Saturday, September 29, 2007

130,000 May Get To Watch Singapore GP, 3 Other Races

Source : The Business Times, September 29, 2007

Corporate packages, hospitality suites to go on sale in Nov

It is all systems go for Singapore's Formula One Grand Prix street circuit which has received in-principle approval from the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), a green light that will see construction on the circuit beginning as early as next month.

And gathered around that circuit when the event roars to life a year from now will be a possible 130,000 spectators, who will get to enjoy three supporting races apart from the main fare. The announcements came yesterday at the one-year countdown to the Singapore Grand Prix 2008 being held by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) along with race promoter Singapore GP Pte Ltd (SGP).

Singapore's 5.067-km-long circuit will host the first street race in Asia. It is also one of only three circuits in the world to run counter-clockwise. It can be granted a full circuit licence only during the final FIA inspection in the week of the race itself.

Another highly anticipated announcement involved corporate hospitality suites and packages, which will go on sale in late November. Members of the public will be able to purchase three-day passes from December. Single-day passes, if any, will be issued just before Chinese New Year.

SGP and STB are hoping to garner 125,000-130,000 spectators for the event. 'Where we may not be able to put seats because of the limitations of the terrain, we will have options for people to be standing and watching the race,' said Leong Yue Kheong, director of F1 Projects for STB.

In addition to the 26,000-person seating gallery opposite the floating platform, there are provisional plans to build additional grandstands at the Padang, opposite the pit lane near the starting grid and at the War Memorial Park, among others.

'There are several options being examined by the race promoter together with the various agencies to see how we can maximise the spectators value,' he added.

F1 fans can also look forward to three supporting races - GP2, saloon cars and BMW Junior Championships - which are slated to start at 2pm - in the run-up to the main event.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) will be in charge of managing the modifications to existing infrastructure such as the widening of roads and the removal of road curbs and traffic islands along certain areas of the circuit. A 1.2-km road which will constitute the start and finish straight of the track will also be built alongside the pit building.

LTA announced yesterday the award of three contracts for the road works totalling $18.014 million to Or Kim Peow Contractors (Pte) Ltd, Sato Kogyo (Singapore) Pte Ltd and Works Infrastructure Pte Ltd. Over $50 million is expected to be invested in public road works and infrastructure changes.

What remains pending now is confirmation of whether the 61-lap street race will be a night one. If so, it will set a precedent in F1 history. Minister of State for Trade and Industry S Iswaran said feedback from trials conducted in Europe in recent months has been positive. 'We are in the last mile,' he reckoned, acknowledging that the outlook was optimistic. He also launched the countdown clock on the official F1 Singapore website - - which will enable F1 afficionados to be privy to regular updates and insider tips.

Two Reasons Why Scheme Will Not Be Received Well

Source : The Straits Times, Sept 29, 2007

IN PRINCIPLE, the concept of a compulsory annuity scheme is good for the people.
However, I strongly believe that two areas of this scheme will not be well received by annuitants.

First is the withdrawal age of annuitants at 85 years old. Many will not expect to live to this age and beyond. I took a simple survey. Randomly I took out an issue of The Straits Times (Sept 25, 2007) and turned to the obituary page. Of the 26 advertised, only one - Madam Eng Pheck Kheng, aged 91 - managed to pass the 85-year-old mark. Nine with ages stated were below 85 years old. The rest, whose ages were not published, looked like they were between 40 and 75 years old.

Also my late mother, the youngest among her 10 brothers and sisters, lived the longest at the age of 84. All of them were born in China, suffered extreme hardship both physically and mentally in China as well as during World War II in Singapore, and yet none could live up to the age of 85.

It is difficult to believe that many of the annuitants of this generation doing mostly sedentary work can live up to 85 and receiving their annuities.

Secondly, on the withdrawal sum of about $300 in 30 years' time, this is a pathetic amount. Taking into consideration an average inflationary rate of 2 per cent annually, this amount will shrink to $180.

The $180 annuity may be just enough to buy three meals, some clothing and footwear and a haircut. There will be no roof over their heads, nor any money left for transport, not to mention medical treatment.

Raymond Lo Wan Mou

Compulsory Annuity Scheme Unfair To The Poor, Sick And Those Without Longevity Ggenes

Source : The Straits Times, Sept 29, 2007

AS SINGAPOREANS begin to live longer and as our society begins to age, there is this fear that this would put a great strain on the taxpayers and other resources.
To alleviate this problem, the conventional thinking is that the aged should have enough money to take care of themselves. Hence, the idea of a compulsory annuity scheme has been mooted where a pooled contribution would allow any survivor beyond 85 years of age to draw out a monthly sum of income.

Though the Government does not believe in giving out handouts because this would mean having to tax the people more, a compulsory annuity or compulsory longevity insurance would actually be doing just that. Once we strip off the veneer of fanciful names, we will see that as long as it is compulsory and non-refundable, such a scheme would, in fact, be a kind of taxation to finance a handout that will be given to those who have managed to live beyond 85 years old.

A scheme like this would have been laudable if it is not so inequitable. Statistics have shown that the poor, the people with chronic illnesses and those in the lower social class and without a family tend to die earlier than those in the higher social class.

This means that such a compulsory annuity scheme, which pays out only to those after the age of 85, would be depending on the poor, the sick and those without longevity genes to support the healthier and better off.

Furthermore, many of those who live beyond 85 are likely to be those who really do not need the 'handouts'.

The problem of a bulging population of dependents is not something new. After World War II, a baby boom did give governments such a headache. The pressure on governments then was even greater, given the depleted resources of a post-war economy. There were no reserves to fall back on.

In Singapore then, the rate of unemployment was high. Half the population was illiterate and there were not enough schools for the young. Living conditions were appalling. In other words, the majority of the population lived in poverty and filth and always under threat of disease and crime.

The government then had to build standpipes for people to have free water to bathe, wash their clothes and cook their food. It had to provide free health care, free mass vaccinations, free mobile X-rays and free hospitalisation for the poor. Money was not only spent on building schools, it was also spent on free milk to nourish the children who were suffering from poor nutrition and free textbooks for those who could not afford them. Cheap housing had to be built to provide decent living quarters for a growing population and recreation facilities for youths to keep them off the streets.

The problem then, if not more, was no less severe than what we will be facing in future. Statistics projected to 2030 showing only four people who are able to support one aged person are often quoted to show the gravity of the future problem. Is this figure any worse than the number of dependents that had to be supported by one provider in the period after the war?

These same baby boomers who had given governments problems when they were growing up are now part of the elderly boomers who are growing old.

What are the issues facing the governments then and now? Is the problem going to be greater in future than then?

In the past, the need for employment, housing, education, health care, utilities, transport and social facilities was urgent. They were all major items. Now the only big-ticket item is health care. There is no reason why with sensible health-care policies, the high cost of health care could not be overcome. In the past, the Maternal and Child Health Clinics and the School Health Clinics provided very good health care to both the growing baby boomers and their mothers. There is no reason why a similar basic health-care system could not be developed to care for the elderly. Good health care does not necessarily mean executive-class health care.

One of the reasons why many elderly boomers do not have enough money for their retirement is that a lot of their savings was eaten away by expensive health care, some of which may merely be adding a bit of quantity to life without giving it any quality.

Thus, the approach that was used to tackle the problems of the baby boomers should be transposed to tackle the problems of the elderly boomers. We cannot expect a paltry monthly annuity payout to do this. There is no way to avoid government interventions, the involvement of the state agencies and society to deal with the problem.

We need to rationalise health care, especially for chronic diseases and end-of-life care, so as not to make health care a burden to the patient, the family or the state. We have to develop greater social support for the elderly. As with child care, we now need government-subsidised day-care centres, nursing homes and community hospitals. We need to introduce parent-care leave and no-pay leave for people who want to take time off to look after an ailing parent. Instead of the Baby Bonus scheme, we can have elderly-parent bonus scheme and exemption of maid levy for the totally-dependent elderly. A similar scheme like health education and home visits that nurses used to do for rural Singapore could be used for home-bound elderly.

A compulsory annuity scheme that is non-refundable is not only inequitable. By implicitly telling the very old that they have to take care of themselves, we are giving out the signal that the old aged no longer need the family and the society to take care of them. What kind of society would we be if families and society try to wash their hands off the old elderly?

There is no reason why we cannot overcome that problem of the elderly boomers if families, society and the Government put their shoulders together against the wheel. Even if some money is spent, it is worth every cent if what we get in the end is a more compassionate and enlightened society.

After all, with all the prosperity generated by the elderly boomers during their prime, whatever programme would merely be a gesture of gratitude from a country to the people who have served it well.

Dr Wong Wee Nam

Govt Investments De-Linked From CPF Funds

Source : The Straits Times, Sept 29, 2007

IN 'CPF finances: Clarity needed to clear the cloud of confusion' (ST, Sept 20), Ms Chua Mui Hoong questioned whether the CPF provides a cheap source of funds for the Government's investments. Subsequent Forum letters also raised the matter of how the return on CPF funds is calculated, and what constitutes a fair return.

The interest members receive for their CPF money should reflect what they could earn by investing in the financial markets, in investments which have comparable risk and duration. All CPF balances are guaranteed by the Government and hence free of risk. Hence the Special, Medisave and Retirement Account (SMRA) interest rates will now be pegged to long-term government-bond yields. Furthermore, the first $60,000 of each person's CPF balances, to be held for the long term, will attract an extra 1 percentage point in interest. This means that they will always earn at least 3.5 per cent interest.

No commercial bank or fund manager offers more generous terms on such investments. Members seeking higher returns can take out their funds to invest through the CPF Investment Scheme (CPFIS). However, 83 per cent of CPF members who invested their OA savings in the CPFIS from 2002 to 2006 realised less than 2.5 per cent returns - the base rate of the OA. Half of all members who invested experienced negative returns, losing some part of their capital sum.

The CPF Board invests members' savings in special securities issued by the Government, which pay the CPF Board the same interest rates that its members receive. The Government pools the proceeds from issuing these securities with the rest of its funds, and invests them professionally for long-term returns. This is completely de-linked from the CPF Board and CPF members. Were this not so, CPF members would be exposed to the investment risks and could not receive guaranteed minimum interest rates.

Up to now, both GIC and Temasek Holdings have earned returns that exceeded CPF interest rates, on average over the years. But this does not mean that the Government is making use of the CPF as a 'cheap source of funds', or earning a 'spread at people's expense'.

First, the Government does not need more funds to invest. Even if it did, it could raise funds more cheaply by issuing treasury bills and government securities, instead of using CPF funds.

Second, Temasek and GIC achieve higher returns on average only by taking on more investment risks. Hence these returns are volatile - they can be low or even negative in some years. Furthermore, we cannot assume that GIC and Temasek will do as well in future. The past two decades have been an exceptional period for global financial markets. Looking ahead, we cannot rule out protracted market downturns, lasting several years. Most CPF members have small balances and will not welcome these risks. Neither will older members waiting to withdraw their retirement funds.

Third, Singaporeans benefit when GIC and Temasek investments do well. Every year, the Government draws part of these investment returns to fund the annual Budget. The revenue is spent on worthwhile investments and social needs, including subsidies for housing, education and health care. And from time to time, the Government distributes accumulated budget surpluses to citizens through CPF top-ups and other schemes.

The Government does not rule out the possibility of introducing private pension plans for those with balances above $60,000 and a higher capacity to take risk. However, it would be unwise for members with low balances to take excessive risks on their basic retirement savings.

The current arrangement thus enables all CPF members to earn fair and risk-free returns on their retirement savings, while benefiting from the good performance of GIC and Temasek through the annual Budget. This is the right way to help Singaporeans save for their old age, and enjoy peace of mind in their golden years.

Jacqueline Poh (Ms)
Director (Special Duties)
Ministry of Finance

F1 Street Race - 1 Year & Counting...

Source : The Straits Times, Sept 29, 2007

With exactly one year to go for the Singapore Grand Prix, preparations for the F1 race has shifted into a higher gear as the world motorsport body, the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), has given the street circuit the go ahead.

But as Jermyn Chow reports, local race promoters are still awaiting confirmation as to whether it can stage a night race - a first in F1 history

Related Video Link -
F1 Street Race - 1 Year & Counting...

Related Video Link -
Drive through S'pore F1 circuit in 3D!

CPF Changes A Fair Deal, So Why The Hesitation?

Source : The Straits Times, Sept 29, 2007

ACCORDING to a certain fortune teller, I will live to 103.

That's the age an online longevity test,, spat out after quizzing me on my medical history and lifestyle.

That would mean I have over 61 years left. Despite the stories of contented centenarians one sometimes reads, I confess the prospect filled me with dry-throat dread.

My sense of trepidation was so overwhelming, I momentarily entertained thoughts of picking up smoking so the computer would shave a few decades off my life expectancy.

Like many other Singaporeans, my unwillingness to contemplate old age is connected to fears about what my health will be like, how to deal with loneliness that will envelop me if my loved ones die first, and how to cope financially.

The announcement of the latest changes to the Central Provident Fund (CPF) ran up against a natural resistance to confronting such difficult facts. The Government's announcements were as welcome as someone forcing you to stare into a photograph that has caught you with a particularly unflattering expression.

The instinct is to deny the person in the image represents you.

Similarly, many do not want to connect with the picture the Government is presenting, of people who will grow old and who risk real suffering unless they are forced to start saving more now.

People have been reluctant to embrace the obvious. The facts are that many will live longer than their parents did, with fewer young people to support them.

The other set of facts has to do with just how much savings people have put aside in their CPF. In a recent Straits Times Insight survey, seven in 10 said they knew their CPF would be inadequate for retirement. They also listed as other options for financial independence - continuing work, tapping on other savings or their family.

Judging by this survey, certain realities have actually sunk in. Singaporeans know they do not have enough for old age. Whatever they have set aside has, for the most part, gone into their home, not an inconsiderable asset they can monetise later.

So why has the debate witnessed an undercurrent of tension between Government and people?

Some attribute the unhappiness to the longevity insurance. If that is so, one suspects it is over the modification of the CPF system from one of forced savings to incorporate the element of risk pooling.

When it is forced savings, the understanding is, it is my money and it will be returned to me or my beneficiary.

When it becomes an annuity that premises its continued funding on risk pooling, I am contributing to a pool. Yes, I am betting on a long life and someone else underwriting it but I do not like the fact that if I exit too early, I 'lose'.

But the extra one percentage point members will get from their CPF balances will pay for the annuity, as the Government has explained. Hence, they will not be out of pocket by taking up an annuity.

Seen that way, it is a pretty fair deal.

However, what complicates the matter is the other issue being debated, which is whether the Government ought to give better rates of returns.

Why can't it match the returns made by Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC) and Temasek Holdings, which invest on its behalf?

The reasons it has given are compelling. First, this is as good as it gets for a product that is virtually guaranteed. Put simply, for the majority of CPF account holders - seven in 10 of them who have balances of less than $60,000 and stand to gain the most from the changes - this is a sure-win proposition.

It must be flattering to GIC fund managers to hear that Singaporeans have such confidence in their abilities, but as the saying goes, past performance is no guarantee of future returns.

GIC investments certainly seem like a good bet, but they are not guaranteed, and it would be irresponsible of the Government to claim it was.

Second, exposing CPF members to higher risks may not be something they can live with. The ST Insight survey found that nearly half of those polled did not know how much interest they earned on their CPF.

That surely is an indication that many are not financially savvy and would probably be better off leaving it under a risk-free, guaranteed scheme.

Indeed, most of those polled were largely risk-averse. Asked about investment choices, close to four in five would opt to invest their CPF Ordinary Account savings in those with no or low risk.

Beyond these reasons, there are two lessons from other countries worth paying heed to.

One is that pension funds by companies are untenable and national pension funds are in a fiscally calamitous state. In the United States, for example, the social security system has gone from a worker-to-retiree ratio of 16 to one in 1950, to three to one today, and is expected to be at two to one by 2030, at which point spending on old-age entitlements will make up two-thirds of the federal budget.

Italy is faring even worse, with a mere 0.7 worker for each retiree, which means there are more people collecting benefits than paying taxes.

The second lesson is this: Financial strategists in the West have come to the conclusion that with longer life expectancies, annuities to hedge against longevity make sense. The latest issue of the magazine, Financial Planning, makes this case that the elderly should have 'at least some fraction of their nest egg' annuitised.

Perhaps, these concerns over longevity insurance and interest rates hark to a larger underlying issue, which is over the question of subsidies and just how much direct subsidy the Government is prepared to commit upfront to fund the people's retirement needs.

It is ideologically opposed to the pay-as-you-go system of other social security funds, which end up burdening future generations. It is also against dipping into past reserves.

As of now, it says these are non-negotiable issues. But the pressures it will face on this front will only grow and the hard reality is that it will need to continually explain and defend its position to new generations of retirees.

As Second Minister for Finance Tharman Shanmugaratnam set out on the previous page, there is a chunk of assistance given over the course of a low-income worker's life through Workfare, housing grants and so forth, that amount to one-third of his retirement savings.

Another step the Government is taking is in the redefining of net investment income or NII, which will unlock more money than is traditionally put away. This, if anything, signals that it is putting its money where its mouth is.

It is unfortunate that the Government's sincerity is sometimes obscured by its zealous emphasis of the anti-welfare, self-reliance message, as well as the coincidence that its biggest give-aways seem serendipitously to match the electoral calendar. As a result, the level of trust in the latest moves is surprisingly low for a Government with such a strong record.

All in, it has its work cut out for it. Singaporeans will probably take longer to be convinced, which is a pity.

The sooner the country hunkers down to map a realistic strategy for its ageing population, the better off it will be.

And that should be obvious even without the aid of a fortune teller.

It'll Bring A Buzz To The Bay Area

Source : The New Paper, September 29, 2007

Ex-STB director joins property developer to jazz up Collyer Quay waterfront

SHE is a familiar face on the party circuit and society magazines and can sometimes be spotted spinning downtempo music or singing jazz numbers at the nightspots.

The double-storey Customs House will be equipped with berthing facilities and will be transformed into a dining zone with five upscale restaurants.

Now, Ms Sulian Tan-Wijaya, 42, is the face of The Fullerton Heritage, a strip of waterfront properties that will feature hip entertainment outlets and more.

This month, she joined property developer Sino Group after a 3 1/2-year stint with the Singapore Tourism Board (STB).

'I was enticed by the opportunity to work on this beautiful waterfront project. This is one of the most exciting integrated waterfront developments in the world,' she told The New Paper.

Next September, when the Formula1 race cars roar to life on the streets, the race will also take you past a different landscape along Raffles Quay.

The tranquil waterfront will be transformed into an exciting lifestyle precinct in the next two years.

There will be a 24-hour entertainment zone, a new luxury retail cluster, a 100-room boutique hotel and world-class restaurants located along The Fullerton Heritage.

Ms Tan-Wijaya, who is a mother of two, added that One Fullerton, a two-storey complex by the waterfront, is now undergoing a revamp, with trendier food and beverage (F&B) and entertainment outlets coming up.

The renovation at One Fullerton is in various phases as there are existing F&B tenants whose lease will expire next year.

Each unit at One Fullerton ranges from 417 sq ft to 5,420 sq ft.

To enhance the waterfront experience, a boardwalk featuring art installations will also be built there.

One Fullerton's revamp will be completed next August, together with Clifford Pier.

The pier, a historical landmark with 15,000 sq ft of commercial space, will house eight upscale watch, fashion and jewellery brand-name shops.

Next to it will be a floating platform that will house a nightspot, taking up to 7,000 sq ft.

In 2009, another two projects will be realised: The 100-room Fullerton Bay Hotel, managed by the Fullerton Hotels & Resorts, and the double-storey Customs House that will be transformed into a dining zone with five upscale restaurants.

The Customs House will be equipped with berthing facilities.

Ms Tan-Wijaya, who has a law degree, looks after the marketing, public relations and leasing of retail, dining and entertainment spaces at The Fullerton Heritage, which also covers The Merlion Park and The Fullerton Waterboat House.

(Above) An artist's impression of how the new Fullerton Heritage will look like once construction is completed. -- Pictures: SINO GROUP, CHOO CHWEE HUA

The former corporate banker and general manager of Wisma Atria would not reveal the development cost.

Well-known waterfront destinations around the world include Sydney's Darling Harbour and the Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco.

For The Fullerton Heritage, Ms Tan-Wijaya said to picture yourself dining while overlooking such Singapore icons as The Esplanade, the floating stadium, the Singapore Flyer, Garden by the Bay, and the Marina Bay Sands integrated resort.

An Urban Redevelopment Authority spokesman said the waterfront heritage development at Collyer Quay, which includes Clifford Pier and the Customs House, is expected to be 'the cosmopolitan centre of Singapore'.


The Formula 1 Grand Prix from next year will also benefit nearby hotels like The Fullerton Hotel and Fullerton Bay Hotel.

Ms Caroline Leong, STB's director for travel & hospitality business, told The New Paper that the new Fullerton Bay Hotel will inject 'new buzz' in the Marina Bay area.

'With the Formula 1 circuit near The Fullerton Hotel as well as the new hotel at Collyer Quay, these will be key hotels for tourists to stay,' she said.

But whether we will see Ms Tan-Wijaya behind the DJ decks at the waterfront bars, well, she's keeping mum.

China Firm Wins Resorts World Steel Deal

Source : Weekend TODAY, September 29, 2007

China Jingye Construction Engineering Contract Company was yesterday awarded a $60-million contract to supply, fabricate and deliver structural steel to Resorts World at Sentosa.

The contract covers the supply of 23,000 tonnes of structural steel, with the first batch to be delivered in February next year.

The rest of the steel is to be delivered over the next 18 months.

The resort, slated to open in 2010, will use the steel to construct its hotels and attractions, including Universal Studios Singapore.

Mr Michael Chin, senior director of projects, said: “Although price was a criterion in awarding the contract, China Jingye’s ability to handle the size of this project and its commitment sealed the deal.” — ESTHER FUNG

Don’t Withhold The Hay

Source : Weekend TODAY, September 29, 2007

Keep empowering S’poreans at 55


I DON’T think that “What’s missing in the CPF debate” (Sept 26) is the dichotomy between what Singaporeans expect from the Government and what it is willing to give.

Rather, I think it is the Government’s selective empowerment and disempowerment modus operandi that rile Singaporeans.

When the Government liberalised the use of the Special Account for Central Provident Fund members to invest in low-risk financial instruments, the narrative was to empower them to earn better returns for their future: Go ahead, make as much hay in the sun as you can.

But once Singaporeans reach the age of 55, the disempowerment mode kicks in, from an increasing Minimum Sum to a later retirement age and longevity insurance: Sorry, mate, we worry that you will squander away your hard-earned largesse, so, staggered release and a to-the-grave annuity is the way to go.

Ditto for official exhortations for citizens to be more entrepreneurial and develop a more gung-ho, can-do attitude. Extend that freed spirit with reverent cognizance of those who helped create this Third-to-First World miracle in record time.

At the heart of the annuities debate is the back issue of a person’s money and his right to do what he pleases with it. If 55 is not a mature and responsible age, I do not know what is.

F1 Works To Hit The Road

Source : Weekend TODAY, September 29, 2007

Street circuit gets FIA nod, LTA awards $18m contracts

SINGAPORE'S street circuit for next year's Formula 1 race has gotten the green light from the world motor sport body, and this is a signal for work to begin next month.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) has awarded a total of $18 million of contracts for three major works around the 5-km circuit, the design of which has received in-principle approval from the Federation Internationale de L'Automobile (FIA).

The road along Raffles Boulevard, from Nicoll Highway to Temasek Avenue, will be widened by one lane. Existing roads in the city centre along the F1 track will also be modified with road kerbs and traffic islands removed.

A new 1.2-km road off Republic Boulevard will also be built. It will form part of the start and finish straights on the track.

After the races end, a section of the new road, linked to Republic Boulevard, will open for daily traffic use.

The promenade, fronting the seating gallery of the Marina Bay Floating Platform, will also be widened, and a new road added.

Marking the one-year countdown on Friday to the race start next year, Minister of State for Trade and Industry S Iswaran said all government agencies, including the LTA, are committed to "minimising the disruption" for road users.

The LTA said information on traffic diversions will be provided and road works carried out during non-peak hours, where possible. The road works are expected to be completed next May.

The FIA will make several inspections in the coming months and issue the full circuit licence after the final inspection on the week of the race itself.

According to Singapore Tourism Board (STB) director Leong Yue Kheong, organisers expect between 100,000 and 130,000 ticket-holding spectators on each race day. Several spectator stands are being planned at the Padang facing City Hall, and at the first turn of the circuit at Republic Boulevard.

But organisers are also drawing up plans in anticipation of crowd sizes surging beyond 130,000. Plans include designating drop-off points for public transport, and staging post-race events that will stagger movements out of the area. The STB is looking into concerts headlined by top acts as part of the fringe activities.

The Singapore Grand Prix — one of only three race circuits with Istanbul in Turkey and Sao Paulo in Brazil on next year's F1 calendar to run anti-clockwise — will be the 15th stop on the 18-leg calendar.

Mr Iswaran told reporters that organisers were approaching "the last mile" in finding out whether Singapore's race will be the first night race in F1 history.

The organisers have begun lighting trials at overseas circuits. If given the approval to run a night race here, they will start conducting lighting trials here next May on the start and finish straights.

An estimated 1,000 people will be involved in ensuring the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix will run smoothly, and you could be part of the action. Trials to select volunteers for the Sept 28 event will be conducted soon.

“We’re looking at training about 1,000 people, including race marshalls,” said Singapore GP director (media and communications) Jonathan Hallett, 45.

“The trainers could come from Australia, and we want to train them not just for next year, but for subsequent years as well.”

Details of the training programme, conducted by the Singapore Sports Council, Singapore Motor Sports Association, and Singapore GP, are expected to be announced early next month.

It is likely to last at least two months, and could include stints at current F1 stops, such as Malaysia, China and Japan.

Said Mr Hallett: “It is important that Singapore develops its own pool of qualified race marshalls and other officials to run races, and train new ones.”

Singapore will host the event for five years from next year. Those interesting in helping out as volunteers can email Visit for details

Horizon Towers : Court Or Circus?

Source : Weekend TODAY, Saturday, September 29, 2007

Shanmugam remark sums up Horizon Towers owners’ day in court

EVEN before the main event got underway, the sideshow — with its sparks, spats and conspiracy theories — proved no less intriguing.

On Friday, the sale committee of 210-unit Horizon Towers took the minority owners to court in an appeal against a Strata Titles Board (STB) decision to throw out an en bloc attempt, after the board found three pages missing from the sale order application.

The legal tussle between the two parties seemed relatively straightforward — until Horizon Partners Private Limited (HPPL), the consortium buying over the development, and a splinter group of majority owners threw their hats into the ring. They made separate applications asking their cases also be heard by the High Court.

Add a mix of acerbic heavyweight lawyers, a rowdy public gallery and suspicions all around, and even the usually mild-mannered Justice Choo Han Teck, who presided over the hearing, had to assert himself several times to keep the courtroom in order.

While some 70 Horizon Towers residents packed the public gallery, extra seats had to be brought in for the lawyers — who included prominent Senior Counsels K S Rajah, K Shanmugam and Chelva Rajah — and their legal assistants from six different law firms.

Before the main proceedings could begin, Justice Choo had to rule on the applications by HPPL and the splinter group. Arguments on all sides were peppered with sharp exchanges and insinuations.

At one point, Mr Shanmugam wanted to interject but was stopped by Justice Choo. The crowd cheered: “Yes, sit down!”

This prompted Mr Shanmugam to remark: “Perhaps, the people at the back should be reminded that this is not a circus.”

Mr Shanumugam also responded to Mr K S Rajah’s remarks that the court should not grant the applications for “all and sundry to do this and that”.

Said Mr Shanmugam: “Firstly, I am not all and sundry. Next, I’m not doing this and that. I’ve a graver interest in the matter than he does.”

Lawyer Ramesh Kannan, representing three minority owners, said that as far as HPPL was concerned, it was “purely an issue of financial gain or loss”.

And the reason why HPPL wanted to be involved, he added, was due to its concern over a “change in strategy” by the majority owners and the suspicion that the current sale committee was “infiltrated” by owners who were against the sale.

Since the majority owners have already resolved to extend the sale order deadline to Dec 11 — as required by the buyer — the latter has no basis for such a suspicion, Mr Ramesh argued.

But Mr Shanmugam countered: “What’s the purpose of the appeal? To get a ruling … and use that in a breach of contract.”

The drama did not end with the hearing, which began at 11am and was adjourned at 2pm with Justice Choo saying he would give his ruling on Monday — after which the actual hearing for the appeal would proceed.

Outside the High Court, the majority owners, who have engaged a public relations firm, gave a statement through one of the unit owners, Mr Victor Ow.

A real estate developer, Mr Ow said: “It was very clear that HPPL was trying to say that the consenting owners are trying to breach the contract. But in fact, we are not.”

On a personal note, he pleaded with the public not to see him and his neighbours as “greedy”. There were “many discrepancies” in the current en bloc legislation, he said, and they were merely fighting for their “individual rights”.

“In fact, we suffer. We are quite prepared to abide by the contract but … do not push us around and cast fear into our lives,” Mr Ow added.

My HDB Flat’s A Condo

Source : The Straits Times, Saturday, September 29, 2007

Dawson Estate in Queenstown will be the new face of public housing - flats done condo-style by top home-grown architects

GARDEN TWIST: Surbana International Consultants plans to extend a linear park so that it becomes a rising, winding landscaped path around the blocks. -- PHOTO: HDB

UNDER ONE ROOF: Flats under SCDA Architects' housing concept will be designed such that they can be easily joined to let different generations of a family live together.

'It's not going to be expensive housing, just smarter in design'- Woha Architects founding director Richard Hassell. His firm's concept lets owners customise their homes' facades

GROUND-LEVEL parks extend to the doorsteps of residents’ homes and flats come with ceilings tall enough for lofts to be built.

These perks are not the latest offerings of swanky condo projects but new ideas for public housing in Queenstown.

Conceived by top local architects and unveiled at the Housing Board’s (HDB) ongoing Remaking Our Heartland exhibition, the new concepts also promise to bring high-rise communities closer and promote an environmentally sustainable lifestyle.

At the heart of all this future action is Dawson Estate, a 60ha district in Queenstown bounded by Margaret Drive, Tanglin Road, Alexandra Road, Commonwealth Avenue and Queensway.

This former housing and entertainment hot spot was developed in the 1950s by the HDB’s predecessor, the Singapore Improvement Trust.

It now has just 3,000 flats and tracts of land ripe for redevelopment after blocks of flats were cleared in the 1980s and 1990s.

It is expected to house about 10,000 more apartments in the future.

To bring a fresh spin to public housing, the HDB took the unprecedented step of commissioning Surbana International Consultants, Woha Architects and SCDA Architects earlier this year to conceptualise three separate precincts comprising 3,100 homes.

The brief: to introduce flats with seamless access to greenery, waterscapes and surrounding facilities, and promote closer ties, all on a tight budget.

While the HDB was tight-lipped about the construction budget it gave the architects to work with, SCDA’s design principal Chan Soo Khian estimated that he had to design flats that could be built with roughly half of what it would cost to put up luxury condos fully fitted with items like wardrobes and cabinets.

Most HDB flats do not come with fittings.

The HDB said it will work closely with the private architects to develop a cost-effective design.

Each firm had its own ideas: Surbana extended a future linear park into a winding landscaped path around the blocks; SCDA gave the bigger flats enough vertical space for lofts; and Woha envisioned a block facade reflecting individual home owners’ tastes.

Said Mr Chan: ‘Doing a public-housing project means you have to work within tighter constraints. It means, in a modern way, your design is purer.

‘You don’t depend on embellishments to make it a good project. You’re not worried about the inside, what kind of fitting is going where. In some (private) projects, you spend so much time just worrying about the kitchens and fittings.’

But certain private-housing elements are likely to pop up in the Dawson projects.

Woha, which recently won a prestigious Aga Khan Award for Architecture for its private project 1 Moulmein Rise, wants to offer the monsoon window it introduced there as one of the options for Dawson home buyers.

This contraption is a bay window with a horizontal opening that lets the breeze in but keeps out the rain.

Woha’s founding director Richard Hassell said: ‘It’s not going to be expensive housing, just smarter in design.’

Work on the first of these Dawson flats is expected to begin in the next three to four years.

The upcoming estates will give new families a higher chance of living near the city centre, said head of HDB’s urban design unit Kathleen Goh.

Currently, new flats near the central areas tend to be built only when existing residents in the vicinity are being resettled, leaving a limited number for newcomers.

The upcoming 3,100 homes in Dawson are likely to be fully available to new families.

Ms Goh revealed that families buying separate homes in the same housing estate would be able to buy adjoining units.

These units could also be combined sideways or even vertically to encourage different generations to live together. Their layouts will be flexible so that families can make adjustments if their needs change.

So far, the exhibition has drawn 62,000 visitors. One of them is architect Khoo Peng Beng, who designed the first 50-storey public-housing blocks here, now under construction in Tanjong Pagar.

Back in 2002, when his firm ARC Studio Architecture + Urbanism proposed having high-rise gardens and sky bridges link seven towers for the international design competition for that project, such ideas were still relatively novel.

He said: ‘HDB has come a long way. For a long time, the evolution of HDB design was very functional. This time, I think there is a more emotional and integrated approach to how we look at public housing.’

If the Dawson proposals are well-received, the HDB will consider inviting private architects again to conceptualise future public-housing projects.

The Remaking Our Heartland exhibition is held at various housing districts until Oct 3. Check out for details.

‘It’s not going to be expensive housing, just smarter in design’

Woha Architects founding director Richard Hassell. His firm’s concept lets owners customise their homes’ facades

Lofty Ideas

SHADES OF STYLE: The perforated concrete covering central staircase cores lets sunlight cast changing patterns on the block at different times of the day, and provides shade for pedestrians and privacy for residents living in flats around the stairs (Left). -- PHOTO: HDB

WHO: SCDA Architects
Where: Off Dawson Road
Number of flats: About 800 on 2.2ha of land

Tall ceilings in living rooms with enough space for lofts can be found in the bigger flats in this project.

SHADES OF STYLE: The perforated concrete covering central staircase cores (Left) lets sunlight cast changing patterns on the block at different times of the day, and provides shade for pedestrians and privacy for residents living in flats around the stairs. -- PHOTO: HDB

They are stacked in an interlocking manner with smaller flats so that entrances between them can be created easily if owners want to join the units. This makes it easy for different generations of a family to live together or near each other, or for people to run home offices.

Central staircase cores covered with perforated concrete shield users from the sun while giving privacy to residents living in flats clustered around them.

As the sun moves throughout the day, its light will cast changing patterns through the perforations in the wall.

Carpark space for the five blocks will be provided under a green deck and lit by natural light to save energy.

The cascading landscaped terraces are designed to merge seamlessly with a linear park in front of the project.

Rent a 'shed' for business

VIEW FROM THE TOP: Flats will be built such that residents can look into the sky villages, which come with facilities like playgrounds.

WHO: Woha Architects
Where: Dawson Road
Number of flats: About 1,000 units on 2.7ha of land

Communities of about 70 to 80 households each will share a high-rise space called a 'sky village' with greenery and other facilities like playgrounds.

Homes in each cluster will get a clear view of that communal space, so parents can keep an eye on children at the playground.

Within this village, there will be about 10 'sheds' the size of a master bedroom each that flat owners can rent to run small businesses or jam with their garage band.

Buyers get to choose the facade of their flats in the precinct's six blocks, so the buildings start 'showing the personality of people living in it', said Woha's founding director Richard Hassell.

They get their pick of balconies, planter boxes as well as Woha's special monsoon window, which consists of a bay window with a horizontal opening at its base, which can be left open even when it rains.

Woha also proposes its housing blocks be covered with solar cells so that the buildings can generate enough energy to run themselves and even feed power into the national energy grid in the future.

Market gets new lease of life

DOUBLE DUTY: Surbana's proposal has service-related outlets on the ground floor of the market and a multi-purpose hall will occupy the upper level.

WHO: Surbana International Consultants
Where: Commonwealth Avenue
Number of flats: 1,300 on 3.3ha of land

You will never know where the park ends and where this neighbourhood begins.

An upcoming linear park near the site will be extended six storeys upwards via a gentle ramp covered with greenery.

This green link will meander 600m in a figure-of-eight shape around the lower levels of the 12 48-storey blocks, giving visitors a tree-top experience of the old angsana specimens in the area.

The site incorporates the central part of the old Queenstown town centre, a bustling location in the 1960s and 1970s where three cinemas, a bowling alley and the Emporium and Golden Crown Restaurant once stood.

Most of the facilities have been phased out or demolished but the market with its distinctive parabolic-shaped roof still stands.

In Surbana's proposal, the market will get service-related outlets on the ground floor and a multi-purpose hall on the upper level which can be the venue for dances, weddings and art exhibitions.

An alfresco dining area will be created by the old market where residents can relax under the shade of the many mature trees.

Why Higher Fees For Empty Flat?

Source : The Straits Times, Saturday, September 29, 2007

MY LATE grandfather, who was the sole owner and occupier of a three-room HDB flat, had been paying $38 a month in conservancy fees to the town council. His estate now has to pay $55 a month (a 45 per cent increase) for the vacant flat, the reason being that the $38 concessionary charge no longer applies as it is now unoccupied.

This explanation seems to be counter-intuitive: an unoccupied flat produces little or no detritus, compared to an occupied one.

As the flat cannot be sold or rented out during the period of extraction of the grant of probate, which takes about nine months at the earliest, this may cause undue difficulties for some estates which face a liquidity problem.

Maria Loh Mun Foong (Ms)

More Parties Fight To Get In On Horizon Towers’ Appeal

Source : The Straits Times, Saturday, September 29, 2007

Hearing delayed as judge has to decide if HPL, fresh group of owners can take part

IT HAD all the elements of a classic courtroom drama - big bucks at stake, anxious owners and more lawyers than you could poke a stick at - but yesterday’s Horizon Towers hearing was far from a stirring showdown.

The owners had gone to the High Court in a bid to overturn a Strata Titles Board (STB) ruling that aborted the collective sale of their Leonie Hill estate.

But lengthy argument involving a scrum of legal eagles - at least four senior counsel and six law firms turned up - over who could actually be involved in the proceedings threw a hefty spanner in the works.

Two groups wanted to be included but four other parties protested.

After about three hours of legal to and fro, Justice Choo Han Teck is expected to rule on Monday whether these groups can take part, which will mean the actual appeal hearing can start.

It centres on the STB’s Aug 3 ruling that the sale application for the 210-unit condo was defective due to procedural errors.

The majority owners who signed the sale deal, represented by senior counsel Chelva Rajah from Tan, Rajah & Cheah, want that decision overturned.

But two other parties said they wanted to have their say as well.

One is a group of individuals - including pop star Ho Yeow Sun and her husband, Kong Hee - who own 13 units. All signed the sale deal and said they wanted to participate in the hearing to ensure the sale goes through.

The other is the consortium led by Hotel Properties (HPL) that signed the $500 million deal in February to buy the estate.

It maintains that the appeal outcome could affect the breach of contract suit it filed against the majority owners last month claiming lost profits of $800 million to $1 billion from the botched deal.

It had that suit adjourned on Thursday after the owners extended the sale deadline to Dec 11 but it is still ‘alive’.

Its lawyer, Mr K. Shanmugam from Allen & Gledhill, argued that if the court ruled that the STB was wrong, it could be used by majority owners to ‘white-wash’ their alleged breach of contract.

‘We, the purchaser, are the only real parties interested in seeing this contract through,’ he said.

This rankled Mr Rajah, who argued that the majority owners were trying to get an appeal against the STB decision in order to fulfil the contract.

The consortium’s application irked the group of more than 30 owners at court. At one point, murmurs of discontent rose from the gallery when Mr Shanmugam rose to speak.
Meanwhile, three separate lawyers for the minority owners who did not sign the sale agreement argued against the two groups joining the proceedings. They said it was unnecessary and would raise costs for everyone.

An owner, 53-year-old real estate developer Victor Ow, said later that he had not expected things to get so complicated.

‘All of us like to be treated fairly…We shouldn’t, as owners, be known in the market as greedy and as villains.’

Why Did IRAS Up Property Valuation One Year Later?

Source : The Straits Times, Saturday, September 29, 2007

IN MARCH last year, my brother and I bought a private apartment valued at $420,000 by an external valuer, who had made an on-site inspection of the property.

All legal fees, bank loan, and government taxes were settled then.

However, more than one year later, we received a call from our lawyer in July, informing us that the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (Iras) had sent us a letter dated June 18, 2007, telling us that its Chief Valuer is of the opinion that the market value of our property as at Jan 23, 2006 should be $470,000 instead and that we should pay up the difference in the stamp duty of $2,100 by July 10.

The letter also mentioned that penalties would be imposed for late payment.

I have three questions for Iras:

* Why was Iras’ letter, dated June 18, 2007, received by our lawyer only on July 17?

* Why did it take more than a year for Iras to tell us that the valuation price should have been higher, and not at the time when we paid the stamp duty in March last year?

* How did the Chief Valuer make an assessment of the value of the property without making an on-site inspection to ascertain the physical condition of the property, which is an important factor in determining its valuation?

We have written to Iras on this issue but have yet to receive a satisfactory answer.

Ng Zhong Ren

MAS Tightens Rules For Reits To Protect Retail Investors

Source : The Business Times, 29 Sept 2007

No more discounts for institutional investors at listing time

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has tightened up the rules for property funds to improve the odds for retail investors.

Institutional investors or the big boys will no longer have discounts for subscriptions made at the time of the listing of a real estate investment trust (Reit) under new guidelines for Reits issued by MAS yesterday.

Another change limits what’s allowed under fixed-term management contracts to five years.

These fixed-term management contracts have been used by fund managers as a poison pill to entrench their positions and to provide an obstacle to takeovers, as it makes it expensive to fire them.

In a statement, MAS said the revised rules ‘are intended to improve safeguards for investors and to provide greater clarity and flexibility for commercial transactions’.

MAS said a majority of the respondents to its public consultation exercise in March raised objections to disallowing discounts to institutional investors.

They felt that the discounts are justifiable because such investors enter into binding subscription agreements prior to the launch of the initial public offering (IPO); institutional investors were also said to have helped ensure the success of a Reit offering, particularly in difficult markets, by providing a useful signal to the retail market about the quality of the Reit.

Those who wanted to retain the discounts suggested full disclosure, putting a cap on discounts and/or a moratorium or the sale of the Reit units.

But MAS said: ‘As a matter of policy, there does not seem to be any good reason why different groups of investors should be permitted to pay different amounts for the same interests in these assets at the time of the IPO.’

MAS said it is prepared to allow discounts that are given to investors who assume equity risks different from those of IPO investors, for example if they are willing to underwrite the listing.

On management contracts which have been a contentious issue, the new guideline said the term of a compensation provision should not be more than five years and the compensation amount payable to the Reit manager should not exceed the sum of the fixed component of unearned management fees (excluding variable or performance fees) over the remaining term of the provision.

Industry players had argued that entrenchment clauses in management contracts were to help professional Reit managers who do not hold large stakes in a Reit and ‘would be discouraged from establishing Reits in Singapore if there is no flexibility to implement measures to obtain appropriate compensation if they are removed as managers’.

But MAS said: ‘We continue to be concerned with entrenchment arrangements that impede the market for corporate control and place significant restrictions on the ability of unit-holders to terminate management contracts.’

Ronnie Tan, chief executive of Bowsprit Capital, the manager of First Reit, said he supported not giving discounts to institutional investors.

‘It’s not fair for the small investors,’ he said.

He added that if demand is an issue, ‘Reit issuers should look at pricing rather than use discounts as a (sales) mechanism’.

‘Removal of the poison pill (means) the takeover rules would be similar to other listed companies,’ he said on the new rule which makes it easier to fire the Reit manager.

Q3 Rents For High-Tech Industrial Space Up 15%

Source : The Business Times, 29 Sept 2007

THE average monthly rent for high-tech industrial space has increased by 15 per cent in this quarter to $3.45 per square foot per month, real estate consultant DTZ Debenham Tie Leung reported.

High-tech industrial space includes business park and science park space such as Changi Business Park and International Business Park, and rents there now range from $3 to $4.50 psf per month. The monthly asking rent for the newly completed Eightrium @ Changi Business Park is also in the vicinity of $4 psf.

DTZ executive director (consultancy and research) Ong Choon Fah attributed the increasing rents to the continuing spillover demand for conventional office space.

The latest figures showed that business parks experienced a 5 per cent drop in occupancy in the second quarter of this year due to the completion of Eightrium @ Changi Business Park and Xinlinx Asia Pacific’s business park development at Changi Business Park Vista.

Mrs Ong added: ‘Notwithstanding the dip in occupancy rate, demand for business parks remains strong.’

HSBC will take up 10,000 square feet of space at the Comtech, she noted.

Islandwide, private industrial stock, which includes factory and warehouse space, rose one per cent to 295 million sq ft in the second quarter. The average occupancy rate of private factory space rose marginally by 0.1 of a percentage point quarter-on-quarter to 90.7 per cent in the second quarter while islandwide occupancy rate of warehouse space stood at 89 per cent.

Separately, JTC Corporation launched a 20,867 square metre land parcel at Jalan Tepong for sale yesterday. Industry executives expect this site, which is the second of the two industrial sites for the year to be launched under the Government Land Sales Confirmed List, to go for between $380 and $400 per sq m per plot ratio. The site has a plot ratio of 1.4 and can be used for light industry, general industry, warehousing, utilities or telecommunications.

Demand for high-tech space could see new entrants into the market building their own facilities.

Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) associate director (industrial markets) Tahlil Khan said that his firm is working with a number of organisations and is looking at public tenders and direct allocation of sites ‘depending on the preferences, accommodation needs and objectives of the occupier’.

David Wilton, JLL regional director and head of industrial (Asia) said that users were unlikely to find space at what he called ‘the existing business park or high-tech inventory’.

He said that these users were left with three options: purchase land to occupy; commission a leased facility; or negotiate with owners/developers on facilities under development or construction.

Mass-Market Sector Rebounded In '06: CBRE

Source : The Business Times, September 29, 2007

Non-landed projects in non-prime areas turn in strong sales volume

MASS-MARKET property sales actually staged a recovery last year, earlier than widely believed, said property consultant CB Richard Ellis (CBRE) yesterday.

In a study of the take-up rates of new non-landed projects in non-prime areas, CBRE found that the mid-tier and mass-market projects turned in strong sales volume in 2006, although prices for these segments only began rising this year.

'Until now, the market had perceived that these segments trailed the luxury segment in their recovery, and had begun to recover only in early-2007, in terms of volume and price,' it said.

An analysis of the new units launched last year and the corresponding take-up volumes 'shows otherwise', it said.

It found that 68 per cent of the new projects launched last year in the West Coast, in districts 5 and 21, were taken up. Similarly, take-up rates for projects in districts 15 and 16 were about 90 per cent - 'not far' from the take-up rates of 74 per cent for projects in the prime districts 9 and 10 and 96 per cent for those in the downtown and Sentosa Cove areas.

'Of course, in terms of pricing, the mass market and mid-tier projects have only begun to inch up in the previous two quarters of 2007,' said Joseph Tan, executive director for residential property at CBRE.

'But the strong sales of non-prime projects since a year ago show the return of buying power for upgraders and private homeowners, who, at that time, saw good investment value in the projects, while anticipating the upside in prices later on.'

Since then, the number of projects on the market has increased dramatically.

The number of new units launched in the west has tripled from a year ago, with the launch of One-north Residences, One Rochester, Botannia and The Parc Condominium, it said.

Meanwhile, the number of new units launched in the Newton/Novena area has doubled from 578 units in 2006 to 1,351 units so far this year. Take-up rates have been 'very healthy' at 90 per cent, said CBRE.

In districts 15 and 16 in the east, the take-up rate so far this year has been 'equally strong' at 85 per cent.

Residential rents have also risen sharply 'due to the shortage of apartments for lease following the slew of collective sales of existing developments in the past two years', said CBRE.

After rising 18.7 per cent on average in the first half, rents are expected to increase by another 8-10 per cent in the third quarter.

Rents in the popular areas of Tanjong Rhu, Meyer Road, East Coast, Dunman, Joo Chiat and Siglap have gone up 40.9 per cent since the fourth quarter of 2006, with median rents now at $2.62 per square foot per month.

The next biggest increase in rents were for apartments in the Orchard Road, Grange Road, Tanglin and Bukit Timah areas, where rents have gone up by 37.5 per cent to $3.74 per square foot per month on average.

The residential market is likely to remain active in the final quarter of this year, amid strong growth in the economy, CBRE said.

Charged Atmosphere At Horizon Appeal Hearing

Source : The Business Times, September 29, 2007

Gallery boos buyers' application to intervene

It was an animated session - to say the least - in the High Court yesterday as the owners of Horizon Towers gathered to appeal against the Strata Titles Board's (STB) dismissal of their collective sale application.

Court 6C was packed to the hilt with at least 35 lawyers from no less than five law firms representing the buyers and different groups of owners. It made for a charged atmosphere.

The appeal had been filed by the former sales committee of Horizon Towers, which had filed the application for a collective sale order, and was to be attended by themselves and the minority sellers who had objected to the sale.

But numerous other parties turned up yesterday, on the grounds that they also had a stake in the outcome. One such group comprised the buyers of Horizon Towers: Hotel Properties Ltd (HPL), Morgan Stanley Real Estate-managed funds and Qatar Investment Authority. Represented by Allen & Gledhill, they applied before the High Court to intervene at the appeal.

Their application was greeted by boos from the gallery. Senior Counsel K Shanmugam was interrupted so often that Justice Choo Han Teck, who presided over the hearing, had to ask the crowd for restrain.

The buyers' unpopularity with the majority sellers stemmed from the fact that HPL and its partners have sued the sellers for breach of the collective sale agreement.

The majority sellers' application to the STB was rejected by the board in August, on the grounds that it was defective: specifically, because certain key pages were missing from the application.

STB's decision, coming just days before the sale completion deadline, effectively scuppered the en bloc sale. The buyers then sued the majority sellers, claiming damages arising from a loss of profit of up to $1 billion.

That suit was stayed on Thursday, after the majority sellers agreed last week to extend the sale completion deadline to Dec 11.

Yesterday also saw another group of 13 Horizon Towers owners - who form part of the majority that agreed to the collective sale - applying to intervene in the appeal. This group, which includes local singer Ho Yeow Sun and her husband Kong Hee, are represented by Rajah & Tann.

Both these applications to intervene were met with strong objections. The minority owners - represented by several law firms, including Harry Elias and Tan Kok Quan Partnership - said, among other things, that allowing these two parties in would unnecessarily increase the time and costs involved.

Such proceedings yesterday meant that there was not even time for the STB appeal to be heard. The session will resume on Monday, when Judge Choo will rule on whether to allow HPL and its partners and the group of 13 owners to intervene in the appeal. He will then hear the appeal and decide whether to set aside STB's decision.

Office Demand Spills Out Of CBD As Rents Soar

Source : The Business Times, September 29, 2007

Temporary supply shrinkage adds to space crunch: DTZ

Office rents across Singapore have all breached historic highs, says real estate consultant DTZ Debenham Tie Leung, with Raffles Place now commanding average monthly rents of $14.50 per square foot (psf).

This represents an increase of 11 per cent over the previous quarter.

And despite the completion of the 81,460 square feet of new office space at 135 Cecil Street during the quarter, the office market still suffered a net loss of 455,390 sq ft of stock due to the demolition of Asia Chambers Building and the addition and alteration works going on at two existing office blocks - OUB Building and Ocean Building.

The authorities have been trying, among other measures, to address the crunch by making short-term lease office space available.

DTZ executive director (consulting and research) Ong Choon Fah said: 'The rapid rise of office rents is likely to impel prospective tenants to source for lower-cost alternatives outside the CBD.'

In its report, DTZ highlights that CBD fringe and decentralised areas like Alexandra and Novena have been attracting much of this spill-over demand.

In particular, the Alexandra zone now enjoys full occupancy with average monthly gross rents at $6.80, an increase of 13 per cent quarter on quarter.

In the Orchard Road zone, monthly rental increases are significantly higher at 25 per cent quarter on quarter and now the rents stand at $10.60 psf per month.

Future supply can be expected from government land sales sites.

In the third quarter, three sites were sold.

Two were at Anson Road/Enggor Street, going to Mapletree Investments and LaSalle Investment Management, while one site was at Beach Road, which went to a consortium consisting of City Developments, Istithmar and El-Ad Group.

DTZ believes the sites could generate an estimated 1.03 million sq ft of gross floor area of office space.

It also noted that there is another 5.7 million sq ft of commercial space from various government sources available in H2 2007.

But with demand from the financial sector for office space not expected to decline anytime soon - DTZ cites a Bank for International Settlements report which ranks Singapore as its fifth-largest centre for foreign exchange trading - interim government initiatives have had to be introduced to alleviate some pressure.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority launched two transitional office sites at Scotts Road and Tampines Concourse with 15-year leases in the quarter, with the site at Scotts Road drawing 11 bidders.

And DTZ also estimates that at the end of the third quarter, 663,766 sq ft of short-term lease office space has been made available through the Singapore Land Authority.

Slump Ahead As Housing, Credit Crisis Worsens

Source : The Business Times, September 29, 2007

Market strength put to test as consumer confidence dips to 2-year low in Sept

(WASHINGTON) The double whammy of a worsening housing slump and a credit crunch is punching the US economy in its gut. That's likely to mean a period of slower activity in the months ahead.

Further gloom: The housing mess is set to drag on well into 2008, meaning the sector will still be the biggest thorn in the economy's side

If lucky, the economy will not be knocked over. But the country could be in for a bruising that will put the economy on weaker footing.

The latest sign of the deteriorating housing market came on Thursday. New-home sales tumbled in August to the lowest level in seven years. The credit crunch has made it harder for some would-be buyers to obtain financing.

Prospective buyers trying to get 'jumbo' mortgage loans - exceeding US$417,000 - have been especially stung; financing for that segment of the market had really dried up in the late summer.

'A lot of people are on the sidelines,' said David Seiders, chief economist for the National Association of Home Builders.

Manufacturers and other businesses are feeling the ill effects of the housing and credit problems. Demand for costly manufactured goods, such as cars, appliances and machinery, plunged in August by the largest amount in seven months, the government reported on Wednesday.

And, individuals' anxieties are growing. Consumer confidence sagged to a nearly two-year low in September, the Conference Board reported earlier this week.

All this ratchets up fears that people and businesses might cut back on spending and investing, which would hurt economic growth. A severe cutback could throw the economy into a recession.

'The big question is: Does all the craziness in the financial markets because of credit and housing problems change the behaviours of consumers and businesses?,' said economist Ken Mayland, president of ClearView Economics. 'The biggest dangers are that consumers and businesses clam up.'

The National Association for Business Economics says it believes growth in the third quarter - the period from July through September - slowed to a pace of around 2.4 per cent. It predicts the growth rate in the final three months of this year will be around 2.5 per cent. Others think growth will turn out to be weaker than those projections - in the range of a 2 per cent pace or less.

If any of those projections prove correct, it would mark a considerable loss of speed for the economy.

Economic growth clocked in at a relatively brisk 3.8 per cent pace in the April-to-June quarter, its strongest showing in just over a year. The improvement, however, occurred before the credit crunch took a turn for the worst later in the summer.

To help cushion the blows to the economy, the Federal Reserve last week slashed a key interest rate by a bold half percentage point. Economists predict another rate cut will come in October and possibly again in December.

The Fed's aim is to induce people and companies to spend and invest more. Even if it does, it will take months for that to show up in revitalised economic activity. Housing's problems are expected to drag on well into next year, meaning the sector will continue to be the biggest thorn in the economy's side.

Whether the employment climate gets better or worse will be an important factor in how the economy fares in the months ahead.

On that front, a small glimmer of light appeared on Thursday poking through all the gloom. The Labor Department reported that fewer people signed up for unemployment benefits last week. New claims fell last week to 298,000, a four-month low.

For now, even with the hope that the job market won't crumble, analysts believe it will soften. The unemployment rate by year's end is expected to climb to around 5 per cent.

Fed chief Ben Bernanke and his predecessor Greenspan have repeatedly spoken of the economy's resilience.

The last recession in the United States - in 2001- was mild despite blows from the bursting of the stock market bubble, the terror attacks and a wave of accounting scandals that rocked Wall Street.

That resilience is getting tested again. -- AP

Monetary Authority Issues New Guidelines For Property Trusts

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 28 September 2007

New guidelines for Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) have been issued by the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

The changes are aimed at improving safeguards for investors and to provide greater clarity and flexibility for commercial transactions.

The new guidelines will enhance the disclosure requirements on the use of short-term yield-enhancing arrangements.

In addition, discounts will not be allowed for institutional investors when the trusts are listed and REITs will have to invest at least 75 percent of their assets in income-producing real estate.

In revising the guidelines, the MAS said it has considered public feedback and held talks with REIT players.

Singapore is now the largest REIT market in Asia outside Japan, with a total market capitalisation of more than S$26 billion. - CNA/ch

Countdown To F1 Race On 28 Sep 2008 Begins, Night Race Pending

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 28 September 2007

The inaugural Formula One Grand Prix race in Singapore will be held exactly a year from Friday.

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Countdown to F1 race on 28 Sep 2008 begins, night race pending

The FIA, the governing body of world motorsport, has granted in-principle approval for Singapore's street circuit.

Minister of State for Trade and Industry S Iswaran on Friday said organisers in Singapore are still waiting for the FIA to confirm whether Singapore can hold the first night race in F1 history.

The Singapore Tourism Board and other government agencies are working closely with the race promoter to ensure that the lighting trials run smoothly.

But the Singapore Grand Prix is confirmed to be Asia's first street race and it will run counter-clockwise, which makes the Singapore race one of the only three circuits in the world to do so, besides Turkey’s Istanbul and Brazil’s Sao Paulo.

The race will span about five kilometres, with 14 left-hand turns and 10 right-hand turns, said Mr Iswaran, meaning there will be several thrilling straights and tight turns for dramatic action.

The Land Transport Authority will be managing modifications to some existing infrastructure such as road kerbs and traffic islands. It will also construct a new 1.2-kilometre road along the pit building.

To complete all these works, the LTA announced on Friday that it has awarded three contracts worth S$18 million. - CNA/ac

OCBC Best In Singapore

Source : TODAY, Friday, September 28, 2007

It is also region’s third strongest

OVERSEAS Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC) is the region’s third strongest bank, and the best in Singapore, reported the Asian Banker Research, which provides business intelligence to the financial services community.

In the latest annual rankings of the top 300 banks in Asia, OCBC came in after Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, and Westpac Banking Corporation. The bank moved up four positions by edging out four others, among them Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Bank.

“OCBC is more conservative and its performance and earnings have been very stable over the past few years,” said analyst Benny Zhang from research firm The Asian Banker. “DBS is also a strong bank, but its earnings have fluctuated more in the last few years.”

The top banks in the region performed well last year, accumulating a 7.8-per-cent rise in aggregate profits to $118.2 billion.

“Banks across the region are operating on a much more even keel and have generally stopped displaying the wild fluctuations that were characteristic the last four times we conducted the research,” Mr Zhang said.

There are also more emerging market banks as compared to the previous year — six from China, two from India and one from Thailand.

Asian Banker Research evaluates the banks by their asset size and the strength of their fundamentals, like operational efficiency. These performance indicators show that regional banks are achieving better asset quality, cost efficiency and capitalisation.

Although Japanese banks still made up the majority in the rankings pie, the number has fallen by six this year. Earnings from Japanese banks in the pool is 30.4 per cent, down from the 37 per cent in 2005. The report attributed this dip to low asset growth compared with banks from China and India.

“Overall, Asia’s banks are maturing,” said Mr Zhang.

Tender Closed For Rangoon Site

Source : TODAY, Friday, September 28, 2007

Tender for the Race Course Road/Rangoon Road site has closed with two bids.

The top bid of $265.3 million, or the equivalent of $431 per square foot per plot ratio came from Singapore Healthpartners.

“Singapore Healthpartners is likely to build a mixed hotel and hospital/medical suite development on the site,” said Mr Li Hiaw Ho, CBRE Research executive director.

CBRE Research believes that the demand for affordable and modern healthcare coupled with rising hotel occupancy rates would contribute to the overall attractiveness of a hotel-hospital hybrid.

1m Foreign Residents

Source : TODAY, Friday, September 28, 2007

.. and 26,000 people aged 85 and over now live in Singapore

THE number of non-residents in Singapore has crossed the 1-million mark, according to the latest Population Trend report from the Department of Statistics.

The group — comprising work permit holders and others who are neither citizens nor Permanent Residents — grew by 14.9 per cent, from 875,500 last year to 1,005,500 this year. This is the fastest year-on-year growth spurt in at least 10 years.

Last year, its numbers increased by 9.7 per cent, a rapid turnaround from the drop of 5.6 per cent in 2003. In all, Singapore's population reached 4.68 million this year, a rise of 4.4 per cent from last year.

The growing number of foreign residents is in tandem with the country's healthy economic growth, said National University of Singapore sociologist Angelique Chan. "The main reason is economic growth but it's also partly due to government moves to grow the population," she said. The Government expects the number of people here to hit 6.5 million.

Life expectancy at birth has jumped from 75.3 in 1990 to 79.9 last year, while those aged 65 and over can expect to live 18.3 more years, over two-and-a-half years longer than in 1990.

Dr Chan noted the rise in the median age from 20 in 1970 to 37 this year, and the large number of people now aged 85 or older — about 26,000 Singaporeans — is in keeping with worldwide trends.

"With Japan leading, Singapore is among the top four in growing the oldest-old population (those over 85 years old)," said Dr Chan.

This growth in elderly numbers means the old-age support ratio — the number of working-age adults in proportion to those over 65 — has fallen. Last year, for every elderly Singaporean, there were 8.4 that were aged 15 to 64. The ratio 10 years ago was one to 10.5.

The Government's move towards a compulsory annuity scheme to provide for increased longevity is based on these trends.

Q3 Office Occupancy Rate Soars To 97.6% In Singapore

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 28 September 2007

The strong demand for office space in the central business district has spilled over to the rest of Singapore.

According to property consultants DTZ, the occupancy rate for office space islandwide climbed to 97.6 percent in the third quarter.

This is largely because of an acute shortage of office space in the Central Business District (CBD).

DTZ says the shortage is due to the demolition of Asia Chambers Building and the alteration works being done at two office blocks, OUB Building and Ocean Building.

The office market saw a net loss of 455,000 square feet of stock in the three months to September.

Occupancy rates in Raffles Place rose by 1.1 percent from the previous quarter.

With higher asking rents and lack of office space in the CBD, many companies have flocked to the CBD fringe and decentralised areas.

This has boosted occupancy in these regions with the Alexandra area, for example, rising 3.5 percent to full occupancy.

Average monthly rents for Alexandra have increased by 13 percent to S$6.80 per square foot per month from the second quarter.

Another area, Novena, achieved 98.5 percent occupancy. - CNA/ch

Horizon Towers' Appeal Delayed By Requests From More Parties

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 29 September 2007

Lawyers representing the en bloc buyers and sellers of Horizon Towers were in court on Friday.

The sellers were supposed to appeal against a decision by the Strata Titles Board, which rejected their application to sell.

The Board had rejected their en bloc sale due to a technical error but this latest appeal was not even heard.

Instead, things got quite complicated when more parties appeared, all demanding to be involved in the case.

And they brought documents enough to form a mini-library.

These were filed by lawyers from six different firms.

One of them was Mr K Shanmugam, who wanted the court to allow HPL Properties, the buyers of Horizon Towers, to take part in the hearing.

He argued that HPL has a say since the outcome of the appeal will affect the buyers both economically and legally.

And then there was Mr Andre Yeap, who represents 13 homeowners.

He said this clients have their 'necks on the line' since they were the ones who initiated the property sale in the first place.

Four other lawyers then took turns in court to object these interventions.

The turn of events certainly disappointed some homeowners who were hoping that the case will be resolved soon.

Victor Ow, Majority Owner, Horizon Towers, said: "We're quite prepared to abide by the contract. But at the same time, do not push us around. And do not cast fear into our lives. And do disband us. If we need to sell our units and agree on whatever we have to agree by law, we're prepared to accept it."

And it was a three-hour long battle of words and arguments amongst six lawyers over who has the right to take part in the case.

What made matters more complicated was that the courtroom was too small to accommodate everyone.

Over 30 lawyers and their assistants turned up for the session, on top of 40 owners from Horizon Towers.

Extra chairs had to be brought in and the judge even requested for a bigger courtroom for the next hearing.

The case will be heard in the high court next Monday and the judge is expected to decide who can intervene in the case. - CNA/ch

Mass Market Property Sales Started Recovering A Year Ago: CBRE

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 28 September 2007

The recovery in mass market property sales in Singapore started as far back as a year ago, according to consultant CB Richard Ellis (CBRE).

It said this debunks the notion that the recovery for mass market projects has trailed the high-end market until the last few months.

But even with sales rising for some 12 months, CBRE's research has found that prices only started edging up in the last six months.

The study is based on an analysis of the new units launched last year and the corresponding take-up volumes.

It found that 68 per cent of the new projects launched in the West Coast last year had actually been taken up.

Likewise, take-up rates for districts 15 and 16 were about 90 per cent.

Home buyers bought about 74 percent of projects in the prime districts of 9 and 10, and 96 per cent of projects in the Downtown area and Sentosa Cove.

CBRE said the strong sales of non-prime projects suggest that upgraders and private homeowners had bought properties, in anticipation of a rise in prices. - CNA/ch