Saturday, December 15, 2007

Small City Can Dream Big With Careful Planning

Source : The Straits Times, Dec 13, 2007

Marina Bay IR project, for example, can take off smoothly as the basic infrastructure is already in place

WHEN the Marina Bay Sands integrated resort opens in 2009, pundits around the world may gasp at the speed with which a mega development rose on empty tracts of land in record time.

CONSIDERATIONS FOR LAND USE: Mr Mah Bow Tan says that land-use planning does not exist in a vacuum, but is all about coming up with solutions to balance conflicting needs and interests. -- ST PHOTO: FRANCIS ONG

From winning the tender on May 26 last year to its planned opening some time in 2009, it will be a sprint of a mere two-plus years from blueprint to reality.

But National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan says the reason that the Marina Bay IR site can progress so fast and so smoothly is thanks to planning that began well over 30 years ago.

Without that careful planning of land use, plans for the IR would have had to be delayed, he says in an interview on land use and the trade-offs the Ministry of National Development (MND) considers in its plans.

Such careful, thought-through proposals help tiny Singapore achieve 'big dreams', he says.

Plans for a bigger downtown area began back in the 70s, as Shenton Way developed. One obvious solution that would extend the city into the bayfront area: reclaimed land.

'We reclaimed Marina Bay about 30 years ago. We started putting in the infrastructure in Marina Bay about 10 years ago: all services, power, telecommunications, gas, water, then planning for the roads.'

Development plans for the area began around 2000. Options such as residential, commercial, office or mixed uses were considered. To test the market, one site was put up for tender as a 'white' site, which means developers are free to choose whether they want to put up a residential or commercial building.

It was later developed into a residential building - The Sail.

By 2004 and 2005, when debate on the proposed IR intensified, Marina Bay stood ready as a prime location with infrastructure ready for development.

Planners had initially suggested the Southern Islands as the site for an IR, but Marina Bay beckoned.

'We were able to make this offer because we actually had all this ready and waiting to go.'

Mr Mah reckons that the IR bids created more buzz because of the attractiveness of the Marina Bay site.

To Mr Mah, long-term planning is critical for small Singapore, which has to balance myriad land uses.

Apart from the usual needs of a city, such as having land for housing, commercial and office uses, as a nation it also needs land for a port, airports, energy plants, waste disposal and recreational needs.

'If we plan ahead and by being flexible in our planning, by being able to take into account changes in our economy and our social needs, we are able to make best use of what we have.

'In the process, I think we are quite pleasantly surprised at how much land we actually have for all these things.'

Tiny Singapore has gone through several phases in land-use planning. In the 60s and 70s, the emphasis was on rapid physical development, with reclamation to expand the land mass.

In the 80s, a rising wave of conservationist sentiments caused a rethink. Former MND minister S. Dhanabalan noted in a recent interview that young officers in MND and Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) pushed to conserve culturally rich neighbourhoods like Chinatown and Little India.

Heritage conservation was written into the 1991 Concept Plan and remains an article of faith in urban planning.

In the 90s, as a growing population put pressure on demand for land and with limits in land reclamation, the focus shifted to ways to intensify land use, with sweeping increases in plot ratios that allowed for taller buildings.

Mr Mah says the suggestion to raise plot ratios came from a series of focus group discussions, making the point that consultation with stakeholders does result in better policy options.

Another breakthrough in land-use planning came in the decision to dig deeper, with plans for a deep tunnel system to house sewer and infrastructure systems.

For Mr Mah, land-use planning does not exist in a vacuum, but is all about balancing conflicting needs and interests.

He gives examples to illustrate his point.

A granite stockpile in Kranji raised the ire of farmers there. But to the minister, strategic interest comes first in this case. In fact, he says unapologetically, there are plans for more granite stockpiles in Singapore. But the ministry will consider carefully the pros and cons of suitable locations.

Another example of conflicting interests: a group of conservationists wanted to preserve a historic building in Amber Road slated for private development.

Mr Mah discloses that actually, the URA had considered whether to conserve the building, but realised the cost was too high. But when conservationists protested, the ministry helped bring together the activists and developer.

In the end, a 'hybrid' solution emerged, with the developer agreeing to retain the historic facade and changing its design to incorporate this.

This is an example of 'how the interest of a very vocal group can be taken into account', together with the interest of the more silent party - in this case, the developer, he says.

Mr Mah considers the outcome 'win-win', although he acknowledges that 'hybrid' solutions are not perfect and do not please either party 100 per cent.

But then, he shrugs, that's the nature of balancing different interests.

Asked if he considers lobbying by interest groups positive or negative, he replies: 'I would be neutral about it but I also want to make this point that their interests are not the only interests on the floor.

'We have to come in to talk about other interests who may not be so articulate, who may not be so vocal, but whose interests are no less important.'

Banyan Tree To Manage Integrated Resort In Dominican Republic

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 14 December 2007

Banyan Tree Holdings has signed a contract to manage an integrated resort in the Dominican Republic.

The 22-hectare Angsana Samana Bay will comprise a resort and spa development, residences, a marina as well as retail and entertainment outlets.

The resort will offer about 200 suites and conference facilities.

In addition, there will be over 450 residential units for sale, while the marina will have 280 moorings.

The resort is seen as the largest upscale lifestyle and entertainment facility in the region. It is expected to be completed in 2010.

This is Banyan Tree's third development in the Caribbean, after Barbados and the Turks and Caicos Islands. - CNA/ms

Singapore's Property Market Sees Low Risk And Stable Returns: Analysts

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 14 December 2007

Real estate investors can look to Singapore for low risk and stable rewards, according to LaSalle Investment Management.

With consumption on the increase, LaSalle said the retail market will provide good stable returns.

It expects that office rentals are expected to slow down in the coming year but said that residential properties will continue to grow as the number of expatriates increases.

Besides, with the city-state's well-diversified economy, it said that key sectors such as office, residential, hotel and retail will continue to grow.

David Edwards, Regional Director of LaSalle Investment Management, said: "Singapore’s retail market provides good solid stable returns (and) consumption is up. Confidence is strong and we believe those returns are sustainable."

The jump in office rentals though, is expected to moderate to 25 per cent in 2008, down from the 70 per cent jump this year.

Different sectors will naturally see different returns.

"If you're looking for core style then your requirements are very different. If you are more opportunistic, I think the range of opportunities is much broader. There's opportunity in the office market, in residential, in the hotel and hospitality area," said Edwards.

LaSalle noted that one trend going forward is the interest in buildings and properties equipped with green and sustainable technologies.

It added that landlords and investors can start factoring in efficient technologies in their long term plans as there will be a demand for these in five to 15 years.

There's also growing demand in the more immediate term for warehousing facilities, amid rising trade in the region.

"I think one of the things we will and we are tracking is the growth in demand for more modern warehousing facilities that enable more efficient handling of goods, more efficient supply chain management going forward. And that's a trend that is coming through in Asia-Pacific as a whole and we see that being one of the things in Singapore in the next three to five years," said Edwards.

World's Leading Schools Set Up Campuses In Singapore

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 14 December 2007

Asian students who traditionally looked to English-speaking Western countries for higher education are increasingly turning closer to home - to Singapore, educators say.

Backed by a government-led initiative to capture a slice of the great paper chase in Asia, Singapore has managed to woo more than 16 of the world's leading schools to set up campuses as part of the city-state's "Global Schoolhouse" ambition.

Singapore's education blueprint aims to attract 150,000 foreign students by 2015 in an industry that has mainly been the turf of American and British institutions.

There are currently 80,000 foreign students in Singapore, up from 50,000 in 2001, mostly from Malaysia, Vietnam, China, India and South Korea, government figures show.

The country's two main universities - National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University - are already held in high esteem by their regional peers but getting the world's elite schools to run courses has further raised the city-state's academic standing, educators say.

"The splashy news coverage of several prominent foreign institutions entering Singapore has created visibility and awareness of Singapore as an alternative location for education, to the more traditional locations of the UK or US," said Narayan Pant, dean of executive education at global graduate business school INSEAD.

"Singapore has become a credible alternative to those well-known locations, especially for people in the region," he said.

Christopher Ziguras, associate professor of international studies at Australia's Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, said Singapore's well-defined goal of catering to global demand for higher education has paid off.

He said the city-state has successfully planted itself as a serious rival to institutions in Australia and New Zealand, the two main Asia Pacific study destinations for Asian students.

"I think what we see as being most impressive is strong government support for the education sector. It's been very successful in putting Singapore on the map of education," said Ziguras.

Singapore is "taken very seriously by Australia and New Zealand as a competitor," he told AFP.

INSEAD, which also has a campus in France, was the first international business school to have a full-fledged Asian campus when the Singapore offshoot opened in 2000 offering MBA, executive MBA and PhD courses.

New York's prestigious Tisch School of the Arts, whose alumni includes Oscar-winning director Lee Ang, is the latest to set up a base in Singapore.

Its Asia campus opened in October.

With the likes of INSEAD and other luminaries including North Carolina's Duke University offering specialised courses in Singapore, the city-state's standing as a high-quality destination for study has increased tremendously, said Pant.

INSEAD's decision to house its Asian campus in Singapore was logical given its cosmopolitan environment and strategic location in Asia, said Pant.

"Yes, China is a powerhouse and China is going to grow and yes India is growing, too, but those are very Chinese and very Indian stories," he said.

"To us, the cosmopolitan environment of Singapore, great logistics and location between India and China made it an ideal place to invite the rest of the world to come and learn about Asia."

Malaysian student Andrew Fan started his one-year MBA study in September at INSEAD's Singapore campus. He says doing part of his course in the city-state allows him to market his Asian experience to prospective employers after he graduates.

"It is an opportunity to have the Asian and European experience. It allows us to broaden our horizon," he said.

That experience does not come cheaply.

Fan, in his thirties, paid 48,800 euros (US$72,575) for his 10-month course and will do the other half of his study at INSEAD's campus near Paris in January.

"In terms of looking for jobs, if you are serious about Asia Pacific you should be networking with executives here," he said.

But not everyone has been so willing to enter the "Global Schoolhouse," an initiative implemented by Singapore's Economic Development Board (EDB).

Britain's prestigious Warwick University abandoned plans in 2005 to open a campus. It cited concerns over academic freedom in Singapore which has strict censorship rules despite being one of Asia's most advanced economies.

In May, the Singapore branch of Australia's University of New South Wales (UNSW) announced it would shut down.

Singapore had invited the institution to set up a local campus but in the end, it had to close "on business grounds," the EDB said, adding the shutdown would not detract from Singapore's "Global Schoolhouse" aims.

"The closure of UNSW Asia has neither affected our standing nor our aspirations to become an educational hub," said Aw Kah Peng, EDB's assistant managing director for industry development.

"EDB remains committed to realising its Global Schoolhouse vision and we will continue to bring in new projects and build on the strong base that we already have," she said.

On whether academic freedoms are a concern for the foreign schools being wooed by EDB, Aw said: "We value healthy and rigorous academic discussions and debates that are objective and grounded on facts.

"So far, the many international faculty members and students of the institutions here have found Singapore's academic and living environment extremely conducive to pursue their full academic endeavors." - AFP/ch