Saturday, August 4, 2007

SLA Rents Out More State Properties

Source : The Business Times, August 4, 2007

AS part of its efforts to increase the supply of office space, the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) said it has awarded the tender for three state properties to be rented out.

The property at 3 Shan Road, formerly Moulmein Community Centre, has been awarded to Phillip Securities Pte Ltd, which won the bid at $35,000 a month. Phillip is planning to set up an investor centre at the site. The tenancy is for three years and renewable on terms up to 2016.

The former CPIB building at Cantonment Road is awarded to Bravo Building Construction Pte Ltd, which put in the highest bid price of $91,731 a month.

The property development firm plans to spend $3 million to refurbish the property and transform it into an environmentally friendly building. It will also allow those with physical disabilities to get around more easily.

The SLA also awarded another former government building in Pearl's Hill Terrace. What used to be the former CID Training Centre will be leased to Hean Nerng Warehousing Pte Ltd at $5,300 monthly.

Since the beginning of this year, the SLA has pushed out 13 properties for office use only.

The latest award brings the total estimated gross floor area for office use added by SLA this year to about 90,000 sq m.

More office space will be added over the next few months as more state properties are being offered. They include the property at 169 Sims Avenue, former Pei Chun Public School in Lorong 6 Toa Payoh; former ITE Balestier and Kim Keat Camp in Jalan Rajah, and the former Haig Boys' School in Mountbatten Road.

Tenders have opened for the first and second properties. The tenders for the other separate sites are being evaluated.

SLA director of land operations Simon Ong said: 'Financial institutions should find our state properties suitable for their needs as they are well-located, of the right size, easily adaptable and most importantly, at relatively affordable rentals.'

SingLand, UIC Both Enjoy Higher Q2 Earnings

Source : The Business Times, August 4, 2007

SingLand's profit rose 32% while UIC's profit surged 42%

CBD office landlord Singapore Land and its parent United Industrial Corp (UIC) have both reported higher second-quarter earnings.

SingLand's net profit for the three months ended June jumped 32 per cent to $33.9 million from $25.8 million for the previous corresponding period. This raised its first-half net profit to $62 million, up 29 per cent.

For UIC, Q2 net profit surged 47 per cent to $28.3 million while H1 net earnings were 39 per cent higher at $50.5 million.

Both companies said they will revalue investment properties at year-end and any surplus or deficit arising from the revaluation shall be taken to the income statement then, to comply with Financial Reporting Standard 40 - Investment Property. SingLand said that on transition to FRS 40 on Jan 1, 2007, the asset revaluation reserve of $1.22 billion as at Dec 31, 2006 was transferred to the opening retained earnings as at Jan 1, 2007. For UIC, the asset revaluation reserve transferred was $9.3 million.

SingLand - whose portfolio of office properties include Singapore Land Tower, Clifford Centre, part of SGX Centre and The Gateway - posted a 33 per cent increase in Q2 revenue to $69 million. The increase was due partly to a $22 million contribution booked from Pan Pacific Singapore hotel after SingLand subsidiary Marina Centre Holding acquired the remaining 50 per cent interest in the hotel in April.

As well, gross rental income rose 17 per cent or by $6.8 million to $45.4 million in Q2 on the back of higher rental rates and improved occupancy. Contributions from associates were $3.4 million higher at $8.75 million, chiefly because of higher contribution from the One Amber residential development, in which the group has a stake.

SingLand's earnings per share rose from 6.2 cents in Q2 last year to 8.2 cents in Q2 2007. Net asset value per share fell from $7.50 as at end-Dec 2006 to $7.37 as at end-June 2007.

UIC - which was in the limelight in April for its purchase of the namesake building along Shenton Way under a collective sale pricing the asset at $600 million - posted a 68 per cent jump in Q2 revenue to $135.5 million due to higher sales of residential properties, contribution from Pan Pacific Singapore and improved rental income.

Sales of the One Amber and Grand Duchess at St Patrick's residential developments, which have been fully sold, were progressively recognised on a percentage of completion basis.

Contributions from associates improved due largely to a higher contribution from The Waterfront project in Hong Kong.

UIC's earnings per share for Q2 2007 was 2.1 cents, up from 1.4 cents in Q2 2006. Net asset value per share stood at $1.76 as at June 30 this year, against $1.77 as at Dec 31, 2006.

Forecast For '07 Construction Demand Raised To $19b-$22b

Source : The Business Times, August 4, 2007

Construction demand continues apace, resulting in Building and Construction Authority (BCA) revising its forecast for construction demand for 2007. It now expects building contracts to reach between $19 billion and $22 billion in value, up about $3 billion from its earlier estimate of between $17 billion and $19 billion.

Ms Fu: Sunny forecast offers both opportunities and challenges for sector.

In a press statement released yesterday, BCA also said that for the first five months this year, construction demand reached about $7.6 billion in terms of contracts awarded.

It also said that the upward revision in construction demand could be attributed to the rise in residential and commercial demand stemming from the current property boom as well as higher construction costs.

Making reference to the revised figures last night, Minister of State for National Development Grace Fu added: 'This buoyant outlook offers both opportunities and challenges for the building sector.'

Speaking at the anniversary dinner of the Singapore Institute of Valuers and Surveyors (SISV) last night, Ms Fu also emphasised the need for sustainable development.

In March, Ms Fu announced that the government was considering amending the Building Control Act to impose minimum requirements on environmental sustainability that are equivalent to BCA's Green Mark certified standards for new buildings and existing ones that undergo major retrofitting.

Last night, Ms Fu added that this initiative was making progress. She said: 'BCA has started consulting the industry players, including SISV, on the proposed legislative requirements.'

Ms Fu also reiterated that the government is aiming to reduce the reliance on sand and granite by 30 to 50 per cent over the next five years and that SISV members can play a key role in influencing consumption or construction materials and methods.

The private sector will, however, have a larger role to play.

According to BCA, of the forecast construction contracts to be awarded this year, private sector construction is expected to make up about 70 per cent of the demand.

Some major projects that are due to be awarded later this year include the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital in Yishun, construction parcels for the two Integrated Resorts, the redevelopment of Ocean Building and some private residential developments, including Reflections at Keppel Bay, a condo at Quayside Collection, Sentosa and The Seafront On Meyer condo.

STB Rejects Horizon En Bloc Sale

Source : The Business Times, August 4, 2007

Without going into details, the board says that statutory requirements had not been met

Jubilant minority owners of Horizon Towers hugged and congratulated one another in court yesterday after the Strata Titles Board (STB) threw out the en bloc sale of the Leonie hill property on a technicality.

'While some have made the issue out to be one about money, to some others it's more than that - my clients are now very happy that they can keep their homes,' said Philip Fong of Harry Elias Partnership, who represented a group of minorities.

But not everyone is pleased. The buyers of Horizon Towers - Hotel Properties Limited (HPL), Morgan Stanley Real Estate and Qatar Investment Authority - are considering their next move, which could include legal action against the sellers and the sales committee of Horizon Towers.

HPL said last night that it is 'considering STB's decision and reserves all its rights, including its rights against the subsidiary proprietors of the property who signed the collective sale agreement and the sales committee of the property'. It said that it would make further announcements if and when there are material developments.

HPL was represented by Senior Counsel K Shanmugam and William Ong of Allen & Gledhill.

HPL's stock fell 20 cents to close at $4.68 yesterday.

STB's rejection of the sale was unexpected - as was its brief, two-line judgment delivered after lunch yesterday.

Lawyers for the parties, who had spent a week putting their arguments to the board, told BT that they were taken aback when STB announced abruptly that it had decided to reject the application for a collective sale order because 'statutory requirements' had not been met.

STB did not say what these requirements were. And attempts by BT to contact STB and the sellers' representative, Senior Counsel Jimmy Yim of Drew & Napier, were unsuccessful.

But BT understands that the application for a collective sale order may have been rejected because insufficient notices were posted and some documents were not filed.

STB's decision could have been prompted by arguments put by Senior Counsel Michael Hwang, representing a minority owner.

Mr Hwang said that his client objected to the collective sale because the application for the sale order did not comply with provisions in the Land Titles (Strata) Act, which governs collective sales in Singapore.

Legally, if an application to STB does not comply with requirements laid out in the Act, the board does not have the jurisdiction to grant an order, even if there are no objectors.

Some 84 per cent of Horizon Towers owners backed the collective sale - more than the 80 per cent requirement - but STB's approval was still needed for the deal to go through.

STB's decision yesterday to dismiss the application means that the en bloc sale of the property is effectively off. While the sellers have the right to appeal against the board's decision, the lengthy process involved means that the deal is unlikely to be sealed by the Aug 11 deadline for the sale.

This could now pave the way for Horizon Towers to be sold at a higher price, thanks to the recent property boom.

The two-block development was pledged to be sold en bloc for $500 million in February. The price reflects a unit land price of $810 to $820 per square foot per plot ration (psf ppr), including a premium to top up the lease to 99 years from the remaining term of about 71 years.

If later collective sales are anything to go by, Horizon Towers could fetch a higher price. The development next door, The Grangeford, was pledged for sale in June to Overseas Union Enterprise for $625 million or about $1,820 psf ppr, including a premium to top up the lease.

That is the highest collective sale price paid for a 99-year leasehold property on a psf basis - and part of the reason for the Horizon Towers saga.

Horizon Towers' majority owners, after signing off on the deal, became unhappy with the significantly lower price they were to receive.

Bintan Resorts Launches New IR Development Site At Lagoi Bay

Source : The Business Times Aug 04, 2007

Spread over roughly 1,300 hectares, the 130 land parcels will allow for resort, residential and commercial investment purposes.

BINTAN Resorts has launched a new integrated resort (IR) development site at Lagoi Bay, spread over roughly 1,300 hectares. The 130 land parcels there, ranging from 2000 sq m to 30 hectares, will allow for resort, residential and commercial investment purposes.

According to the developers, visitor arrival to Bintan island is expected to treble to reach one million by 2012, which they say increases the potential for investors to generate significant returns.

Tourism projects in Singapore such as the Gardens on the Bay as well as the two integrated resorts are also expected to boost tourism flow into Bintan due to its close proximity to Singapore.

'Bintan is well-positioned to tap the more than nine million leisure and business visitors who come to Singapore annually,' said Chin Chow Yoon, vice-president-director of PT Bintan Resort Cakrawala, developers of Lagoi Bay.

'This number is expected to reach 17 million by 2015.'

Bintan Resorts is the result of a joint agreement signed by the Singapore and Indonesian governments in 1990, aimed at developing the northern part of the island into a key tourist attraction.

Currently, travelling time from Singapore to Bintan is 55 minutes, a period which the developers are looking to reduce considerably with the planned upgrading of the ferry and terminal amenities.

The construction of a private tourist airport is also in the pipeline, which is primarily aimed at increasing the number of Indonesians visiting Bintan Resorts. More than $150 million has already been spent on providing the infrastructure necessary for the Lagoi bay development.

PT Bintan Resort Cakrawala has also been responsible for developing the rest of the Bintan Resorts area, which covers more than 17,500 hectares. The company has extensive experience in resort development, operations, infrastructure development and management.

It is also a subsidiary of the Singapore-listed firm, Gallant Venture.

Mr Chin also said that there already has been a high level of interest in Lagoi Bay from potential investors from Singapore as well as the Middle East, with almost 25 per cent of saleable land available already being reserved.

Plans To Quarry For Granite On Pulau Ubin Being Deferred: BCA

Source : Channel NewsAsia 04 August 2007

The government has deferred plans to begin quarrying for granite on Pulau Ubin following a significant improvement in the granite supply situation in the last two months.

The decision to carry out limited quarrying works at the Kekek Quarry in Pulau Ubin was announced in April this year after Indonesia, a major supplier of granite to construction companies in Singapore, banned the export of granite.

In a statement on Saturday, the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) says there is now adequate granite supply coming in from both nearby and new distant sources in the region.

There has not been any drawdown from the national stockpile since May and prices have also moderated and stabilised.

BCA says a tonne of granite, which is a major component of concrete, now costs between S$23 and S$29.

Concrete prices have also dipped from a high of $200 per metre cube when supply was disrupted, to about S$140 to S$150 per metre cube.

Over the past few months, preparatory works for reactivating the Kekek Quarry on Pulau Ubin had been carried out.

These included an environmental impact study, conducting water quality tests and regulatory reviews.

BCA says these have been a useful experience, and have given a better understanding of the process involved in reactivating a quarry.

But although there is no need to begin quarrying for granite on Pulau Ubin for the time being, BCA says it is keeping all options open.

And the reactivation of local quarries remains a part of contingency plans to ensure resilience in the supply of essential construction materials. - CNA/ch

Heartland Blast Lands Two In ICU

Source : Today, Weekend, August 4, 2007

73-year-old, living alone, badly burnt in explosion due to possible gas leak

A MASSIVE blast ripped through a one-room rental flat at Blk 105 Jalan Bukit Merah on Friday, landing two elderly victims in the Intensive Care Unit — one in critical condition with serious burns.

What was one of the worst explosions ever to take place in a housing estate occurred at around 6am.

Residents were jolted awake by two loud blasts in a sixth-floor unit. Its occupant, Mr Chan Fook Seng, 73, a part-time chef, suffered 80 per cent first-degree burns and was warded in critical condition at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH).

In a press statement, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said Mr Chan "was found standing in the kitchen and was conscious when SCDF officers brought him out of the unit".

The other victim, Mdm Chan Soo Ngan — who is in her 70s and, like her immediate neighbour Mr Chan, lived alone — was trapped in her flat when debris from the blast blocked her gate.

She was hospitalised for smoke inhalation burns, but her condition has since stabilised. Four other casualties were treated at SGH for smoke inhalation, said the SCDF.

Residents believe that Mr Chan, a widower who has two kids but lives alone, was in the shower when the explosions — possibly caused by a gas leak — occurred.

The SCDF was alerted at 6.15am and brought the fire under control within 10 minutes of arriving at the scene. It is investigating the cause of the fire.

In the aftermath, the scene at Blk 105 — which comprises one-room rental flats only — resembled a war zone, with loose wires hanging from the ceiling, collapsed gates, puddles of water from burst pipes, and an entire wall blasted into rubble.

Distraught neighbour Ms Mohd Nizam Bin said she first felt that something was amiss when she opened her door and saw thick white smoke.

"I thought my neighbour was burning incense," said the 33-year-old, who lives two doors away from Mr Chan.

"But then I heard the explosions, and saw the entire wall collapse. I was scared to death. I just thought of grabbing my valuables and running."

Mr Suherwan Jasmani, 27, a safety supervisor who lives next door to Mr Chan, said: "I was sleeping when I heard the first explosion.

"I looked outside and saw that his wall was ruptured, pieces of it falling to the ground. I went out to take a closer look, and that was when the second explosion occurred."

Black smoke quickly engulfed the entire floor, and residents ran for their lives.

Nine households were damaged by the blast. The HDB will relocate them — including the two hospitalised victims — to other units in the same area.

Minister of State for Defence Koo Tsai Kee, the area's MP, visited the site on Friday morning. Affected families were given $200 each in cash and vouchers, and Professor Koo said more help was available, reported Channel NewsAsia.

Meanwhile, the Sarah Senior Activity Centre on the second floor was turned into a relief centre, and the National Council of Social Service said it would work with other agencies to help the injured residents as well as offer counselling services.

According to centre manager Tristan Gwee, Mr Chan was a cheerful man who used to volunteer at the centre by cooking lunch for the elderly on weekdays. He only stopped when he was offered a job as a part-time chef with a food caterer.

In response to queries, a Tanjong Pagar Town Council spokesman told Today it had last held the annual fire prevention exercise for residents of the block in January. 73-year-old, living alone, badly burnt in explosion due to possible gas leak

They're Old, But Not Without Appeal

Source : Today, Weekend, August 4, 2007

AFTER years in government service, they are a little worse for wear, but that didn't stop private entities from snapping them up.

The tenders for the former CPIB building at Cantonment Road saw a record 15 bidders vying for the one property. Bravo Building Construction Pte Ltd, a property development company, won the Cantonment Road tender with a bid of $91,731 per month, and is planning to spend some $3 million on renovation.

It plans to retrofit it as a green and handicapped-friendly building complete with wireless network and sublet units to companies involved with the upcoming Integrated Resorts.

It is one of the three State properties recently awarded by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) to increase the supply of interim office space.

Phillips Securities, which won the bid for the former Moulmein community centre at Shan Road at $35,000 per month — the first community centre to be adapted for office use — will spend an additional $1 million to $2 million to renovate and outfit an Investor Centre.

Location, more than the price, was a consideration in the choice of site.

The third site, the former CID Training Centre at Pearl's Hill Terrace, went to Hean Nerng Warehousing Pte Ltd, which put in a bid of $5,300 in monthly rent.

Mr Donald Han, managing director of Cushman & Wakefield Singapore, said the aggressive competition for these sites is part of the spillover effect from high rentals in the Central Business District.

This is the fifth time the SLA has offered State property for office use since February.

Two tenders are now open for office use at 169 Sims Avenue and the former Pei Chun Public School at Toa Payoh.

Three more sites — the former ITE Balestier, Kim Keat Camp at Jalan Rajah and the former Haig Boys' School at Mountbatten Road — will be launched soon.

Amount for construction demand forecast Increased

STRONG demand in the construction sector – which raked in $7.6 billion in the first five months this year – has spurred the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) to revise the construction demand forecast for the year to between $19 billion and $22 billion, up from $17 billion to $19 billion.

Private sector construction is expected to form 70 per cent of demand, with a rise in demand for commercial, residential and hotel developments, as well as major projects like the Marina Bay Financial Centre and contracts for the Integrated Resorts.

Minister of State for National Development Grace Fu said that concrete prices were stabilising, leaping from $70 before Indonesia banned exports of sand in January, to between $140 and $150 today.

The Things HDB Residents Want

Source : Today, Weekend, August 4, 2007

HEARTLANDERS' wish to have more say in their housing precincts and living environment may soon be granted.

For instance, likely changes to the Main Upgrading Programme (MUP) could give residents more flexibility in picking what upgrading features they want or do not want.

Under the MUP standard package, upgrading features within the flat include waterproofing of bathroom floors and installing grab bars. Now, those who vote for the scheme need to pay between $2,490 and $6,225, depending on the type of flats they own.

But in future, residents could choose between specific items instead of specific packages, Dr Maliki Osman, the Parliament Secretary at the Ministry of National Development, told Today.

The Housing and Development Board (HDB) said it was studying existing upgrading programmes and will announce more details when ready.

The suggestion came about following a major consultation exercise involving some 1,000 Singaporeans. The Forum on HDB Heartware was launched last November to source for ideas and views to strengthen ties in the heartland communities.

Many participants had indicated their desire for a greater voice and, said Minister of State for National Development Grace Fu: "What we have done is to look for policies that would allow flexibility and greater decision-making to be introduced." She heads a 12-member panel driving the forum.

Also, HDB residents affected by the Selective En-bloc Redevelopment Scheme will be consulted on the type of precinct facilities they want at their replacement site.

And Canberra division, in Sembawang GRC, will pilot a programme to get residents more involved in decision-making, such as through town hall meetings and block parties. At the latter, they can cast their ballots to choose a colour scheme for a block repainting exercise or decide where to install security CCTVs, for example.

But giving residents flexibility must be moderated by other considerations, said Ms Fu. "(Having) choices doesn't mean more expensive installation of facilities. We have to … make sure it is still affordable to all the residents. We also have to consider the impact on decision-making because we do not want too many steps to be introduced and therefore hold back decisions."

Already, two suggestions thrown up by forum participants are seeing results.

With residents indicating that they "want something 'special' about where they live", the HDB and the National Heritage Board will launch a pilot programme to preserve the heritage and history of public housing towns.

And with heartlanders calling for more wet markets, the HDB — which stopped building markets in new towns after 2004 — has picked Sengkang as the site of a new wet market. But instead of working with the National Environment Agency to let units out to stallholders, the HDB will this time tender out a vacant site to a private operator to build and operate the facility on a short-term lease.

Said Ms Fu: "We are hoping to bring back the old-style hawker centre where it's naturally ventilated and you do not need to air-condition the place, therefore lowering the overall cost of operations."

Some initiatives based on proposals from the HDB Heartware Forum:

* Privately built and operated wet market/hawker centre at Sengkang Town Centre

* Selective En-bloc Redevelopment Scheme (Sers) residents to be consulted on precinct facilities at their replacement site

* Six households affected by Sers can opt to stay together at replacement site

*CCTV cameras to be installed at 12 blocks at Sembawang GRC

*Residents can buy a second season parking ticket at half-price

*Ten items added to list of Community Improvement Projects Committee-funded upgrading programme


It could be easier for married couples to live closer to their parents and in-laws, especially in popular mature estates, if the HDB takes up a suggestion by the Forum on Heartware.

The HDB said it would review its priority schemes but noted that “setting aside more new flats for some groups” would come at the expense of others.

Currently, a couple that is buying a flat near their parents’ home can enjoy two to four times the balloting success rate —depending on whether they are first-time applicants — as compared to others. The hope is to enhance their chances even further.

Another scheme to bolster the family unit involves allowing HDB residents to buy a second season parking ticket at half-price, so that they can park their vehicles more cheaply when visiting family members in a different estate.

Also, more families and neighbours affected by Selective En-bloc Redevelopment theme who want stay together can do so. Up to six households —instead of four currently — can choose to stay close to one another at the replacement site.

No Sale For Horizon Towers

Source : Today, Weekend, August 4, 2007

Authorities dismiss en bloc application because of 'technical irregularities'

A DISPUTE over the $500-million en bloc sale of Horizon Towers has ended with the authorities dismissing the application to approve the sale on "technical grounds".

In rejecting the application on Friday, the Strata Titles Board (STB) accepted the argument put forward by the minority owners that there were technical irregularities in processing the Collective Sale Agreement (CSA), signed in February.

Lawyers involved in the case say this ruling stands out for the sum of money at stake — the biggest deal to be dismissed by the STB on technical grounds.

"This case is not a precedent in the legal sense; there have been other cases in the past where dismissals were made on technical grounds," said lawyer Dr S K Phang, who represented a group of residents opposed to the Horizon Towers sale.

"But it is significant because of the large sum of money involved."

"The STB emphasised that this decision was made on technical grounds and not on substantive issues," he added.

Lawyer Kannan Ramesh of Tan Kok Quan Partnership, who represented another group of objectors, echoed the same sentiment.

"The facts of this case were unique and the irregularities raised held valid by the STB," he said.

However, Mr Jimmy Yim of Drew and Napier, who handled the sale for the sellers, expressed surprise over the decision.

"The decision seems to have been based on a very simple technicality," he said.

"I hope they give a written judgement."

The dispute began early this year, when about 84 per cent of the flat owners signed the agreement to sell Horizon Towers to joint buyers Hotel Properties Limited, Morgan Stanley Real Estate and Qatar Investment Authority for $500 million.

This met the legal requirement of having more than 80 per cent of owners agreeing to a sale in the case of properties more than 10 years old.

Under the agreement, the 199 apartment owners would have pocketed about $2.3 million each and the 11 penthouse owners would have received at least $4 million each.

However, some minority owners raised objections to the sale, protesting that they were unhappy with the sales committee's performance and irregularities in the procedures leading to the sale.

As en bloc sale prices skyrocketed, owners who had originally consented to the deal joined in the dissenting voices, pointing out that the $500-million deal no longer reflected the condominium's "true value".

For example, Grangeford Apartments, a neighbouring development five years older, commanded an asking price of more than $2,000 per square foot (psf), compared to Horizon's $800 psf.

Given that the application to grant the sale has been dismissed, Mr Ramesh said owners can most likely expect prices to be more reflective of current market rates in future en bloc deals. Authorities dismiss en bloc application because of 'technical irregularities'

Five Injured In Fire At Jalan Bukit Merah

Source : Channel NEws Asia, 03 August 2007

Five people were injured in a fire at HDB Block 105 in Jalan Bukit Merah on Friday morning.

One of them, a 70-year-old man, was rescued by firefighters from a burning flat.

He suffered burns on his body.

Four others from neighbouring units suffered smoke inhalation.

All five have been sent to the hospital.

Related Video Link - [Channel News Asia Video News]

The National Council of Social Service (NCSS) has deployed a staff to the nearby Sarah Senior Activity Centre, now used as a relief centre for the affected residents.

The centre is located on the second floor of Block 105.

NCSS said it is working alongside other agencies to help the injured and their families.

It has also linked up with an agency to offer counselling services at the centre if they require such help.

Callers to the MediaCorp News Hotline said the fire broke out at a flat on the sixth floor at about 6.15am.

Video from the Civil Defence Force showed that one flat was totally burnt while two others had external damage.

The fire was brought under control within 10 minutes.

Some residents from units on the 5th to 12th storeys were evacuated as a precautionary measure.

Minister of State for Defence Koo Tsai Kee, who is also the MP for the Tanjong Pagar area, visited the site on Friday morning and an emergency meeting was held with the authorities.

Victims who cannot return to their flats are given temporary housing, while those who can, are given help in cleaning up their homes.

Affected families were given S$200 each in cash and vouchers.

Professor Koo said their needs would be assessed and more help is available.-CNA/ch/so

New HDB Parking Scheme For Children To Visit Parents Regularly

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 03 August 2007

A series of focus group discussions and public dialogues known as the HDB Heartware Forum saw residents come up with ideas to preserve family and community ties when it was held earlier this year.

In response, the government will be implementing a new Family Season Parking Scheme to make it easier for children to visit their parents regularly.

HDB will be offering a 50 percent discount for the second season parking ticket to HDB residents who have already bought a regular season parking ticket at their own residential car parks.

Related Video Link - [Channel News Asia Video News]

Currently, HDB residents pay season parking rates of S$65 per month to S$90 per month, depending on the kind of car parks they have at their estates.

Under this family support scheme, they can enjoy savings of S$32.50 per month to S$45 per month when they purchase a second season parking ticket to park at their parents' HDB car parks.

HDB will also refine its priority schemes for flat allocation, so that newlyweds will have a higher chance of getting a place near their parents in HDB sales exercises.

Minister of State for National Development Grace Fu said: "We do have a limited number of flats and the more priority we accord to one group means there will be less chances for the others, so we have to strike a balance here.

"We are looking at how we can improve the chances for the newlyweds, but at the same time, be mindful that there are some who want to purchase new flats for upgrading purposes."

More will also be done to foster a sense of ownership among the residents, beginning with the Canberra Division in Sembawang GRC.

MP Dr Lim Wee Kiat said he would start a new three-stage consultation process in his constituency, which will be used for an upcoming project to clean up the precinct.

Dr Lim said: "What we will do is, we will monitor and we will reduce the cleaning frequency within the particular estate, hoping that in reduction of the cleaning frequency, we will pass these savings back as rebates in conservancy charges to the residents."

HDB will also amend the Joint Selection Scheme, applicable to residents affected by the Selective En Bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS).

It will soon allow six households, instead of four, to jointly select replacement flats at the same site.

To further engage the residents, the National Development Ministry will launch a Resident Community Portal to allow them to interact via features like blogs, chatrooms and podcasts.

This portal will be ready by December this year. - CNA/so

HDB To Give Residents More Say In Estate-Upgrading Pans

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 03 August 2007

HDB flat owners will soon be able to pick and choose some of the features they would like to have in their estate's upgrading programme.

This is one of the recommendations from residents who participated in a series of discussions known as the HDB Heartware Forum earlier this year.

A closed-circuit TV system is one item on the expanded list of features that residents can select.

Funded by the Community Improvement Projects Committee, it is among ten additional items on the list that include community halls and bird hangers.

HDB said it recognises that precincts should not be developed in a cookie-cutter style, which is why residents would be allowed to opt out of some of the features of the upgrading programme and shape their own living environment.

But the panel overseeing the HDB Heartware Forum added that such flexibility would not be implemented across the board and would likely be reserved for very important decisions.

What it hopes to formalise is a voting process where residents can ballot for their choices.

Minister of State for National Development Grace Fu said: "(Having) choices doesn't mean more expensive installation of facilities. We have to manage the cost part to make sure that it is still affordable to all the residents.

"We also have to consider the impact of the timing of decision making because we do not want too many steps to be introduced and therefore hold back decisions."

HDB will also start consultation of SERS (Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme) residents regarding the precinct facilities at their replacement sites.

Related Video Link - [Channel NewsAsia Video News]

Residents contributed views and ideas over the 8-month-long HDB Heartware Forum, comprising a series of focus group discussions and public dialogues.

The discussion exercise also saw many calling for wet markets and hawker centres.

HDB has since decided to put up a site in Sengkang for this purpose, three years after it stopped building wet markets.

The pilot project will be tendered to a private operator who will build and manage it.

Ms Fu said: "We are hoping to bring back the old-style hawker centre where it's naturally ventilated and you do not need to air-condition the place, therefore lowering the overall cost of operations.

"But having said that, I think we will ask HDB to look at the criteria and the demographic requirements of different estates."

The panel also hopes to see more schools and community sharing available facilities.

So far, 50 secondary schools have opened up their fields to the public and 50 more primary schools will soon follow suit.

Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education Masagos Zulkofli said: "It could be something that the school and the community might co-fund – maybe a gym or auditorium – facilities that the public, on its own, may not optimally use."

Many of the initiatives are still at the planning stage and the HDB is expected to announce more details in the months ahead.

But even as the living environment is enhanced, the history of each estate will not be forgotten.

HDB is looking at ways to preserve the heritage of the Geylang Serai area as it is being redeveloped.

It is exploring options for the new Geylang Serai market, which may be built in a style reminiscent of rustic Malay architecture, with an exhibition space to showcase its history. - CNA/so

Peter Kwee To Build 200-Room Hotel On Laguna Club Grounds

Source : The Straits Times, Sat, Aug 04, 2007

ENTREPRENEUR Peter Kwee, known for his cars and country clubs, will build a 200-room hotel on the grounds of his Laguna National Golf & Country Club.

The project, estimated to cost $90million, is expected to be completed by 2010. It will be the first hotel on a golf course in Singapore.

Mr Kwee, 60, told The Straits Times that regulatory approval has been granted, adding that the design, plan approval and tender process will take around nine months. Construction will take about two years.

The hotel's 2010 opening should leave it well-placed to cash in on the tourism boom that the integrated resorts are expected to herald.

Mr Kwee has not decided on the class of hotel. 'The money is in three- and four-star hotels, but the prestige is in five- and six-star ones,' he said.

But he is clear about other concepts he wants for the hotel, which will be his first in Singapore. He owns one hotel in Perth, Western Australia.

Mr Kwee said the Laguna hotel will be tied to the club membership and construction will coincide with a revamp of the golf course and its facilities, containing 16 rooms mainly to accommodate overseas players.

He has not decided whether Laguna will run the hotel but is in talks with a Japanese hotel management company.

He has also won approval to rebuild a Nassim Road site that may be used for a five-storey townhouse with a basement carpark and a swimming pool. This project will cost $120 million.

The real estate boom, with top-end apartments breaching $4,000 per sq ft and landed property crossing the $1,000 psf barrier, is good news to Mr Kwee. His land holdings stand at around 200,000 sq ft, all in the prime districts.

Barely three years ago, the Indonesian-born businessman had tongues wagging when he relinquished some properties, sports cars and two motor franchises.

Asked how much his net worth has increased with the boom, Mr Kwee said: 'It does not matter whether my properties have gone up by $10 million to $20 million. I can eat only three meals a day.'

Explosion Rips Through Flat, Leaving Man, 70, Badly Burnt

Source : The Straits Times, Sat, Aug 04, 2007

THE early-morning calm in Jalan Bukit Merah was shattered yesterday by a blast and an ensuing blaze at Block 105.

The force of the explosion blew out the front wall of a one-room rental unit on the sixth floor, ripped off kitchen windows and their frames, and sent them flying about 15m from the block.

The fire then gutted what was left of the flat, and little was recognisable later.

Firefighters battling the blaze entered the unit to find 70-year-old Chan Fook Seng standing at the back of the flat.

His shorts were soaked in blood and it looked like he had severe burns, witnesses said - but he was dousing himself with water.

The grandfather is now in intensive care at the Singapore General Hospital, with burns over 80 per cent of his body.

The blast and fire at 6.15am claimed another serious casualty - an 80-year-old woman - and left about a dozen residents from nine units unable to return home last night. All but one of these units were on the sixth floor.

The woman, Ms Chan Soo Ngan, whose flat was across the corridor from Mr Chan's, is also in intensive care with inhalation burns.

She could not leave her flat because the blown-out front wall of Mr Chan's unit blocked her only escape route. She remained trapped and was crying out weakly until help came.

One resident who escaped injury, Mr Mohd Nizam, a 26-year-old hotel bellhop, said he thought a bomb had gone off.

Ms See Chai Meng, 42, who lives two units away from Mr Chan, thought she had heard a 'giant thunderclap' at first, but realised something far worse was afoot when she heard residents from the opposite block screaming 'fire, fire!'. Clad in sleepwear, she and her neighbours bolted downstairs, some with damp towels pressed to their faces.

Three residents were taken to hospital after inhaling too much smoke, but they were later discharged, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said.

The blast sent out smoke so thick, residents living on the upper floors of the 12-storey block left their homes. The SCDF and police evacuated many from the fifth to 12th floors as a precautionary measure.

Engineers checked and found the block structurally sound, but the damage to the affected units was so extensive that their tenants could not move back last night. They have been assigned alternative accommodation while repairs are being done.

Preliminary findings indicate that a gas leak contributed to the blast.

Mr Chan, said to be a widower who lived alone, was described by residents as a hale fellow who cooked and was an active volunteer worker. His son, daughter and grandson rushed to hospital on receiving the news.

MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC Koo Tsai Kee said at the scene that those who lost belongings would be given food and money to tide them over for this period, and that 'nobody will sleep on the streets'.

All Burnt Out

Source : The Straits Times, Aug 4, 2007

It looks like a war zone to residents returning home after the Bukit Merah blast, but help is at hand for them

GUTTED: The blast blew out the front wall of a one-room rental unit (above) on the sixth floor, ripped off kitchen windows and frames, and sent them flying 15m from the block, even as firefighters rushed to the scene. -- ST PHOTO: FRANCIS ONG

THEY are grateful to be alive.

But the residents who made it out of their homes in yesterday's blast and fire in a flat in Block 105, Jalan Bukit Merah have realised that their ordeal is not quite over.

Allowed back into their sixth-floor flats after the fire was put out, they saw the extent of the damage and the little that could be salvaged from their one-room rental homes.

It looked like a war zone.

They picked their way over twisted metal and puddles of water left by the firefighters, down a corridor darkened with soot.

And as they made their way past a gaping hole where the front wall of a flat once stood, they were reminded of the 6.15am blast which left its 70-year-old tenant with severe burns, an elderly woman with serious smoke inhalation injuries and three others with breathing difficulties.

Soot plastered the walls in some flats; melted wires dangled from some ceilings.

There was no way they were going to be able to move back into their homes last night - or perhaps even the next few nights.

The affected residents came from eight units along the sixth floor and one unit on the seventh directly above the blast flat.

As Mr Cheong Soon Onn, 65, who lived alone in the unit next to the blast flat, sifted through the items in his soot-covered home, he said in Mandarin: 'I'm glad they banged on my door to ask me to run, or I would have been burnt to death here.'

His sister's family was with him to help him gather his things.

One resident gathered essential items like passports and wallets into a bag; another moved some plastic boxes and suitcases of clothes.

An emergency meeting was called about four hours after the blast and fire to bring together the agencies that will help the victims.

Associate Professor Koo Tsai Kee, a Member of Parliament for the area, which is in the Tanjong Pagar GRC, told reporters that although the building was structurally sound, measures were being taken to ensure the area was safe before residents would be allowed to move back.

The flats that need cleaning and painting will get the necessary help soon, even as the victims were given $100 and another $100 in supermarket vouchers by the area's community development council.

At the Sarah Senior Activity Centre on the second floor of the block, social services staff coordinated aid for the victims or counselled them.

While the resident in one unit went to live with relatives, the Housing Board extended help to five families, putting them up in vacant units in the same block or those nearby.

As those affected received their keys at around 3pm, one resident, Mr Muhammad Nizam Muhammad Kassim, 26, turned down a unit on the sixth floor, although it was sited away from the damage.

'Phobia, lah,' is all he would say.

Neighbours not normally chatty with each other started swopping accounts and taking turns to view a video of the day's drama on somebody's mobile phone. (Visit to see the clip, which is part of the online team's report.)

Madam Salbiyah Sinin, 33, quipped: 'Now we are talking like we have known each other for years!'

Another resident said to her as they parted ways to move into their temporary homes: 'We will be staying in the same block, if you need help you can just call me.'

VIDEO Link - [The Straits Times Video News]

Elderly badly burnt and residents evacuated in Bukit Merah blaze (2:49)

An early morning blaze in Bukit Merah flat left the unit completely destroyed with its elderly occupant suffering first degree burns.
Some residents were also evacuated and placed in temporary homes as the fire gutted neighbouring units.

The incident at Blk 105 Jalan Bukit Merah happened at 6:15 am Friday Morning.

Choo Ren Min was at the scene and filed this report.

Residents Want Greater Say In Estate Matters

Source : The Straits Times, Aug 4, 2007

HDB to review upgrading schemes to offer more choices

RESIDENTS in public housing estates want a greater say in how their estates are run and the Housing Board is considering giving it a shot.
It will review existing upgrading programmes to see how residents can have more choice over improvements.

It has altered its resettlement scheme to give residents more leeway to live near neighbours to whom they feel close, and will ask them what facilities they hope to have in future estates.

This response comes after a consultation exercise - the Forum on HDB Heartware - aimed at finding ways to strengthen estate communities.

It was launched last November by the Ministry of National Development and attracted the views of more than 1,000. Its findings were released yesterday.

One theme that emerged was the desire for more influence over decision-making as a way to promote belonging and ownership. To this end, HDB will allow more household groups to select new flats together when holding Selective En-bloc Redevelopment Scheme exercises.

Wet markets in new estates?
WET markets could make a comeback in new estates after the forum consultation exercise called for their return.

The Housing Board, in a policy U-turn, responded to resident demands by allowing a private operator to build and run a wet market and hawker centre in Sengkang, possibly on a site in Ponggol Central.

Under the previous arrangement, only four neighbours living on the same floor or related families could pick new flats together when old blocks were demolished to make way for new ones,

Now up to six households can do so, and they do not have to live on the same floor or even the same block. This gives them a chance to retain close ties.

The HDB is also considering avoiding a cookie-cutter approach to its upgrading programmes and giving residents more choice over their flat's improvements.

Residents now foot the same bill for upgrading even if they opt out of enhancements such as new windows, grilles, front doors and gates.

And a new development is on the drawing board in Sembawang. Dr Lim Wee Kiak, an MP for Sembawang GRC, told a press conference yesterday that he will try out a collective decision-making scheme for residents. They will be invited to a general meeting to voice ideas which will be discussed in detail before being voted on.

Three projects have been lined up for this scheme - one to install CCTV cameras, another to get residents to keep their estate clean, and the last to determine the type of cyclical repair and redecoration work to be done.