Plans to improve urban spaces

Plans to improve urban spaces


CHUA YANG LIANG gives an overview of the proposals in the Draft Master Plan 2008 and presents a wish list to planners


BESIDES the three strategic commercial hubs of Jurong Lake District, Kallang Riverside and Paya Lebar Central, which will strengthen the CBD alongside with development plans for Tanjong Pajar and the Beach Road/Ophir-Rochor corridor, there were no major changes or surprises to the zoning, plot ratio and planning directions in the 2008 Draft Master Plan. This observation is based on our brief review of three areas in particular – Buona Vista, Paya Lebar, and Harbourfront (which includes Telok Blangah) that will house the interchanges of two major transit lines (existing and the future Circle Line).


The 2008 Draft Master Plan maintains the time-tested planning vision that focuses on improving the overall quality of life, supported by a pro-business environment. It maintains the central planning philosophy found in the 2003 Master Plan – that of improving the quality of urban spaces and supporting general economic growth. This vision is inherent within the four key thrusts of ‘home of choice, magnet for business, exciting playground, and home to cherish’ and the zoning maps that developed from there.


Market trends


This planning deliverable is a highly practical one and focuses on concretising market trends that are conducive to improving the quality of living spaces and favourable to the overall business environment in Singapore.


The 2008 Draft Master Plan has not only respected the organic development trends, such as supporting the interim uses of vacant government buildings and sites, for example, Dempsey Road and Wessex Estates, it has also formally accepted and recognised other key market forces that would help improve the overall quality of living in Singapore. For example, a notable change in Buona Vista was the re-zoning of a popular area in Holland Village from ‘Residential with commercial at first storey only’ and ‘Commercial and Residential’ to purely commercial use.


The continual agglomeration of retail and commerce activities in this neighbourhood over the past few years has permitted retail activities to reach a threshold level thereby strengthening the area’s image and attractiveness as an F&B neighbourhood that is well patronised by foreigners and young locals. Coupled with the upcoming Holland Village MRT station and the one-north intellectual cluster located slightly further south, re-zoning to permit full commercial activities within this area is practical and will further enhance the overall quality of living in and around the immediate vicinity.


Similarly, taking its cue from current market trends, the 2008 Draft Master Plan has also proposed more housing in key areas where demand has been strongest. The urban planners have proposed an additional 300,000-plus housing units (both private and public) islandwide with an emphasis on ‘water-fronting’ . This is similar to that proposed in the 2003 Master Plan where over 300,000 housing units were also suggested.


The largest increase is in the central and north-east regions where some 39 per cent and 38 per cent of additional housing units (over the existing stock) have been proposed. Likewise, in terms of the distribution of total new supply, the central and north-east regions again topped the list at 40 per cent and 24 per cent respectively. This can be expected given the strong residential demand as reflected in the recent surge in property values in these regions. This proposed new supply should help ease the values in these areas in the longer term horizon.


Echoing this trend is Buona Vista, which witnessed several residential sites being introduced. A site in Holland Drive, which was previously zoned for a civic and community institution, was re-zoned as a residential site with a plot ratio of 4.2, while sites at Slim Barracks Rise and Dover Close East, which were initially zoned white, are now zoned residential. The re-zoning of these three sites will support the area’s growing prestige as an education and research hub in Singapore.


For the other planning regions, new housing has been proposed around existing water bodies, for example, reservoirs in Bedok and Lower Seletar, and the proposed 4.2 km waterway in Punggol. This concept of urbanising Singapore’s waterways is not new but it has been given a greater push with the strong market response to developments in the Sentosa and Harbourfront area over the past two years. This emphasis on providing more waterfront homes would greatly enhance social equity by making such homes more affordable to the regular guy on the street and not just limited to the affluent.


Shifts in preferences


However, the danger of following market trends is sudden shifts in preferences. Just like dark undercurrents are a result of changing tides, a sudden turn in market preference may send urban plans out of orbit. The secret is providing sufficient free play to accommodate such shifts. In line with the evolving landscape of Buona Vista as an R&D and education hub, a site next to Buona Vista MRT station, which was initially zoned commercial, has been re-zoned White. This gives the future developer more flexibility in its development, providing the free play that could potentially eliminate any shifts in market preferences and possibly enhance the area further.


Likewise, the Harbourfront has seen a similar trend in providing more ‘planning flexibility’ . Notable changes in the region were the shift in sites at Telok Blangah Road that were initially zoned ‘Subject to detailed planning – Residential’ to ‘Reserve’ sites.


The ‘planning flexibility’ in this instance is not accorded to the private market but given to the statutory planners. The ‘Reserve’ zone effectively buys the planners some extra time to evaluate and deliberate on the optimal land use zones on these sites.


This shift in zoning could also be a reflection of the evolving market dynamism in the area, i.e. the shift in demographic profile in the surrounding neighbourhood, particularly in light of current developments such as Resorts World at Sentosa, Reflections at Keppel Bay, VivoCity and the HarbourFront offices.


Coupled with the government announcing its intention to create a leisure and recreational destination along the Southern Ridges by introducing a 2.2 km linear park along the Southern Ridges Park, this could potentially be an indication of future alternative plans for the area other than simply residential. Whatever the intention, we do know that the statutory planners are deliberating on the potential uses and are not ready to disclose the plans for these areas as yet.


Urban sustainability


While the 2008 Draft Master Plan has clearly articulated the medium-term planning objectives, it could be further enhanced with an expression of how our statutory planners perceive and support the issue of environmentalism, particularly on the concept of urban sustainability, which stems from greater environmental awareness today. Increasingly, we have seen more private occupiers demanding, and developers providing, environmentally friendlier buildings.


Urban sustainability is more than just green buildings; it contains the same basic principles of social, economic and environmental sustainability but applied to a bigger spatial context, i.e. the urban conurbation in which sub-systems such as transportation, housing, retail, education and tourism should be duly considered.


We have the first ever Leisure Plan that would see to the tripling of existing park connectors, providing residents 150 km of round-island access 24 hours a day. Could we see an Urban Sustainability Plan that sets the targets, deliverables and specific actions of each sub-system, all towards a sustainable urban environment?


Source: Business Times

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s