Wednesday, May 30, 2012

More prime housing sites in pipeline

Straits Times: Wed, May 30
NEWS that work will begin this year on the latest new town, Bidadari, has turned the spotlight on other centrally located development sites.

Prime land not far from town, such as the former Bukit Timah Turf Club and the Dempsey area, could yield thousands of homes in the years ahead, analysts say.

They say developers will lick their lips with anticipation at the possibilities offered by central sites such as these and Caldecott Hill, Old School at Mount Sophia, and Tanglin Village.

On Monday, the Government said infrastructure work at Bidadari, such as roads and sewers, will start at the end of the year. Bidadari, which is near Potong Pasir, is fairly close to town. It will yield up to 12,000 homes, both private and HDB, over the next decade or so.

The reason for excitement over other central sites is that they have not yet been put to the use listed in the Urban Redevelopment Authority's (URA) 2008 masterplan.

For instance, while the Turf Club is zoned residential, for now it has been leased out for commercial use. The site hosts a multitude of shops. Its three-year tenancy started in March and can be renewed for three years.

The reason for the state of limbo is that the authorities have yet to finalise their precise plans for the site.

In response to queries, a URA spokesman said it takes a long-term, integrated approach in land use planning and that the 'development time frame for the Turf Club site has not been firmed up at this point in time'.

Land not immediately needed for development is put to good interim uses such as parks or areas for community use and sports, the spokesman said.

But it also works closely with the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) to retain some state-owned property and leases this out for suitable interim uses if the sites are not needed for development in the near term.

An example is Tanglin Village - the Minden, Loewen and Dempsey clusters - where restaurants and shops have sprung up in recent years.

The site's use is yet to be determined. The URA said there are no immediate plans for the site, while an SLA spokesman said the earliest of the tenancies expire in May 2014. 'Closer to the expiry of the tenancies, SLA will seek URA's input on whether these areas can be made available for a further period of interim use, and if so, the length of tenancy and types of uses that can be allowed.'

Then there is arts enclave Old School at 11 Mount Sophia, which made headlines recently after a request for a lease extension by tenants was turned down. URA would only say plans for the residential-zoned site of the former Methodist Girls' School will be announced when ready.

Another site is Caldecott Hill, home of MediaCorp, which said in 2010 it is leaving for the new Media-polis@one-north in Buona Vista. Pending approval from the authorities, MediaCorp plans to sell the 70,000 sq m Caldecott Hill site to finance construction of its premises at Mediapolis after the middle of 2015 when the move is complete.

Experts say redevelopment plans for these sites seem to be far off and zoning could still change when the next masterplan, updated every five years, is out next year.

Not all sites have been earmarked for homes, but SLP International research head Nicholas Mak estimated at least 5,200 homes could be built on the four sites if all were used for homes. The Turf Club site could yield 2,700 units of semi-detached homes and bungalows, he estimated.

But these sites will likely be offered on 99-year leases or shorter, making them less valuable than freehold sites in the central areas, he added.

R'ST Research director Ong Kah Seng said all four sites have strong redevelopment potential for mixed-use concepts and are likely to yield landed homes or low-rise apartments to fit in with the existing surroundings.

While the Caldecott Hill site is zoned for civic and community use, it could be re-zoned for mixed use or residential for a mix of landed homes and low-rise apartments, he added.

Last year, the Government announced long-term plans to expand existing towns like Punggol, Sengkang, Yishun and Choa Chu Kang over the next few decades...
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Martin Koh/ Sherry Tang
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