revised guidelines also complement URA’s efforts to inject more greenery in our urban environment in the recently announced LUSH 2.0 Programme.

Under the revised guidelines, there is a new set of formulae to determine the maximum number of houses allowed in various types of strata landed housing developments. The new formulae will generally result in fewer strata landed units compared to the previous formulae. It addresses feedback from residents in landed housing estates that such developments could inject a disproportionately large number of units, causing additional traffic and parking problems as well as creating a more congested living environment.

There are also new guidelines to enhance the communal facilities and greenery provision within such developments. Developers will have to set aside at least 45 per cent of the land area for communal open space, up from the current 30 per cent. Of this, a minimum of 25 per cent has to be set aside for on-ground greenery while up to 20 per cent can be used for communal facilities like swimming pools and playgrounds.

The revised guidelines apply with immediate effect from 23 August 2014. See Annex A for an overview of the revised guidelines.

More space for more play

Commonly known as cluster housing, strata landed housing is a form of landed housing that comes with strata titles. They are allowed within landed housing estates, including Good Class Bungalow Areas.  It offers home buyers a housing option that combines landed housing living with communal facilities and greenery like those available in private condominiums.

Communal open space forms part of the common property area of strata landed housing developments and include gardens, landscaped areas and recreational facilities such as swimming pools and playgrounds for the common enjoyment of the residents. Communal open spaces safeguard the provision of communal facilities and spaces within the development, and create a sense of openness that many people desire.

By increasing the minimum communal open space to be set aside in strata landed housing developments and mandating minimum on-ground greenery coverage, we hope that strata landed housing developments will further enhance the quality of the living environment for residents.

30 years of transformation: Singapore

SAFETY; cleanliness; mobility; spaciousness; connectivity; equity. These, said former minister mentor Lee Kuan Yew in a 2013 interview with the Centre for Liveable Cities (CLC), are the ingredients of a good city, and Singapore has all of them today.

But 50 years ago, urban Singapore would have scored zero on that list.

“50 years ago, Singapore was a basket case of urbanisation gone wrong. Overcrowding, traffic congestion, flooding, crime, no proper sanitation – name any urban problem and we had it,” says Khoo Teng Chye, executive director of the CLC, who served with the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) from 1976 to 1996, the last four years as its CEO and chief planner.

The creation of modern Singapore from that state of squalor took three decades and was driven by two key agencies: the Housing & Development Board (HDB) and later, the URA. The HDB was set up in 1960 with the mandate of properly housing the population, resettling thousands from the slums that predominated the urban landscape in those years. In 1964, to complement its work in public housing, it created the Urban Renewal Unit to redevelop the central parts of Singapore for commercial use. Later on, the unit was restructured first as a department, and then, in 1974, converted to an independent statutory board – the URA – with more manpower and funding to handle the huge job.

Bringing order to the city

Throughout the 1970s, the URA’s work centred around implementing the first Concept Plan, which had been developed in 1971 with the help of the United Nations. The Concept Plan covered many areas, from population growth to town planning, road planning and transport systems, and the port and airport. It was a huge, multi-agency effort coordinated by the Ministry of National Development (MND).

“The Concept Plan required a lot of additional detailed and specific information for the purpose of implementation,” recalls Liu Thai Ker, who headed the HDB and then the URA from the 1970s to the 1990s and is today known as the architect of urban Singapore for his work on public housing. From large-scale land development agencies like HDB and the Jurong Town Corporation, to water management agencies like the Public Utilities Board (PUB), each agency had to provide its plans to the MND in detail and declare their land use needs for incorporation into the Concept Plan.

“We were hungry for jobs and investors, but also very fortunate that our leaders avoided the approach of develop first and clean up later,” says Mr Khoo. “To me, the important thing is that our transformation to a liveable and sustainable city is something that has been brought about because of good governance and an integrated approach to planning.”

However, the Concept Plan called for the population to be moved outwards to new satellite towns surrounding the central water catchment area, connected by expressways and a MRT system, and for the vacated land to be developed into a financial and business centre. In practice, that meant relocating hundreds of thousands of residents, dozens of industries and hundreds of businesses.

Putting a roof over the population’s head

“Some of the squatters would turn nasty and set their dogs on us. We carried umbrellas to defend ourselves; at worst we ran for it. Sometimes we even had to get the police to escort us,” recalls Loh Yan Hui, the deputy chief executive officer of Surbana International Consultants, who joined the HDB’s Building and Development Division as a civil engineer in the late 1970s.

Mr Loh and his colleagues were among the government officers at the forefront of the huge resettlement, and one of the challenges they faced was evicting squatters from rural settlements on the designated town sites. “Many of these squatters were very sentimental about their homes,” says Mr Loh. “No matter how bad the living conditions were, they would bargain with us and ask for more time. We would compromise and clear other areas first, but inevitably we had to come back and make them leave.”

Then, the HDB had to house a population of 1.7 million in as short a time as possible, and it had been given all the powers it needed to do so. The speed of building and resettlement ramped up through the 1960s. By the 1970s, HDB was building 50,000 units a year.

“We saw, in the rural areas of Singapore, a very dramatic transformation of the physical landscape over the course of just 5 to 10 years,” says Mr Loh. “It succeeded because HDB took a multi-disciplinary approach and had been given a very strong mandate.”

Each new town was built according to a template that hung in the HDB headquarters at Bukit Merah. The template dictated where arterial roads should be placed, how the land should be divided into neighbourhoods and precincts, and even where facilities such as schools should be placed.

“In the early 1970s, there was no clear definition of what a new town should be or what a neighbourhood entailed,” says Dr Liu. “It was through our research, interviews and learning from other countries that we found out that for each new town to be highly self-sufficient, complete with essential facilities and amenities, we needed a population size of around 200,000 people.”

Dr Liu and his fellow planners carried out similar research for neighbourhoods and even precincts, complete with input from estate officers, sociologists, and engineers. By the late 1980s, the last of the squatters would have been resettled, and HDB’s quest to house the population would be complete.

Keeping Singapore flood-free

As Singapore was developing its new towns, it was also coping with flood problems. “In those days, when the rains came and coincided with the high tide, whole kampungs would be covered with water right up to the roofs,” says Yap Kheng Guan, former senior consultant and senior director at the PUB. “Long stretches of road would be unusable for hours and even days until the floods subsided.”

Mr Yap, who joined the Ministry of Environment’s drainage department in 1975 as a civil engineer and spent the next 25 years working on Singapore’s drainage, recalls that the ongoing urbanisation of those decades added to the flood problems. Each new development, whether public housing or industrial, increased the runoff into an already overloaded drainage system. Some of the most notoriously flood-prone areas were Bukit Timah, Geylang Serai and Potong Pasir.

“In the 1960s, Bukit Timah Road and Dunearn Road were the primary trunk roads – the expressways had not been built yet – and there were schools all along the area,” Mr Yap says. “Each time it flooded, everything was disrupted. Something had to be done, but there was not enough money at the time. Singapore was just too poor.”

One diversion canal had been built in 1969, but it was not until 1986 that construction began on a second canal. Like its predecessor, the second diversion canal was built with only basic equipment and methods. Lacking today’s tunnelling and shoring technology, Mr Yap and his fellow engineers had to blast the four-kilometre canal from Swiss Cottage Estate to the Kallang River through soft and damp soil that hindered construction of the canal’s concrete walls. In 1991 the canal was finally completed, and joined hundreds of other large and small drainage projects that reduced Singapore’s flood-prone areas by 90 per cent.

The PUB had an entirely different water issue: that of ensuring a clean water supply to the population. In the 1960s, the waterways were notoriously polluted, such that the cleanup of the Singapore River and the Kallang Basin in the late 1970s and 1980s took 10 years and made the Anti-Pollution Unit famous.

As with the urban redevelopment effort, cleaning up the waterways took a massive cross-agency effort. Lee Ek Tieng, the former chairman of the PUB and one of the 10 civil servants involved in the cleanup, told the National Environment Agency in a 2011 dialogue that the success of the endeavour came from providing alternatives through infrastructure: building proper sanitation and garbage removal systems for both households and businesses.

In the early years, Singapore had only three local water sources: the MacRitchie Reservoir, the Kallang River Reservoir (later known as the Peirce Reservoir), and the Seletar Reservoir. The PUB spent the next three decades constructing 10 more reservoirs. Later, in the 1990s, the PUB’s approach would expand in an attempt to make water integral not just to life but to lifestyles.

In those years, the PUB was also responsible for getting Singapore’s electricity and gas supplies going. Pasir Panjang Power Station was one of the earliest power stations owned by the PUB, operating on 60 megawatt turbines installed by Hitachi in 1962 and 1964; later in the same decade, it would be joined by Jurong Power Station, running the same power generation system. Subsequent power stations also utilised Hitachi systems down to the 1990s, including the Seraya and Tuas Power Stations.

Turning points great and small

The modernisation and development of Singapore from the 1960s to the 1990s is marked by dozens of triumphs. Some, like the cleaning up of the Singapore River, have entered legend; others, like the closing of the last night soil station in 1987, went unnoticed except by the government officers involved in implementing the sewer system.

“There was no great fanfare, but the senior officers from the department lined up along the road that led to the night soil station to welcome back the last night soil wagon,” says Tan Gee Paw, the former chairman of PUB who led the effort to clean up the Singapore River in the 1980s and is today known as the master architect of Singapore’s water supply. In a 2014 interview with the CLC, he recounted: “It was a significant event which I clearly remember because it meant that every home, every block, every premise in Singapore has been sewered successfully. It was a massive effort that took 10 to 20 years to accomplish and we were probably the first in Asia to be able to do so.”

For Dr Liu, who today chairs the CLC’s Advisory Board, the turning points in public housing were marked every decade: in the 1960s, when the government committed itself to solving the housing shortage problem in the shortest possible time; in the late 1970s, when the housing shortage was finally brought under control; and in 1985, the year he feels that Singapore as a whole became a modern metropolis. “We can summarise our achievements then by the following four phrases: No Squatters, No Homeless, No Poverty Ghettos, No Ethnic Enclaves,” he says.

To Mr Khoo, heading the URA in the 1990s, the turning point came when the various government agencies were finally able to step back from immediate action and begin institutionalising their work. “Up to the late 80s, we were very action-oriented. Our focus was on delivering the housing programmes as quickly and efficiently as possible,” he explains. “It was only around the early 1990s, after infrastructure was no longer an urgent need, that we became more systematic: reviewing the Concept Plan and the Masterplan, restructuring the bureaucracy to place URA in charge of overall planning.”

The 1990s was also when many other agencies were restructured and consolidated: for example, the Land Transport Authority was formed in 1995 from the merger of four other public sector entities that had previously worked separately on road building and maintenance and vehicle registration.

Ultimately, however, the very first turning point for Singapore’s modernisation was that of political will: giving the agencies responsible for development all the support they needed, whether in terms of resources or legislation, at a time when the population was willing to accept the changes involved. As former minister mentor Lee said in his interview with CLC: “I’m pleased that we redeveloped the city when there was a chance to do it.”

This is the first of a three-part series brought to you by Hitachi, in collaboration with Singapore Institute of Building Limited, and with resource assistance from Centre for Liveable Cities Singapore. The next part, Building a Nation: Today, will be published on Aug 5.



Singapore’s retail rents inch up in Q2; Office rents in Singapore continue to rise: URA


RETAIL rents in Singapore rose 0.6 per cent in the second quarter, against a decline of 0.3 per cent in Q1, the latest property indices released by Urban Redevelopment Authority on Friday morning showed.

Prices of retail space dipped 0.3 per cent quarter-on-quarter in Q2 2014, after remaining unchanged in the first three months of this year.

The islandwide retail vacancy rate stood at 5.9 per cent at the end of Q2 2014, slightly higher than the 5.8 per cent at the end of Q1.

By the end of Q2 2014, there was total supply of 879,000 sq m gross floor area of retail space from projects in the pipeline.


OFFICE rents in Singapore continued to rise, climbing 2.8 per cent in the second quarter following the 2.4 per cent increase in the first quarter of this year.

According to data released by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) on Friday morning, prices of office space remained unchanged in the second quarter compared to the preceding quarter, which saw a 0.5 per cent rise.

The island-wide vacancy rate of office space at the end of Q2 fell to 9.6 per cent, from 10.0 per cent at the end of Q1 2014.

The amount of occupied office space rose 22,000 sq m (nett) in Q2 2014, compared to the 6,000 sq m (nett) rise in Q1.