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Future Proofing – Smarter Urban Planning for Singapore

Singapore’s successful economic growth is largely indebted to its master urban planning.

Jul 29, 2019 | By Joe Lim

Cities everywhere have their own processes for urban planning. But very few have been as effective as Singapore in planning for the long-term and translating these plans into reality. This is a key competitive advantage for the Lion City.

Guoco Tower by GuocoLand which comprises hospitality (Sofitel Singapore City Centre), residential (Wallich Residence),
commercial, retail and spaces for community use. Photo credit: GuocoLand

The above is an extract from a speech by Singapore’s Minister for National Development, Mr Lawrence Wong, during the launch of the URA Draft Master Plan 2019 Exhibition. I agree with the Minister. Having visited a good number of the world’s major cities, I have seen for myself how Singapore, through a proactive forward-planning approach to land use for urban development, overcome the scarcity of land while catering to the needs of a growing nation, and remain relevant to the world. The recently launched Draft Master plan sets out to guide Singapore’s development needs and land use over the next 10 to 15 years. The URA Master Plan is updated every five years to ensure that the long-range plan stays up to date, especially with an ever-increasing rate of change in factors such as drivers of the economy to construction technology and people’s living lifestyles. In my opinion, this latest iteration of the Master Plan has met many Singaporeans’ expectations, and then some. The Master Plan is comprehensive and sophisticated. For me to condense it into two pages in this magazine will not do justice to the wide-ranging coverage of complex urban planning requirements it sets out to achieve. Therefore, I would like to focus on one of the key concepts that, to me, makes the most significant impact on people’s lives – “Urban Transformation”. Two areas that will bear witness to the focus on urban transformation are the Central Business District (CBD) and the Greater Southern Waterfront.

Leong Boon Hoe, Chief Operating Officer, List Sotheby’s International Realty, Singapore, writes this article

CBD Rejuvenation
To continuously rejuvenate Singapore’s CBD in order for it to stay competitive and vibrant, URA is introducing two schemes to add a broader mix of uses so that the city centre is not only a place for work during the day but also a vibrant and bustling place to live and play with activities at night as well as weekends. The CBD Incentive Scheme incentivises the conversion of office buildings of at least 20 years in age into mixed-use developments – those that have some components of residential, hotel, commercial and retail – by offering an increase in Gross Plot Ratio (defined as the ratio of the Gross Floor Area of a building to the area of the site) to developers taking on such redevelopment work that will bring about rejuvenation changes to the locale. This initiative will apply to Anson Road, Cecil Street, Robinson Road, Shenton Way and the Tanjong Pagar areas.

Examples of existing buildings which will have their Gross Plot Ratio raised from the 2014 edition of the Master Plan include strata-titled buildings like International Plaza and Shenton House. Both buildings have about 51 years remaining on their respective leases. Currently, the owners of these two buildings are working towards selling to a developer via the collective sale route. However, it will not be an easy task. Office rents have been rising; the opportunity cost to these strata owners will likely be reflected in their pricing expectations. The high cost of acquisition could thus pose a significant burden to developers who will also have to factor in additional costs of the development charge to maximise the plot ratio and the premium to upgrade the lease to a 99-year tenure. When planning their new buildings, developers could consider emulating the success of Guoco Tower. With Sofitel Singapore City Centre and Wallich Residence, GuocoLand integrated hospitality, residential, commercial, retail and community use within a project that also offers direct connectivity to the Mass Rapid Transit public transport system. Another concept that could take off in the CBD area is co-living and serviced residences, which caters to the changing profile of urbanites who prefer to stay within the city – young, single professionals. Meanwhile, the Strategic Development Incentive (SDI) Scheme encourages owners of adjacent commercial or mixed-use developments with predominantly commercial uses to join forces and comprehensively redevelop buildings in a way that would transform the surrounding urban environment. This scheme, which offers a mix of incentives, including the increase in gross plot ratio and flexibility on other development controls, goes beyond the CBD and is open to owners of buildings in other strategic areas such as Orchard Road, Singapore’s premier shopping belt. Through the SDI Scheme, the government empowers the private sector to work together to introduce bold, innovative place-making ideas from the ground up that will transform or regenerate entire precincts. Even though the concept of “work, live, play” has become something of a catchphrase over the years, the new Master Plan shows the government’s will and intent to engage and work with the private sector to effect such transformation that will make our CBD relevant for the next 15 years.

Sentosa’s marina also had to be included in the master plan for urban planning

Greater Southern Waterfront Rejuvenation
At more than 2,000 hectares, the Greater Southern Waterfront stretches from Pasir Panjang Terminal to Gardens by the Bay East – approximately six times the size of Marina Bay today. The moving of the container ports to Tuas will free up 1,000 hectares of land, while non-port areas like the Pasir Panjang Power District, Keppel Club and Sentosa will contribute another 1,000 hectares. Read about how Sentosa’s One Degree 15 Marina hosts the famous yacht show. While work will begin in the next five to 10 years, the entire project will span more than 20 years, considering the sheer magnitude. This initiative offers loads of opportunities for developers and for people who enjoy living near blue and green areas such as the waterfront facing the Singapore Strait and the enhanced green spaces of Mount Faber and future Pasir Panjang Linear Park. Perhaps it is with anticipation of the future Greater Southern Waterfront, coupled with the latest news on the expansion of the two Integrated Resorts including Resorts World Sentosa, we have noticed a higher interest in Sentosa Cove properties, particularly the bungalows. Other Innovative Features The new Master Plan features several other different concepts, such as car-lite towns and heritage conservation. There are also comprehensive plans to set up major economic “Gateways” in the Eastern, Western and Northern parts of Singapore to capitalise on Singapore’s air, land and sea connections to external markets to support new growth industries and provide more jobs closer to home for Singaporeans. These programmes, together with the urban transformation plans, will help to ensure that Singapore maintains its stature as one of the most liveable global cities.

To find out more about the URA Draft Master Plan 2019, please visit URA’s website at or visit List Sotheby’s International Realty’s website at to read a more comprehensive summary of the Master Plan.

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