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COMMERCIAL PROPERTY, RESIDENTIAL PROPERTY | Staff Reporter, Singapore
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URA Draft Master Plan to boost mixed-use properties in CBD

One of the plan’s main thrusts includes injecting more homes into the CBD.

One of the key themes in the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) Draft Master Plan 2019 is the inclusion of more homes Downtown and raise its live-in population. According to the plan, more residential units will be introduced into the Downtown, Marina South, and Rochor planning areas.

Lee Sze Teck, Huttons Asia head of research, commented, “Probably recognising that it may not be possible to move more jobs out of the central area, the government is instead trying to bring people to stay in the central area by building more homes.”

Moreover, moving jobs closer to home and even homes closer to work can alleviate the stress on the public transport network. “In land scarce Singapore where more than 10% of land is set aside for roads, this can reduce the need to build road capacity. The land freed up can be put to more valuable use.”

Agencies are also studying the possibility of transforming Robinson Road into a transit-priority corridor for public transport and active mobility. According to URA, more space can be given to buses, cycling paths and pedestrian walkways.

Lee noted that in October 2018, URA set a cap on the dwelling units outside the central area. To be able to house up to 6.9 million by 2030, “there is a need to balance some of these competing land uses,” he said.

“The CBD will essentially be enhanced by accommodating more residents, transport links and having its own unique identity,” said Moray Armstrong, managing director of CBRE. “This will help to bring more vibrancy to the CBD after office hours, which currently is dominated by office buildings.

“The rejuvenation plan also encourages buildings owners to redevelop the older CBD stretch of office buildings to house new buildings with larger floor plates by the amalgamation of land parcels. To promote further flexibility in land use planning in Marina Bay, there could be more mixed-use land with shorter tenures,” the executive said.

Encouraging mixed-use developments
Singapore is rolling out incentive schemes to encourage buildings owners to either convert office buildings to mixed-use or promote strategic alliances amongst developers to collaborate and redevelop adjacent properties.

URA will revoke the existing Bonus Plot Ratio scheme which was introduced in 1989. Instead, it will introduce the CBD Incentive Scheme that is intended to encourage the conversion of predominantly office developments into mixed-use developments with a focus in Anson, Cecil, Robinson Road, Shenton Way, and Tanjong Pagar.

CBRE noted that buildings for consideration must be at least 20 years from the date of their last TOP. “Landlords and developers will be able to incorporate a greater diversity of uses so as to create a 24/7 environment for people to live, work and play in. Any proposed intensification or lease top-up will be subjected to payment of development charge or differential premium where applicable,” Armstrong added.

URA also introduced the Strategic Development Incentive (SDI) scheme that seeks to encourage the redevelopment of older commercial or mixed-use buildings in strategic areas, particularly Orchard Road, CBD, and Marina Centre.

This scheme differs from the CBD Incentive scheme as the redevelopment proposal should include a minimum of two adjacent sites, Armstrong noted. “Sites that also fall within the designated areas for the CBD Incentive will be guided by the CBD Incentive Scheme instead of being considered under the SDI Scheme. Developments with predominantly residential uses will not be eligible,” he added.

Lee of Huttons observed that some of the land parcels besides an MRT station or interchange (such as Bedok South MRT, Tengah MRT, Tengah Plantation MRT, and Bishan MRT Interchange) have been re-zoned either to commercial/residential or commercial.

Integrating commercial and residential besides MRT stations make sense because buyers have shown preference to stay near/beside MRT stations and combining two complementary land uses is ideal to accommodate more on our limited land, Lee said.

“The change in zoning around Bishan MRT Interchange is probably to address market demand for commercial space. Bishan is centrally located and can be developed as an alternative commercial node. There has not been a new office or retail mall for many years,” he added.

Additionally, URA also introduced urban design guidelines for developments within downtown core planning area. It has reviewed the prevailing urban design guidelines within the Downtown Core Planning Area (i.e. CBD, City Hall, Bugis, Marina Centre, and Nicoll zones), particularly for the Anson and Cecil subzones.

“The revisions are to reflect the repositioning of the CBD as a vibrant mixed-use precinct, not only for offices, with more sites zoned for White use, catering for retail at the lower floors, greater provision for outdoor refreshment areas, greenery, and public spaces. These areas will also be more pedestrian friendly with elevated/underground walkways and dedicated cycling routes,” Armstrong said.

Raising base plot ratios
Aside from encouraging mixed-use development, Colliers International noted that there were some increases in base plot ratios. There is a 19% increase in the base gross plot ratio (GPR) in Raffles Place around Battery Road, Collyer Quay and Market Street, from 12.6 times in the Master Plan 2014 to 15.0 times in the Draft Master Plan 2019.

There is also an uplift of 25% in GPR in some sites in the Shenton Way area such as AXA Tower and International Plaza, from 8.4 times to 10.5 times. In Orchard Road, there are also increases in the GPR for selected sites, though generally lower at around 12% to 14% compared to the Master Plan 2014.

“The uplift in actual GPR, based on the Master Plan 2019, however, could be marginal or substantial, depending on the sites, compared to the previous master plan where there was a bonus plot ratio which allowed up to 5-25% increase on the base plot ratio for sites in close proximity to designated MRT Stations (Orchard, Somerset, Dhoby Ghaut, Raffles Place & Tanjong Pagar), as well as those which met a minimum plot size requirement. This bonus plot ratio scheme will be rescinded,” said Tricia Song, head of research for Singapore, Colliers International.

This is where the SDI scheme and CBD incentive scheme come in. Song noted that some sites, such as AXA Tower and International Plaza, which have already received a 25% increase in base plot ratio, could still receive a 25% increase in GPR should the sites fulfil the CBD Incentive Scheme such as over 20 years old and over 2,000 sqm site area, redevelopment into Residential with Commercial at 1st storey, Commercial & Residential, or Hotel.

“For some commercial or predominantly commercial mixed sites, along Anson Road and Cecil Street, whilst they do not receive any uplift in base GPR, they qualify for the 25-30% increase in GPR if they are also redeveloped to the above uses,” she said.

In the meantime, those buildings not within the designated three areas in the CBD Incentive Scheme, can still propose amalgamations and seek approval for an increase in plot ratios and building height via the SDI scheme, Song noted.

“To conclude, we believe these initiatives should provide some impetus for the older and smaller buildings to rethink about redevelopment. We are most excited about the commitment to reinforce the ‘work, live, play’ theme in the city. With more incentives to encourage residential uses in the CBD, it should be positive news to the CBD retail/F&B spaces which could see more buzz over the weekends,” the executive added.

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