Saturday, January 26, 2008

More Signs Of Dampening

Source : Weekend TODAY, January 26, 2008

Output, property results show weak global demand

MANUFACTURING and property data released yesterday provided further indication that weak global demand is hurting the Singapore economy.




















While economists say they are cautiously optimistic, expecting the economy to continue to expand, some big research houses have started to scale down their economic forecasts for this year.

“The United States economy has deteriorated more than we previously expected.

“As a small and open economy, we do expect weakness in US economy to have a knock-on effect on the Singapore export market,” said Mr Tai Hui, regional head of economic research at Standard Chartered Bank, who lowered the bank’s forecast for Singapore growth for the whole year to 4.5 per cent from 5.7 per cent last week.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said this week that “it is entirely possible and likely that America will go into recession”.

However, he is confident Singapore will be “able to weather this storm” as policies aimed at restructuring the economy will provide buffers from the external slowdown. He maintained gross domestic product (GDP) will expand by 4.5 to 6.0 per cent this year.

According to the Economic Development Board (EDB), Singapore’s industrial production fell by 1.7 per cent from a year earlier in December, the second month that manufacturing output has contracted.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) affirmed earlier estimates for the fourth quarter, showing the rise in residential property prices moderated to 6.8 per cent from the third quarter’s 8.3 per cent, while the Housing Development Board (HDB) offered a similar prognosis for the public housing sector.

The HDB said prices of resale public flats grew by 5.7 per cent in the fourth quarter, slower than the third quarter’s 6.6 per cent.

In manufacturing, a hoped-for recovery in the pharmaceutical sector failed to merge, while electronics production stayed lacklustre.

“For pharmaceuticals, we’ve always had the odd slowing here and there, due to plants being closed for cleaning. But this was four consecutive figures of decline with almost all double-digit drops.

“This is a pretty drastic drop and could be a combination of a reflection of slowing global demand and pharmaceuticals coming off their lofty levels,” said Mr Vishnu Varathan, economist at research house Forecast Singapore.

Mr Hui said the biggest risk this year is the electronics cycle, adding that “most of the leading indicators are still suggesting a relatively soft period of growth and we have not seen any convincing figures of a rebound just yet”.

With the manufacturing sector a major source of jobs, the recent performance of the sector adds to a bleak picture for the economy, said OCBC economist Selena Ling.

The property market is similarly entering a slower phase.

“With the economy in such a flux, buying may shrink further this quarter,” said Mr Colin Tan, head of consultancy and research at Chesterton International. “Sellers from some speculative projects have already lowered their prices,” he added.

“It is increasingly likely that 2008 will not be able to mirror the performance of the previous year,” said Knight Frank property consultant Nicholas Mak.

He projects that transactions and price expansion will slow down as buyers become more discerning and prudent.

Safety Barriers For All Above-Ground Stations

Source : Weekend TODAY, January 26, 2008

THE number of people intruding into the train track area of above-ground MRT stations has doubled from an average of 16 cases in 2004 and 2005, to 30 in 2006 and 31 last year.
















So, from next year, platform screen doors will be installed at three above-ground train stations at Yishun, Jurong East and Pasir Ris in a pilot scheme to curb this disturbing trend and enhance passenger safety. And by 2012, all above-ground stations will be equipped with such doors.

Transport Minister Raymond Lim said track intrusions, besides risking lives, disrupt train services and inconvenience commuters especially at peak hour.

The idea of installing platform barriers or screen doors has been raised in recent years after a spate of high-profile incidents but cost was a deterrent.

For example, in 2006, a man pushed his former girlfriend onto the tracks at Clementi station, for which he was later convicted of attempted murder.

Now, as platform screen doors are being adopted in more transit systems worldwide, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said costs have fallen by about 25 per cent.

These doors could be about 1.5m tall and will still allow for natural ventilation, said the authority. There are 34 existing above-ground stations run by SMRT; all SBS Transit-run North-East Line stops are underground.

Other improvements are in store, such as 17 additional lifts for 16 MRT stations, costing $70 million. While all stations have been provided with at least one barrier-free entrance inclusive of a lift, at these 16 stations entrances are either far apart or separated by major roads. Mr Lim said putting a lift at another entrance would benefit, among others, elderly commuters.

By end-2011, more than 70 per cent of stations will have at least two barrier-free access routes.

Hsien Yang's In-Laws Buy F&N-Developed Condo

Source : Weekend TODAY, January 26, 2008

Fraser and Neave (F&N) has sold a unit of its Soleil @ Sinaran residential development for $2.66 million to the relatives of its chairman Lee Hsien Yang (picture).

Mrs Lim Chong Yah, who is Mr Lee's mother-in-law, and Ms Lin Xueling, his sister-in-law, bought the unit, located in the Novena area, during the public launch of the project, F&N said in a filing with the Singapore Exchange. The project is developed by Riverside Investments, a wholly-owned subsidiary of F&N's property arm Frasers Centrepoint. F&N said no discount was given to Mrs Lim and Ms Lin, who were "walk-in customers".

"The Audit Committee is satisfied that the number and terms of the sale are fair and reasonable, and the Audit Committee and Board are satisfied that the terms of the sale are not prejudicial to the interests of the company and its minority shareholders," said F&N in the statement.

Mr Lee joined the company as its non-executive chairman last October, replacing Dr Michael Fam. Its announcement that Mr Lee stood to earn an annual fee of $1 million a year as part of a consultancy agreement raised eyebrows at the time. But F&N has since said the consultancy agreement will be dissolved at the end of this month "with a view to simplifying matters". The $1 million will be paid as director's fees, subject to a shareholder vote. — Cheow Xin Yi

Answer To The MRT Squeeze

Source : Weekend TODAY, January 26, 2008

* Radical plan for parallel rail lines * Extensions to Tuas, Marina South * Earlier opening of two stations

THE problem is a familiar one: The passenger squeeze in MRT trains.

The solution is radical — at least in the Singaporean context: Build two new lines that run parallel to the present routes at a cost of $20 billion.



















One will run from Marina Bay and end at Woodlands, very similar to the present North-South route adding new townships like Sin Ming, Kebun Baru, Thomson and Kim Seng. The other will mirror the eastern portion of the East-West Line, running through Tanjong Rhu, Siglap, Marine Parade and Bedok South.

By 2018 and 2020, respectively, the 18-station Thomson Line and the 12-station Eastern Region Line will be up and running.

The routes of the two new underground lines caught National University of Singa- pore (NUS) researcher Han Songguang off-guard.

Said Mr Han: "In most cases, you wouldn't run parallel rail lines because they would be tapping into the same market."

Still, Assistant Professor Terence Fan of the Singapore Management University's (SMU) Lee Kong Chian School of Business pointed out that such a model is seen in New York, London and Hong Kong.

The two new lines are not the only changes to the rail network announced by Transport Minister Raymond Lim in part two of his big bang strategy on Friday: There will also be extensions to the existing lines to be ready by 2015. The North-South Line will be stretched to Marina South to take commuters to the upcoming Gardens by the Bay and the Marina Barrage. And workers at the Jurong Industrial Estate will be able to make use of the five-station Tuas Extension to get to work.

The Government will also open the Thomson and West Coast stations along the Circle Line by 2012, reversing a 2003 directive to withhold their opening due to projected low activity in the vicinities.

In a nutshell, by 2020, the number of MRT stations will almost double from the existing 110 stations to 210. The rail network density — which also takes into account the Light Rapid Transit system — will thus increase from 31km per million persons to 51km per million persons, surpassing Tokyo and Hong Kong.

"People who live or work in the city and those who shop and find enjoyment there will be able to reach an MRT station within 400m on average, a mere 5-minute walk," said Transport Minister Raymond Lim, who unveiled the changes at the opening of Kim Chuan Depot on Friday

To ease congestion in the short term, next month, the incumbent train operators will roll out an additional 93 trips — 10 for the North East Line and 83 for the rest of the network per week.

These extra trips will cut waiting times during morning and evening peak hours to two minutes on average.

Explaining the rationale behind the two new MRT lines, Brigadier-General Choi Shing Kwok, Permanent Secretary (Transport), said it was based on projections that showed that these areas would experience the densest increases in traffic volume towards the city area.

NUS' Mr Han said: "It (extended railway network) will hopefully solve the perennial traffic congestion on the Central Expressway. That is one of the biggest transport issues which we have not really managed to solve yet."

Residents living near the proposed MRT lines generally welcomed the greater accessibility — and the higher property prices they would enjoy — although some were worried that this could mean a reduction in the number of bus services available in their estates.

Still, Member of Parliament Ong Kian Min, deputy chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport, felt that commuters and residents "have come to accept" some short-term inconveniences, including road diversions, for the "long-term good".

While Mr Han believes that the key to solving traffic congestion lies with the policies on car ownership, he regards the initiatives for the bus and rail network so far as "a step in the right direction".

He expects the ERP prices to rise further to manage demand for cars.

Mr Han said: "At the same time, the Government must realise there will be a time lag between now and the time the MRT infrastructure comes into place. There may be not so many alternatives for commuters, especially for those who stay in certain parts of Singapore."

Ascott’s Q4 Net Profit Triples On Divestment Gains

Source : The Business Times, January 26, 2008

THE Ascott Group, Asia’s biggest operator of serviced apartments, yesterday said that its fourth-quarter profit more than tripled on the back of divestment gains.

Net profit for the three months ended Dec 31, 2007 rose to $45.4 million from $13.6 million a year earlier. Q4 earnings per share rose to 2.8 cents, from 0.9 of a cent a year earlier.

The company is recommending a total cash dividend of six cents a share, including a bonus dividend of 4.8 cents.

Ascott’s performance was boosted by the divestment of the Somerset Bayswater property in London, which gave it a net gain of $17.8 million. The company also saw some gains from the sale of a golf course in Guangzhou.

Q4 revenue rose 14 per cent to $116.5 million, from $102.1 million a year earlier, as Ascott benefited from increases in revenue per available unit and better fee-based income.

During the quarter, Ascott’s property portfolio also crossed the 20,000-unit mark for the first time. The company added 3,528 units to its stable, taking the total number of serviced residence units under its management to 20,449. Ascott plans to have to have 25,000 apartments in Asia, Europe and the Gulf region by 2010.

For the whole of 2007, Ascott’s net profit rose 8 per cent to $177.3 million, from $163.6 million in 2006. Revenue for the full year rose 7 per cent to $435.3 million, from $405.9 million previously.

Ascott will continue to grow its portfolio, said chief executive Jennie Chua yesterday. ‘I think crossing the 20,000-mark makes us the largest owner-operator of serviced residences in the world. We will continue to grow, in the right cities and the right locations.’

Ms Chua aims to expand Ascott’s presence in South-east Asia, China, India and Europe. For South-east Asia, Vietnam and the Philippines are particularly attractive, she said.

In a separate statement, Ascott said that it would invest A$136.2 million (S$170.4 million) to develop a 398-unit property in Melbourne’s central business district. The investment amount includes land and building costs. The property will be Ascott’s first Citadines-branded serviced residence in Australia, the company said.

Ascott’s parent company, CapitaLand, made a general offer for Ascott on Jan 7 in a deal that values the serviced residence company at $2.8 billion.

CapitaLand, South-east Asia’s largest property firm by market value, owns 66.5 per cent of Ascott and intends to pay up to $989.5 million - or $1.73 a share - for the remaining shares in Ascott to take the company private. Ascott’s shares closed one cent lower at $1.72 yesterday.

Mature, Popular, But Limited Land Available

Source : Weekend TODAY, January 26, 2008

Try for flats in newer towns for a higher chance of success

Letter from Ignatius Lourdesamy
Acting Deputy Director (Marketing and Projects) for Director (Estate Administration and Property)
Housing and Development Board (HDB)






















I REFER to the letter from Lim Jie Yi, “A young S’porean’s housing dilemma” (Jan 5). Ms Lim applied for a 4-room flat under HDB’s Build-to-Order (BTO) exercise for Telok Blangah Towers in October last year.

Her application qualified for first-timer priority as well as the Married Child Priority Scheme (MCPS), which meant that it enjoyed four times as many chances under the ballot as regular applicants without priority.

However, there were altogether close to 1,000 other first-timers who also qualified for MCPS, and who were vying for the 210 units of 4-room flats offered under this exercise. In total, HDB received more than 6,000 applications for these 4-room flats.

Given the overwhelming number of applicants for this BTO exercise, there would be many disappointed first-timers and MCPS applicants in spite of the additional priority accorded them.

While HDB understands the desire of flat buyers to purchase a new flat in mature HDB towns, it is not possible to satisfy this overwhelming demand as there is limited land available in these locations for building new flats.

For those who wish to buy a HDB flat in a popular HDB town, we would like to advise them to consider the option of buying a resale flat.

Eligible first-timers can enjoy a CPF Housing Grant of $30,000 when they purchase a resale flat, or a higher grant of $40,000 if they are buying a unit with their parents or near their parents’ home.

Alternatively, they may want to consider applying for a new HDB flat in one of the newer towns such as Punggol and Sengkang, where the chances of being successfully shortlisted are higher.

Increases In Cost Of Offices, Shops Starting To Slow Down

Source : The Straits Times, Jan 26, 2008

RESPITE may be in sight for those who have been griping about the surging cost of doing business in Singapore.














Latest figures show that the increases in the cost of shops and offices eased in the fourth quarter of last year, in line with a general slowdown in the property market.

Prices and rentals for these commercial properties soared for most of last year, especially for office space, which reached an all-time high amid an acute short supply.

This prompted complaints from businesses and sparked off worries about Singapore's competitiveness.

But official data released by the Urban Redevelopment Authority yesterday may finally calm these jitters.

Rentals for offices rose by 10.9 per cent between October and last month, down from 14.8 per cent in the previous three months - which was a decade-high jump, said Mr Li Hiaw Ho, the executive director of CBRE Research.

The slowing could be 'the initial sign that the numerous efforts by the Government to cool the sector are taking effect', said Ms Tay Huey Ying, the director of research and consultancy at Colliers International.

These moves include releasing more land for offices as well as immediate steps such as short-term leases in existing buildings and temporary office plots.

Colliers' own data shows that office tenants are becoming increasingly resistant to further rent rises. Rents for office space in several areas, including Grade A buildings in Raffles Place, have seen declining growth rates for the past two to three quarters, said Ms Tay.

She said this is because firms are more willing to explore alternative business space locations, including business parks and high-tech industrial space.

For the whole year, rentals for office space jumped by 56.1 per cent. The rental index is now at an all-time record of 175.1 points, said Mr Li.

Ms Tay expects growth to moderate next year as tenants hold out for the expected large new supply in 2010. She is forecasting a rise of up to 20 per cent for Grade A office space.

As for shops, the rise in rentals has all but peaked. Overall rentals rose by 0.6 per cent in the fourth quarter, compared with 8.1 per cent in the previous quarter.

In Orchard Road, rental growth was almost flat at 0.3 per cent in the quarter. Shops on the fringes saw slightly higher growth, but suburban retail space did the best with a 1.3 per cent rise.

For the whole year, shop rents rose by 18.2 per cent.

But landlords wanting to raise rents this year are likely to face strong resistance from retailers, said Mr Nicholas Mak, the director of research and consultancy at Knight Frank.

'With the projected large supply coming on stream next year, retailers would have more space choices and would resist large increments in retail rents.'

He expects rents to increase by 5 to 10 per cent for this year.

Growth In Rents Of Private Homes Beginning To Ease Up

Source : The Straist Times, Jan 26, 2008

EXPATRIATES and other tenants in private apartments can finally start to breathe easier. Data from the Urban Redevelopment Authority released yesterday showed a subsiding of the sharp rise in rentals for condos in key areas.

Rentals for non-landed property in the coveted core central region, which covers Tanglin and Bukit Timah, for instance, grew just 5.3 per cent, less than half the rate of 12.2 per cent achieved in the third quarter.

The drop in rental growth was not as dramatic for the rest of the central region, though, which slid from 11.9 per cent to 8.8 per cent, and outside the central region - from 11.8 per cent to 8.5 per cent. Overall rents of private homes grew 6.8 per cent from October to December, slowing from an 11.4 per cent rise in the previous period. For the whole of last year, private home rentals surged 41.2 per cent.

Mr Nicholas Mak, the head of research and consultancy at Knight Frank, expects private homes rentals to rise in a more 'tamed manner' of 10 per cent to 15 per cent this year.

Still, Ms Tay Huey Ying, director for research and consultancy at Colliers International, reckons rentals of luxury homes will rise by 25 per cent to 30 per cent this year.

Meanwhile, rentals for the HDB market continued to grow strongly.

The median rent for a four-room flat rose from $1,400 to $1,500 in the fourth quarter, while that for a five-room unit also grew $100 to hit $1,700.

From October to December, 3,300 flat owners were given approval to rent out their flats. The total number of flats being rented out rose 7 per cent to 17,400 in that period.

The chief executive of property agency PropNex, Mr Mohamed Ismail, expects rentals to rise by 15 per cent to 20 per cent for the whole of this year, as expats pushed out by high rentals for condo units look for cheaper options.

Wing Tai's Second-Quarter Net Profit Slips 19% To $43.6m

Source : The Business Times, January 26, 2008

WING Tai Holdings yesterday reported a 19 per cent year-on-year drop in net profit to $43.6 million for its second quarter ended Dec 31, 2007, while revenue plunged 59 per cent.

Revenue contributor: Artist's impression of The Riverine by the Park. Wing Tai said in view of volatility in the current market, it will continue to monitor the property market closely.

Q2 sales for the property group came to $110.7 million, while earnings per share were 5.81 cents - down from 7.47 cents.

The Q2 earnings brought first-half net profit attributable to shareholders to $105.35 million, a rise of 25 per cent, even though revenue fell 52 per cent to $210.9 million. The results included a $27.5 million gain from the disposal of available-for-sale financial assets.

The company attributed the lower half-year sales to smaller contribution from the development properties division.

Revenue on development properties for the current period was mainly from the units sold in The Riverine by The Park, The Meritz and The Lakeside.

The profits recognised from these three projects contributed to its operating profit of $70.1 million - down 37 per cent from $110.5 million a year ago.

However, the company was helped by a more than three-fold jump in the share of profit of associated and joint venture companies, which lifted half-year net income.

The share of profit from associates and joint ventures rose from $23.2 million in the previous corresponding period to $75.9 million, due to the higher contributions from VisionCrest and Casa Merah projects in Singapore.

Wing Tai said that in view of volatility in the current market, it will continue to monitor the property market closely.

New residential projects for sale in the current year will be released at an opportune time.

Yesterday, Credit Suisse issued an 'underperform' on the stock, with a price target of $2.48.

The shares ended trading yesterday at $2.30 - up 6 cents from previously.

Buyers Paying $22k Over Valuation For Resale Flats

Source : The Straits Times, Jan 26, 2008

Median cash over valuation amount up a third; trend filters to outlying areas

BUYERS of resale Housing Board (HDB) flats paid a median amount of $22,000 in cash over the property's valuation for their new homes from October to last month, a whopping 30 per cent rise from the previous quarter.




















The good news for HDB flat owners in outlying areas is that this trend is filtering outwards towards them from the most popular districts downtown.

HDB data released yesterday showed that 86 per cent of all resale transactions in the fourth quarter of last year required cash payments over valuation, up from 80 per cent in the previous quarter.

However, greater resistance from buyers to the surging prices of resale flats last year resulted in a 13 per cent drop in the number of flats sold, to 6,700. For the whole of last year, 29,436 flats changed hands.

In fact, despite the overall rise, the median cash over valuation (COV) of some units in traditionally more popular estates such as Queenstown actually dropped. The median COV for a five-room flat in that area, which hit $110,000 in the July to September period, actually shrank to $79,000 in the period after that - albeit off a high base.

This, said the assistant vice-president of ERA Singapore, Mr Eugene Lim, showed the extent of the current market resistance towards high COVs.

'Very often, the deal cannot be closed or takes much longer to close because of unrealistic sellers demanding high COV transactions,' he said.

The chief executive of PropNex, Mr Mohamed Ismail, said another reason for this phenomenon is that the number of flat buyers with thick wads of cash in hand - mostly due to the collective sales of their private homes - is shrinking.

Most people buying HDB flats rely heavily on home loans to finance their purchase.

Resale prices of HDB flats rose 5.7 per cent during the quarter to bring the year's growth to 17.5 per cent.

Last year's growth is the biggest in a decade but property agents are not expecting a repeat for now as the HDB is offering at least 4,500 new flats for the first half of this year to calm buyers worried that housing is growing out of their reach.

These flats, which are highly subsidised, have an advantage over resale flats because they do not require buyers to fork out cash over valuation.

While ERA's Mr Lim expects the price of resale flats to grow by 5 to 8 per cent this year, Mr Ismail reckons it would move by about 10 per cent.

Mr Ismail pointed out: 'The economy is still doing well. And the labour market is tight.'

HDB Resale Deals At A New Low In 2007

Source : The Business Times, January 26, 2008

Rising resale prices and higher COVs result in last year's total of 29,436

THE number of resale HDB flats which changed hands fell to a new low in 2007 - with just 29,436 transactions recorded - as buyer resistance set in, in the face of escalating resale prices and more sellers asking for large amounts of cash-over-valuation (COV), fresh HDB data shows.










The number was lower than the 29,723 resale transactions seen in 2006, which was itself a new low. Stock-market jitters in the fourth quarter also caused resale transactions in the last three months of 2007 to fall 13 per cent to 6,700.

The fall in transaction volume came despite a 17.5 per cent increase in HDB resale prices last year. In the fourth quarter, HDB resale prices rose 5.7 per cent, lower than the increase of 6.6 per cent seen in the third quarter.

'With escalating resale prices and more and more COV transactions, we saw the resale market hitting resistance level in the fourth quarter as HDB flat buyers do not have or are not willing to part with so much cash,' said Eugene Lim, assistant vice-president of property agency ERA.

The COV is the amount that is paid above the valuation of a flat and cannot be paid with a home loan or monies from the Central Provident Fund (CPF). With high COVs demanded by sellers, buyers are required to fork out more cash.

In the fourth quarter, cases requiring COV constituted 86 per cent of all resale transactions, up from 80 per cent in the third quarter. The median COV amount also increased to $22,000 in the last three months of the year, from $17,000 in the previous quarter.

However, a closer look at some of the traditionally popular estates show that median COVs have actually decreased as buyers resisted forking out large sums of cash. For example, in the third quarter, the median COV for a five-room flat in Queenstown was $110,000. In the fourth quarter, it had fallen to $79,000.

But despite the lower total resale volume, the number of five-room and executive flat transactions actually increased in 2007 over 2006, ERA's Mr Lim pointed out.

The number of five-room resale transactions rose 13.3 per cent to 7,275 in 2007. Similarly, for executive flats, there were 2,627 transactions in 2007 - a jump of 17.9 per cent compared with 2006.

The robust numbers are mainly due to cash-rich buyers from enbloc sales or private property sales downgrading to larger HDB flats in choice locations, experts said. These buyers also account for the robust COVs fetched by larger flats.

'Based on our data, more than 50 per cent of the high COVs of $80,000 or more seen in 2007 are from private property downgraders,' said Mohamed Ismail, chief executive of property firm PropNex.

Sellers of these larger HDB flats are either upgrading to private properties or downgrading to smaller HDB flats, Mr Ismail said. He added that there was little upgrading from smaller to bigger HDB flats.

ERA's Mr Lim said the fact that sellers of larger HDB flats are upgrading is good news for developers of mass market condos as traditionally, the support for their projects comes from buyers living in these HDB flats.

2 New Lines And $20b To Double Rail Network

Source : The Business Times, January 26, 2008

Current projects could also be completed earlier, greater contestability in rail industry to be introduced

The government will spend some $20 billion to build two new rail lines and a couple of extensions to double the length of Singapore's rail network by 2020.















The figure, announced by Transport Minister Raymond Lim yesterday in the second instalment of the sweeping changes arising from the land transport review, is over and above the $20 billion already committed for the ongoing Circle Line, Downtown Line and Boon Lay extension.

Two new underground MRT lines will be built to connect Marina Bay to Woodlands in the north, and Changi in the east. The 27-km long, 18-station Thomson Line will run upwards from Marina Bay through Ang Mo Kio, connecting Kim Seng, Thomson, Sin Ming and Kebun Baru - areas that do not have a direct MRT link. This is expected to be ready by 2018.

Similarly, the 21-km long, 12-station Eastern Region Line will branch out to the right - parallel to the East-West Line - and serve the residential estates of Tanjong Rhu, Marine Parade, Siglap, Bedok South and Upper East Coast. It will be completed by 2020.

In addition, the current North-South and East-West Lines will be extended. The former, which now ends at Marina Bay station, will be extended one kilometre southwards to serve upcoming developments in the area such as the new cruise terminal in Marina South.

As for the East-West Line, it will be extended by another 14 km into Tuas. Both extensions will be completed by 2015.

'Together with the rail lines now under construction, the new rail lines will double our network from today's 138 km to 278 km in 2020,' said Mr Lim. 'We expect our rail network to carry three times as many journeys, rising from today's 1.4 million a day to 4.6 million in 2020.'

The government is also speeding up construction of the Circle Line (CCL) and Downtown Line (DTL). Mr Lim said additional resources will be pumped in to bring forward the completion of DTL Stage 3 by two years - from 2018 to 2016 - so that it would be ready just a year after DTL Stage 2 is ready. DTL 3 serves Bedok Reservoir and Tampines, while DTL 2 the Bukit Timah Corridor.

CCL Stage 3, which was due to open from 2010 onwards, will now be ready in mid-2009 to benefit residents in the north and north-east areas. More CCL stations will be opened, such as the Thomson and West Coast stations. Originally, these two shell stations were to be fitted out only when they were deemed to have sufficient surrounding developments.

With these plans firmly in place, Mr Lim said new extensions or stages of new lines would open almost every other year until 2020.

The minister was speaking during a visit to the $290-million Kim Chuan Depot, an underground MRT depot that is the first of its kind in Singapore and the largest in the world. The 11-hectare, four-storey facility took five years to build. It will provide the stabling and maintenance facilities of the Circle and Downtown Lines, as well as house the two lines' operation control centre.

As for the existing rail network, Mr Lim revealed that all above-ground MRT stations will have platform screen doors installed by 2012 to curb the rising number of train track intrusions.

He also said that as the rail network is expanded, future lines would cost more to build and operate as they would mostly be underground. Mr Lim said his Transport and Finance Ministries would work together to refine the financing framework. A more holistic network approach will be taken when evaluating new MRT lines, instead of the current line or project approach.

'This would potentially enable future new lines to be implemented a few years earlier than otherwise, so long as the entire rail network remains viable,' he explained.

Greater contestability in the rail industry will be introduced as well, in order to enhance efficiency and maintain cost competitiveness.

'A key step in enhancing contestability is to have shorter operating licences, say 10 to 15 years, compared to the existing 30-year licence periods,' said Mr Lim. 'Operators will compete for the right to operate rail services. They will have to meet service obligations or risk being replaced at the end of their term.'

A senior executive at SMRT, the dominant rail operator, called the minister's remarks 'positive'.

'More rail lines is good news for everyone,' he said. 'As for competition, that is to be expected. But we believe we are well-positioned to bid for the lines because of our operation, maintenance and engineering skills. And in terms of cost management, we are already one of the most efficient in the world.'

SMRT's licence to operate the North-South and East-West Lines expires in 2028. As for the contestability policy, the Transport Ministry said this would only apply when the current licence expires. Existing contracts will be honoured and 'any changes will involve discussions with the operator'.

Private Homes Losing Speculative Froth

Source : The Business Times, January 26, 2008

Subsale activity slowed in Q4; rising rents defined 2007

The level of speculative activity in the private property market, as measured by the extent of subsales, slowed considerably in Q4 last year, especially in the Core Central Region (CCR), according to the latest official data.

Islandwide, subsales as a percentage of total private housing sales fell from 14.4 per cent in Q3 last year to 10.7 per cent in Q4, while in the CCR, the hotbed of speculation, the subsale percentage fell from 24.8 per cent to 18.6 per cent over the same period. Property consultants attributed the drop to uncertainty about the financial markets as well as the withdrawal of the deferred payment scheme in October 2007.

Reflecting the current housing shortage, the stock of completed private homes increased by just 1,448 units last year - the smallest rise in at least 12 years. The stock had increased by 4,008 units in 2006, 7,453 units in 2005, and 10,969 units in 2004.

Rents of condos and apartments rose significantly last year - by 42.3 per cent in CCR (comprising the prime districts 9, 10, 11, Downtown Core and Sentosa), an even higher 47 per cent in the Rest of Central Region (RCR), and 41.9 per cent in Outside Central Region (OCR).

'Looking back at 2003/2004, developers were cautious and there were not many housing starts. So three or four years down the road, we're seeing a fall in terms of new home completions,' DTZ executive director Ong Choon Fah explains. 'Of course there have also been a lot of en-bloc sales in the past two years and some of these properties have been demolished,' she adds.

'The situation is even more severe in the prime areas, and we've been seeing a lot of expats fanning out from the prime districts to RCR, to rent private homes, which probably explains why the increase in non-landed rents was steeper in RCR compared to the CCR,' Mrs Ong explains.

With many private residential projects likely to be completed only in late 2008 and 2009, property consultants including Knight Frank managing director Tan Tiong Cheng expect rentals for non-landed properties to increase further this year. The rise could be less steep - perhaps 20 per cent, or around half the rate of increase for last year.

Yesterday's data on the private property market by Urban Redevelopment Authority showed that the overall price index for private homes rose 6.8 per cent in Q4 over the preceding quarter, slower than the 8.3 per cent hike in Q3. For the full year, the index was up 31.2 per cent, three times the 10.2 per cent rise in 2006.

In terms of regions, the price index for non-landed private homes in CCR rose 7.5 per cent in Q4, more measured than the 8.3 per cent gain in Q3. Price indices for RCR and OCR advanced 7.7 per cent and 7 per cent respectively in Q4, slightly more modestly than in Q3.

For the whole of last year, the non-landed home price index for CCR rose 32.7 per cent, while RCR and OCR indices were up 30.4 per cent and 26.4 per cent respectively.

Developers sold a record 14,811 private homes last year, surpassing the previous high in 2006 by 32.9 per cent. They launched a total of 14,016 units in 2007, 26.6 per cent above the 2006 figure and also a new high.

Knight Frank director (research and consultancy) Nicholas Mak predicts that URA's overall private residential property price index will rise at a more sluggish pace - around 10-15 per cent - this year, as buyers become more prudent.

Colliers International director (research and consultancy) Tay Huey Ying reckons that subsales as a percentage of total private homes sales islandwide will continue trending down in the coming months, to average about 8 per cent for the whole year, as the market moves to a 'healthier and more sustainable set of fundamentals'.

Less speculation could also slow the hike in home prices, she says. 'As a result, developers are less likely to bid aggressively for development sites and this will affect the success rates of collective sales,' she adds.

Some seasoned market players are predicting that home prices in CCR could take a hit of up to 10 per cent this year; those in RCR will be flat, perhaps rising slightly; while OCR will post the biggest gains of about 10-15 per cent.

'There's significant supply of projects for launch in CCR, and that will weigh down on prices. Foreign buying will thin because of the financial market turmoil which is hitting high-net-worth bankers and others,' a veteran industry observer suggests.

BT learnt yesterday that the release of the high-profile Marina Bay Suites, which was initially slated for the end of this month, has been delayed till after the Chinese New Year festivities - by which time the Budget should also be announced and hopefully lift sentiment.

URA Unveils New Woodlands Waterfront Proposals

Source : The Straits Times, Jan 26, 2008

THE Urban Redevelopment Authority has unveiled design proposals for the Woodlands Waterfront, comprising of a coastal promenade and a park in Woodlands on Saturday.

Residents and those living in nearby residential estates can look forward to a new waterfront recreational playground, right at their doorsteps.

URA will be building a 1.5-km long promenade and a nine hectare park along a tranquil stretch of coastline in Woodlands to improve accessibility to the area and to open up the scenic waterfront.

The promenade, in the form of boardwalk will be built over the seawall to bring visitors closer to the water's edge.

The promenade - set for completion in 2010 - is in the form of boardwalk and will be built over the seawall to bring visitors closer to the water's edge.-- PHOTO: URA

A park will also be created right next to the coastal promenade.

The design of the park leverages on the existing terrain and contours to create interesting spaces and views within the park.

There will be jogging and fitness trail and cycling tracks for fitness enthusiasts; playgrounds for young children; event spaces to hold outdoor community functions; picnic areas for families; and nature trails as a haven for nature lovers.

An old jetty connected to the park will also be refurbished to allow for recreational activities.

URA's CEO, Mrs Cheong Koon Hean, said: 'The new facilities are part of URA's plans to continually enhance the quality of our living environment and to strengthen Singaporeans' sense of belonging and identity.'

The Woodlands Waterfront - set for completion in 2010 - will form part of the comprehensive network of parks and park connectors in the area.

It will be linked to the newly-opened Admiralty Park and Woodlands Town Garden through a park connector that runs through a HDB estate.

Mr Khaw Boon Wan, Minister for Health and MP for Sembawang GRC officiated the launch of the 'Woodlands Waterfront and the Discovery Map' at Woodlands Civic Centre on Saturday.

The design proposals for Woodlands Waterfront will be exhibited there from Jan 26 - Jan 29. The public are welcome to give their feedback on the proposals.

Two New MRT Lines By 2020

Source : The Straits Times, Jan 26, 2008

They will run through estates in north and east; North-South and East-West lines will also be extended by 2015

TWO new underground MRT lines will be built by 2020 - one from Woodlands to Marina Bay via Thomson, and the other from Changi to Marina Bay via Marine Parade.















The 27km Thomson line will run through Sin Ming and Kim Seng, while the Eastern Region Line (ERL) will slice through Siglap and Tanjong Rhu. All are neighbourhoods not served by the MRT now.

The two new lines add 48km of rail and possibly 30 new stations.

In addition, extensions will be made to the East-West and North-South lines by 2015.

The East-West line will stretch 14km out to Tuas with an above-ground track, while the North-South line will be extended underground to Marina South.

These four additions, together with the lines now being built, will extend the rail network from the current 138km of track to 278km.

The tab: $20 billion. This is over and above the $20 billion already committed for the Circle Line, the Downtown Line and the Boon Lay extension.

When completed, cross-city trips will be faster; commuters will have a train stop within 400m, or five minutes' walking distance, said Transport Minister Raymond Lim yesterday.

He was delivering Part Two of his three-part policy speech on improvements to Singapore's land transport system.

He first unveiled a slew of changes to the bus system last week, and will wrap it up next week with what is in store for other road users.

With the Thomson Line in operation, commuters in Sin Ming, for example, will shave 20 minutes off their current 45-minute trip to the city; those in Marine Parade will get to Marina Bay on the ERL in 20 minutes - almost as fast as by car, said Mr Lim.

The extensions to the existing East-West and North-South lines will also shorten commuting time.

Take, for example, a commuter who lives in Clementi and works in Tuas. To get to work now, he will have to take a train from Clementi to Boon Lay, from where it will take him another 35 minutes by bus to his destination. With the extension of the East-West line to Tuas, he will save 20 minutes.

Mr Lim, who toured the Kim Chuan train depot yesterday, said: 'Commuters can look forward to new extensions or stages of new lines opening almost every other year until 2020.'

The next milestone will be marked in the middle of next year, when Stage 3 of the Circle Line opens - a year ahead of schedule - to connect areas such as Lorong Chuan and Bartley.

But commuters will experience improvements from next month, when 93 train trips will be added every week during the rush hours to ease crowding and cut waiting times.

Down the road, new trains will be bought and work done on the two oldest tracks so they can carry 15 per cent more passengers.

As with bus routes, the Government will also open up the rail market to competition. Contracts to run rail services will be 10 to 15 years long, down from 30.

To enhance the commuter's experience, more covered linkways and overhead bridges will be built in the next two years; the elderly and disabled will have full access to buses and improved access to MRT stations. A six-month trial to allow foldable bicycles on trains will also be carried out.

As for taxi commuters, a centralised call booking centre will be set up by July.

Mr Lim gave the assurance that fares will continue to be regulated by the Public Transport Council, and help will be given to those who cannot afford to pay.

Home Prices On City Fringe, Suburbs Still Rising Strongly

Source : The Straits Times, Jan 26, 2008

PRICE increases for high-end homes in the central areas may be easing, but not so for homes on the city fringe and suburban apartments - where prices are still rising strongly.








Urban Redeveloment Authority figures showed growth in the prices of uncompleted apartments in the central areas slid from 7.8 per cent to 7.6 per cent from October to December. Price increases for city fringe units, on the other hand, rose from 7.6 per cent to 8.3 per cent.

Growth in the prices of uncompleted apartments in suburban areas also crept up to 9.2 per cent from 9.1 per cent.

Dr Chua Yang Liang, head of research, South-east Asia, at Jones Lang LaSalle, said home prices in the suburbs would keep growing by 24 per cent to 26 per cent this year. This would be supported by home owners looking for new homes after being disloged by collective sales.

Last year, 14,811 new homes were sold.

Mr Li Hiaw Ho, executive director of research at CB Richard Ellis, meanwhile, expects price rises and sales volume to moderate this year.

'Luxury prices are likely to stabilise at current levels, while mid-tier and mass market prices may have the potential to rise by 10 per cent to 15 per cent,' he said.

Property Market Shows Signs Of Cooling

Source : The Straits Times, Jan 26, 2008

AFTER months of relentless price rises, the property market finally took a breather at the end of last year.

Almost all sectors - including private and public homes, offices and shops - applied the brakes in the fourth quarter, ending almost two years of acceleration, official figures showed yesterday.

They confirmed initial estimates earlier this month that suggested, in particular, that housing demand is cooling.

Experts say this was due partly to the global fallout from the sub-prime mortgage crisis in the United States and partly to local government measures, such as the withdrawal of the deferred payment scheme in October.

The slowdown is set to continue this year. Growth will still be healthy, but considerably lower than last year's one-record-after-another spiral, experts say.
Most predict a rise in private home prices of 10 to 20 per cent this year - a far cry from the robust 31.2 per cent growth last year.

Private home rental, which caused tenants no end of headaches by shooting up 41.2 per cent last year, are also expected to moderate to between 5 and 15 per cent.

HDB resale prices are projected to increase by not more than 10 per cent, down from last year's 17.5 per cent. Offices and shops will also fall in line. Price rises are forecast to be less than last year's increases of 32.6 per cent and 13.2 per cent, respectively.

Volatility in stock markets and the stream of bad economic news coming out of the US have made for a quiet start to the year, particularly in the housing market.

Developers have delayed planned launches of new projects or scheduled upcoming launches well after Chinese New Year, according to industry sources.

Plans to start sales for Marina Bay Suites yesterday, for example, are said to have been shelved until after the festive holiday.

'We expect the residential market to remain cautious, at least in the first quarter of 2008, until the global situation becomes clearer,' said Mr Li Hiaw Ho, executive director at CBRE Research.

Demand for homes also appears to have eased.

Although a record 14,811 new homes were sold last year, sales in the last three months contributed only 1,449 of those units - the fewest transactions in a quarter since 2005.

But homeowners can take heart: The boom has enough steam to run for some time before reaching its peak, said property consultants.

'I would say we could be nearing a peak, but we're not there yet,' said Dr Chua Yang Liang, head of Singapore research at consultancy Jones Lang LaSalle.

'Typically, we will see growth of around only 1 per cent in a quarter before we hit a peak,' added Mr Nicholas Mak, director of research and consultancy at Knight Frank.

Private home prices rose 6.8 per cent in the fourth quarter of last year, down from 8.3 per cent growth in the third quarter.

HDB resale prices grew 5.7 per cent, compared with 6.6 per cent in the previous three months.

Consultants said while the rises in home prices will slow, prices will not actually fall until at least 2010, when a slew of new homes is expected to be completed.

In the meantime, much of this year's residential market growth is likely to come from HDB flats and suburban mass market condominiums, which are signs of more genuine home-buying demand.

Speculative demand has already dropped dramatically. A measure of speculation is sub-sales, which are when uncompleted homes change hands. These fell to 513 in the fourth quarter - a third of their level in the previous quarter.

Riders For A Seamless, Efficient Rail Network

Source : The Straits Times, Jan 26, 2008

Transport Minister Raymond Lim yesterday unveiled Part 2 of his ministry's plan to overhaul public transport in Singapore, this time focusing on expanding the rail network.

LAST week, you heard about our major initiatives to improve bus services. Today, I will share with you the exciting plans that we have for the rail network, and how we will meet the transport needs of diverse groups of people.

Let me start by telling you what commuters can look forward to in the future.

By 2020, people who live or work in the city and those who shop and find enjoyment there will be able to reach an MRT station within 400m on average, a mere five-minute walk. Travelling across the city will be a breeze because we will have a dense network of MRT stations like what we see in London and New York today.

Outside the city, many more areas that are not served by the MRT now, such as Sin Ming, Marine Parade and Tuas, will get high-speed access to the city.

Commuters will also enjoy a more comfortable ride and a shorter wait during peak periods on the existing lines, as additional train trips will be added to increase capacity.

I will touch on the new rail lines first.

Thomson, Eastern Region lines

FROM the heart of Marina Bay, a new MRT line, the Thomson Line, will travel northwards, through the Central Business District and up through Ang Mo Kio all the way to Woodlands, connecting estates such as Sin Ming, Kebun Baru, Thomson and Kim Seng which do not now have a direct MRT link.

From Marina Bay, this line will connect with another new MRT line, the Eastern Region Line, which will serve the residential estates of Tanjong Rhu, Marine Parade, Siglap, Bedok South and Upper East Coast, and link them to Changi in the east.

The Thomson Line or TSL and the Eastern Region Line or ERL will add 48km to our rail network. The Government has given the go-ahead for the TSL to be built by 2018, and the ERL by 2020.

The TSL and ERL will shorten journey times and significantly enhance the connectivity of the rail network. Commuters staying in Sin Ming can save 20 minutes out of their current 45-minute journey to the city, whereas a trip from Marine Parade to Marina Bay on the ERL would take about 20 minutes, almost as fast as travelling by car.

We will add extensions to the North-South and East- West Lines, which should be completed around 2015.

The North-South Line now ends at the Marina Bay station. We will extend the line 1km southwards to serve upcoming developments in the southern Marina Bay area, such as the new cruise terminal in Marina South.

The East-West Line will be extended by another 14km into Tuas. Today, a commuter who lives in Clementi and takes the MRT to work in Tuas has to alight at Boon Lay station and then take a 35- minute bus ride to get to his workplace. With the new Tuas Extension that brings the East-West line right into the heart of Tuas, more of the journey will be on the high- speed MRT, reducing his journey time by 20 minutes.

Doubling of rail network by 2020

THESE new rail lines will cost us some $20 billion to build, over and above the $20 billion that the Government has already committed for the on-going Boon Lay Extension (BLE), the Circle Line (CCL) and the Downtown Line (DTL). The Government has decided all these rail projects are a necessary investment to ensure that our transport infrastructure meets the needs of a growing population and an expanding economy.

Together with the rail lines now under construction, the new rail lines will double our network from today's 138km to 278km in 2020. We expect our rail network to carry three times as many journeys, rising from today's 1.4 million a day to 4.6 million in 2020.

Many more people will be served by the MRT, and they will be able to use it to get to many more places. The density of our rail network will increase by 60 per cent, from 31km to 51km per million population by 2020, comparable to cities such as New York and London, and surpassing Hong Kong and Tokyo.

More comfort

LET me turn to the existing rail lines. Train ridership is increasing steadily and commuters have said they are feeling the squeeze. Now, we are far from the crowded conditions of Tokyo trains, which Mr Norman Chong, a Singaporean who has lived in Tokyo for 10 years, describes as being 'so packed that bodies are crushed against one another'. He calls it his 'regular morning massage'.

Other MRT users have likened the average peak period loading on our trains to an off-peak crowd in Shanghai.

However, we are not about to let conditions deteriorate and commuters need not worry about getting morning massages any time soon. LTA closely monitors the passenger loading on our trains. To ensure a more comfortable ride for commuters, LTA has worked with the train operators to run 93 additional train trips per week during the morning and evening periods from February on the North- South, East-West and the North-East lines. For commuters, this will mean less crowded trains and a reduction in waiting time by about 10 per cent to 15 per cent during peak hours.

Beyond that, we will expand the carrying capacity of the North-South and East- West Lines. We will be working with SMRT to purchase more trains and address infrastructure constraints so that peak-hour train frequencies can be increased. When completed in about four years' time, carrying capacity will be increased by a further 15 per cent, and commuters can look forward to shorter peak waiting times of two minutes, compared to the current 2.5 to 4.5 minutes at stretches that experience heavy loading, and an even more comfortable ride.

Shorter wait

MANY people are counting down to the day they can use the CCL. Others have asked whether we can speed up the building of the DTL. We have taken to heart such feedback and worked hard with the Ministry of Finance and other partners such as URA to see how we can bring forward the opening of these lines, to make public transport a choice mode.

To benefit residents of Bedok Reservoir and Tampines, we will bring forward the completion of DTL 3 by two years, from 2018 to 2016. The completion date of DTL 3 will now be just one year after that of DTL Stage 2 serving the Bukit Timah corridor. As we speed up the development of the DTL, LTA will continue to maintain stringent safety and quality standards in construction.

Likewise, we will bring forward the Circle Line which was due to open from 2010 onwards. We will now open CCL Stage 3 in mid-2009 to benefit residents in the north and north-east. This CCL segment connects Bishan station on the North-South Line and Serangoon station on NEL and opens up multiple new connections for residents in the north and north-east.

With the CCL 3, Serangoon residents will take only 25 minutes to get to Yishun by transferring to the North- South line at Bishan station, compared to 45 minutes by bus or by taking the NEL all the way to Dhoby Ghaut before transferring to the North- South line. As for residents in Marymount, Lorong Chuan and Bartley, they will enjoy more seamless and direct travel to the city and other parts once CCL 3 commences operation.

Other than bringing forward CCL 3, we will also open more stations on the Circle Line. This will enhance the reach and connectivity of the Circle Line, and allow many more people to benefit from the MRT. We had earlier decided to build the Thomson and West Coast stations as shell stations and fit them out only when there are sufficient developments around them.

As the pace of development around these stations is picking up, LTA will now fit out these stations and open them together with the other CCL stations.

To enhance the accessibility of the Marina Bay area to the rest of the island, LTA will also build and open the Marina Bay station as part of the CCL extension beyond Bayfront station in 2012.

With all these developments that I have highlighted, commuters can look forward to new extensions or stages of new lines opening almost every other year until 2020.

Platform screen doors

THE safety of our rail commuters is key. The incidence of people entering the train track area of above-ground MRT stations has risen from an average of 16 cases a year to 30 in 2006 and 31 in 2007. Besides endangering lives, such incidents disrupt train services and inconvenience many commuters, especially during peak hours.

To enhance safety and reduce the incidence of track intrusions, LTA has been studying the feasibility of installing platform screen doors on above-ground MRT stations. With platform screen doors being adopted in more transit systems worldwide, their cost has fallen, making them more cost-effective now.

We will install platform screen doors at all above- ground MRT stations so that commuters can have safer and more reliable train services. LTA will carry out a pilot at Yishun, Jurong East and Pasir Ris stations in 2009 to ensure operational considerations are met, before rolling this out to all stations by 2012.

Financing

BESIDES the slew of initiatives I have described - extending the rail network, opening MRT lines earlier and giving commuters more comfortable and safer rides - we will also strengthen the financing framework to facilitate rail expansion. At the same time, we will introduce greater contestability in the rail industry to ensure efficient rail operations and keep costs competitive.

From now till 2020 and beyond, we are rolling out ambitious rail expansion plans to meet the travel needs of a growing population.

As we expand the rail network, future lines will be more expensive to build, operate and maintain as they will be mostly underground. New lines will also need time to build up their ridership compared to mature lines which serve the more densely built- up corridors. Hence, to keep up the pace of rail expansion, MOT will work with the Ministry of Finance to refine the financing framework.

The framework should allow for a network approach, instead of a line approach, to be adopted in evaluating new lines. This would potentially enable future new lines to be implemented a few years earlier than otherwise, so long as the entire rail network remains viable.

Greater contestability

WE WILL also strengthen the rail industry framework to enhance efficiency and maintain cost competitiveness.

We currently have two rail operators. This enables the regulator to benchmark the operators against each other in terms of service standards and cost efficiency.

There have been suggestions to merge the separate rail operations to reap greater economies of scale. Others see value in retaining the existing structure as competition between the operators helps improve efficiency and service standards.

Following an extensive study, LTA's assessment is that the key issue here is not so much whether there are one or two operators but that the threat of competition must be real to the incumbents. Further, competition must not compromise the integration of the network as the seamless working of the whole network is what gives value to the commuter.

Going forward, we will make the rail industry more contestable to drive efficiency and enhance service standards for commuters. A key step in enhancing contestability is to have shorter operating licences, say 10 to 15 years, compared to the existing 30-year periods. Operators will compete for the right to operate rail services. They will have to meet service obligations or risk being replaced at the end of their term. LTA will study the implementation issues carefully with relevant stakeholders.

Meeting diverse needs

AS WE enhance the rail network, we will ensure that our MRT system and the wider transport network are accessible to all, including elderly commuters, families with young children, people with disabilities and those who are less well-off. This is part of our broader commitment to meet the needs of diverse groups within our people-centred land transport system.

Pedestrians can look forward to a more comfortable walking environment as we build more covered linkways and pedestrian overhead bridges and make it more convenient to get to bus stops and MRT stations. Eighty-six per cent of pedestrian overhead bridges will be covered by 2010. Walkways and commuter facilities will also be made accessible to all, including the less mobile. By 2010, LTA will have completed its $60 million islandwide programme to make pedestrian walkways, access to MRT stations, taxi and bus shelters and all public roads barrier-free.

The introduction of low-floor, wheelchair-accessible buses has been welcomed by elderly commuters and wheelchair users. By 2010, 40 per cent of our buses will be wheelchair-accessible, and we intend that by 2020 the entire fleet will be so.

More will also be done for MRT users. All MRT stations have already been provided with at least one barrier-free entrance inclusive of a lift. However, the elderly or less mobile commuters sometimes have to make long detours to get to that one entrance with the lift, which defeats the purpose. We will therefore provide 17 additional lifts for 16 MRT stations at the cost of $70 million. Currently, these 16 stations have entrances that are either far apart or are separated by major roads. Putting in a lift at another entrance will benefit, among others, elderly residents at the Boon Keng housing estate, enabling them to get into the MRT station more easily. So too the people who alight from Boon Keng station to go to the Kwong Wai Shiu Hospital. By end 2011, more than 70 per cent of our MRT stations will have at least two barrier- free access routes.

Another group we pay close attention to are the less well-off Singaporeans. While fares have to reflect the cost of operations, we will see to it that public transport remains accessible to poorer Singaporeans. Fares will continue to be regulated by the Public Transport Council by a fare cap formula so public transport operators cannot charge whatever they think the market can bear. This will help keep public transport fares affordable for the general public.

As for lower-income families who need more help with their public transport costs, the Government is committed to providing targeted help through schemes such as Workfare. Help from the community is also available, such as through the transport vouchers provided by the public transport operators and government.

Improving taxi services

WHILE we enhance public transport and ensure that all have access to it, we will also facilitate a wide range of transport choices, including taxis and cycling.

Taxis offer commuters high-end door- to-door service like cars. The taxi industry is liberalised and taxi supply and fares are determined by the market. LTA sets the Quality of Service standards to protect commuters' interests.

To further enhance taxi services, LTA will tighten the call booking Quality of Service standards to ensure that taxis are available when commuters call for one.

LTA will also set up a common call- booking telephone number for taxis by July to complement the taxi companies' call- booking systems. This will make it more convenient for the public, especially tourists, to call for a taxi as they will only need to remember one telephone number instead of the different telephone numbers of each taxi company today.

Facilitating cyclists

CYCLISTS are another group that we will facilitate. There is a growing interest in cycling, with more people cycling for recreation or to get around the neighbourhood.

We invited some of them to our land transport review focus group discussions to see how we could better cater to their needs. Some cyclists asked for more bicycle stands around our bus and MRT stations. Others made the point that some foldable bicycles were not much bigger than prams, so why not allow them onboard our trains and buses?

Responding to this, LTA together with the public transport operators will launch a six-month trial from March to allow cyclists to carry their foldable bicycles on board trains and buses. LTA will also work with NParks and other agencies to leverage on the park connectors to enable cyclists to get to public transport interchanges more easily. Bicycle parking facilities at the MRT stations and bus interchanges in housing estates will be improved.

The cyclists also shared their 'war stories' and asked us to help improve safety on our roads. Following a pilot in Changi, LTA will put up signs to alert motorists to the presence of cyclists along frequently used cycling routes such as those in West Coast and Thomson from March. LTA and the Traffic Police have also started a trial to allow cycling on pedestrian footways in Tampines.

But at the end of the day, it is an issue of mutual accommodation - for the motorists to look out for cyclists on the road, and for cyclists to have a care for pedestrians.

Protecting the environment

GREATER use of our MRT and buses as well as non-motorised transport like cycling will help reduce greenhouse gases and protect the environment. Land transport has a critical role in whether a city is liveable or choking on its own exhaust. Our transport policies as a whole serve to ensure a high-quality living environment for all Singaporeans.

LTA will work with the transport operators to further improve the emission standards of their fleets. By 2014, all our taxis will comply with Euro IV emission levels. By 2010, about 40 per cent of public buses will have achieved this emission target, with 100 per cent by 2020. Through schemes like the Green Vehicle Rebate, LTA will also work with other agencies to promote more energy-efficient vehicles as well as the use of cleaner fuels such as CNG (Compressed Natural Gas).

Keeping pace

BY 2020, we will have an integrated, efficient and user-friendly public transport system that enables every Singaporean, including those with special needs, to take part in the life of the city. With a vastly expanded rail network and a bus network that works in partnership with rail, commuters will have fast and reliable connections that bring them where they want to go.

A gamut of transport choices, including premium buses, taxis and cycling among others, will enable different needs to be met. As society evolves and people's needs change, our land transport offerings must keep pace as well as encompass the diversity of needs and aspirations.

To achieve this, we will plan our land transport system around people, not the other way round. This then will be our touchstone in the planning of land transport policies going forward.

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WITHIN SHOUTING DISTANCE

By 2020, people who live or work in the city and those who shop and find enjoyment there will be able to reach an MRT station within 400m on average, a mere five-minute walk.

SCREENING OUT DANGER

The safety of our rail commuters is key...We will install platform screen doors at all above-ground MRT stations so that commuters can have safer and more reliable train services.

STEPPING UP CONTESTABILITY

A key step in enhancing contestability is to have shorter operating licences, say 10 to 15 years, compared to the existing 30-year periods.

Resale HDB Flat Prices Up 30% Above Valuation In Q4

Source : The Straits Times, Jan 25, 2008

BUYERS of resale Housing Board flats found themselves paying $22,000 above the valuation from October to December - a whopping 30 per cent increase more than the previous quarter.

HDB data released on Friday showed that 86 per cent of resale transactions required cash over valuation, while another 900 flats were sold at or below valuation.

The median COV hit $33,500 for executive flats, $26,000 for five-room units, and $22,000 for four-roomers.

Overall resale prices of HDB flats rose 5.7 per cent in the fourth quarter to bring the year's growth to 17.5 per cent. The year's growth is the biggest in a decade.

The number of resale transactions fell 13 per cent to 6,700 from October to December.

Rents for HDB flats continued to rise in the fourth quarter of 2007, with median rentals growing by about 6 to 7 per cent for four-room, five-room and executive flats.

Median monthly rentals of executive units hit $1,800 in the fourth quarter while five-roomers fetched $1,700.

The total number of flats being rented out rose from from 16,200 to 17,400.

2 New MRT Lines & 2 Extensions By 2020

Source : The Straits Times, Jan 25, 2008

A new 27 km underground rail line will be built from Woodlands in the north, through Ang Mo Kio and down the Thomson corridor to the city centre.

Green - existing lines, Purple - lines in progress, Black - future lines. The four rail systems to be built by 2020 will extend the network from the current 138km to 278km.

It will be one of four more rail systems to be built by 2020, with the other lines bringing high speech access to areas like Marine Parade in the east and Tuas in the West.

Together, the four will extend the rail network from the current 138km of track to 278km by 2020.

When completed, moving within the city centre will be a breeze, with a train station every 400m, or a five minute walk away, said Transport Minister Raymond Lim on Friday morning when he unveiled part-two of the changes to the land transport system.


















Thomson Line (see attached map)

From the heart of Marina Bay, the Thomson Line (or TSL) will travel northwards, through the Central Business District and up through Ang Mo Kio all the way to Woodlands connecting estates such as Sin Ming, Kebun Baru, Thomson and Kim Seng which do not now have a direct MRT link.


















The Eastern Region Line (or ERL), from Marina Bay, will serve the residential estates of Tanjong Rhu, Marine Parade, Siglap, Bedok South and Upper East Coast, and link them to Changi in the east.

The TSL and the ERL together will add 48km to the rail network. The Government has given the go-ahead for the TSL to be built by 2018, and the ERL by 2020.

Mr Lim said the TSL and ERL will shorten journey times and significantly enhance the connectivity of the rail network. Commuters staying in Sin Ming, for example, can save 20 minutes out of their current 45-minute journey to the city, whereas a trip from Marine Parade to Marina Bay on the ERL would take about 20 minutes, almost as fast as travelling by car.

New extensions to North-South and East-West Lines (see attached maps)

The North-South and East-West Lines will also be extended and should be completed around 2015.


















The North-South Line, which now ends at the Marina Bay station in the south, will be extended 1-km southwards to serve upcoming developments in the southern Marina Bay area, such as the new cruise terminal in Marina South. The East-West Line will be extended by another 14km into Tuas.

Presently, a commuter who lives in Clementi and takes the MRT to work in Tuas has to alight at Boon Lay station and then take a 35-minute bus ride to get to his workplace.


















With the new Tuas Extension that brings the East-West line right into the heart of Tuas, more of the journey will be on the high speed MRT, reducing his journey time by 20 minutes.


















Doubling of rail network by 2020 (see attached map)

Mr Lim said the new rail lines will cost some $20 billion to build, over and above the $20 billion that government has already committed for the on-going Boon Lay Extension (BLE), the Circle Line (CCL) and the Downtown Line (DTL).

'The government has decided that all these rail projects are a necessary investment to ensure that our transport infrastructure meets the needs of a growing population and an expanding economy,' he said.

'Together with the rail lines now under construction, the new rail lines will double our network from today's 138km to 278km in 2020. We expect our rail network to carry 3 times as many journeys, rising from today's 1.4 million a day to 4.6 million in 2020.'

He added that many more people will be served by the MRT, and they will be able to use it to get to many more places.

The density of the rail network will increase by 60 per cent, from 31 to 51 km per million population by 2020, comparable to cities like New York and London, and surpassing Hong Kong and Tokyo.

Turning to the existing rail lines, Mr Lim said train ridership is increasing steadily and commuters have said that they are feeling the squeeze, especially on the North-South and East-West lines.

'Now, we are far from the crowded conditions of Tokyo trains, which Mr Norman Chong, a Singaporean who has lived in Tokyo for 10 years, describes as being 'so packed that bodies are crushed against one another.' He calls it his 'regular morning massage',' said the Minister. 'Other MRT users have likened the average peak period loading on our trains to an off-peak crowd in Shanghai.'

He said LTA is closely monitoring the passenger loading on trains.

To ensure a more comfortable ride for commuters, LTA has worked with the train operators to run 93 additional train trips per week during the morning and evening periods from February 2008 on the North-South East-West and the North-East lines. For commuters, this will mean less crowded trains and a reduction in waiting time by about 10 to 15 per cent during peak hours.

Additionally, the carrying capacity of the North-South and East-West Lines will be expended, with more trains to be added.

When completed in about four years' time, their carrying capacity will be increased by a further 15 per cent, and commuters can look forward to shorter peak waiting times of two minutes, compared to the current 2.5 to 4.5 minutes at stretches that experience heavy loading, and an even more comfortable ride, assured Mr Lim.

DTL 3 to be brought forward by 2 years

The Minister also announced that Stage 3 of the Downtown Line (DTL) will now be completed two years earlier - from 2018 to 2016 - to benefit residents of Bedok Reservoir and Tampines.

It will be ready just one year after that of DTL Stage 2 serving the Bukit Timah corridor.

Earlier opening of Circle Line in 2009

He also have another piece of good news.

The Circle Line (CCL), which was due to open from 2010 onwards, will now open its Stage 3 segment in mid-2009 to benefit residents in the north and north-east.

This CCL segment connects Bishan station on the North-South Line and Serangoon station on NEL and opens up multiple new connections for residents in the north and north-east.

With the CCL 3, Serangoon residents will take only 25 minutes to get to Yishun by transferring to the North-South line at Bishan station, compared to 45 minutes by bus or by taking the NEL all the way to Dhoby Ghaut before transferring to the North-South line.

As for residents staying in Marymount, Lorong Chuan and Bartley, they will enjoy more seamless and direct travel to the city and other parts once CCL 3 commences operation.

More Circle Line stations will be opened

Commuters can also look forward to more stations on the Circle Line. This will enhance the reach and connectivity of the Circle Line, and allow many more people to benefit from the MRT.

'We had earlier decided to build the Thomson and West Coast stations as shell stations and fit them out only when there are sufficient developments around them. As the pace of development around these stations is picking up, LTA will now fit out these stations and open them together with the other CCL stations,' said Mr Lim.

'To enhance the accessibility of the Marina Bay area to the rest of the island, LTA will also build and open the Marina Bay station as part of the CCL extension beyond Bayfront station in 2012.'

'With all these developments that I have highlighted, commuters can look forward to new extensions or stages of new lines opening almost every other year until 2020.'

Govt To Spend $40b To Expand Rail Network

Source : The Straits Times, Jan 25, 2008

Two new lines to double network length to 278km by 2020; first stage of Circle Line to open next year

IN what could well be Singapore's most aggressive public transport infrastructure plans ever, the Government is spending $40 billion to double the MRT network by 2020.

By then, Singapore will have 278km of rail link, from 138km today. Its network density will rise from 31km per million residents today to 51km per million - surpassing what Hong Kong and Tokyo has today and comparable to current densities in places like New York and London.

Announcing these targets on Friday as part of a sweeping Land Transport Review, Transport Minister Raymond Lim said two new lines will be built - barely nine months after he gave the go-ahead to the $12 billion 40km Downtown Line.

One, the Thomson Line, runs to the left of and almost parallel to the North-east Line. It is 27km long and links Marina Bay in the south to Woodlands in the north. To be completed in 2018, it will have 18 stations, in places such as Ang Mo Kio, Kebun Baru, Sin Ming, Thomson and Kim Seng.

The other is the Eastern Region Line, which is a southern loop of the Downtown Line's eastern wing. It is 21km long and links Marina Bay to Changi. This line has 12 stops in places such as Tanjong Rhu, Siglap, Bedok South and Marine Parade, and is scheduled for completion in 2020.

'We expect our rail network to carry three times as many journeys, rising from today's 1.4 million a day to 4.6 million in 2020,' Mr Lim said.

Existing MRT lines will also be lengthened. The North South Line will dip towards Marina South, with one station, and should be ready by 2015. Elsewhere, the East West Line will go west to serve the Tuas Industrial Estate. Also to be ready in 2015, it is 14km long and dotted with five stations.

More immediately though, Mr Lim said residents can look forward to riding one stage of the Circle Line from middle of next year. This stage is a five-station section linking Bartley to Marymount, with interchanges at Serangoon and Bishan.

Completion of the Downtown Line has also been brought forward by two years to 2016.

These accelerated plans are just the beginning. Minister Lim revealed that the Government will be working towards a new financing framework for rail infrastructure that will see future lines being built sooner. Instead of assessing the viability of new lines in isolation, the Government will now evaluate its contribution to the entire network. As such, future MRT projects could be implemented 'a few years earlier... so long as the entire rail network remains viable'.

Like changes he announced for buses last week, the minister said the Government will introduce more competition to the rail industry. Operating contracts will be 10 to 15 years long, instead of the current 30-year tenures. This is to keep the operators on their toes so that they keep service standards high.

In line with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's promise that no one would be left behind, accessibility to wheelchairs and prams will likewise be speeded up. By 2010, access to MRT stations, taxi and bus shelters will be barrier free within a 400m radius. Because there are 4,500 bus-stops here, practically all walkways will be accessible to the handicapped, elderly and those using baby prams.

And by 2010, 40 per cent of public buses will be wheelchair accessible, with the rest to follow by 2020.

The minister took the opportunity to announce other transport-related initiatives during a visit to the Kim Chuan MRT Depot on Friday morning. These include:

• July: A single telephone number for booking a cab.

• March: Six-month trial for foldable bicycles to be allowed onboard MRT trains during off-peak periods.

• Next year: Better bicycle parking facilities at MRT stations, starting with Tampines and Pasir Ris.

• March: Road signs warning motorists of cyclists in popular bicycle routes.

• 2014: All taxis to meet Euro IV emission standards.

• 2020: All buses to meet Euro IV emission standards.

On what commuters can look forward to in the coming years, Mr Lim said: 'By 2020, people who live or work in the city and those who shop and find enjoyment there will be able to reach an MRT station within 400 metres on average, a mere five-minute walk.

'Travelling across the city will be a breeze, because we will have a dense network of MRT stations like what we see in London and New York today.'

He added: 'With a vast rail network and a bus network that works in partnership with rail, commuters will have fast and reliable connections that bring them where they want to go. A gamut of transport choices including premium buses, taxis and cycling among others, will enable different needs to be met.'

The Minister said as society evolves and people's needs change, Singapore's land transport offerings must keep pace as well as encompass the diversity of needs and aspirations.

'To achieve this, we will plan our land transport system around people, not the other way round. This then will be our touchstone in the planning of land transport policies going forward,' he promised.

Private Home Prices, Rentals Moderate In Q4

Source : The Straits Times, Jan 25, 2008

THE stellar run of property prices and rentals last year slowed sharply in the fourth quarter, reflecting rising economic uncertainties and the effect of measures to cool the property market.

Private home prices rose by 6.8 per cent between October and December, down from the decade high of 8.3 per cent in the previous quarter.

Private home prices rose 6.8 per cent in Q4, and 31.2 per cent in the whole of 2007, URA said on Friday. -- ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

Rentals for private homes also slowed, rising 6.8 per cent in the quarter, against 11.4 per cent the previous three months.

Latest figures released by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) on Friday, also showed that sub-sales of private homes dropped to 513 during the quarter, about a third of the 1,474 between July to September.

For the whole of 2007, private home prices rose 31.2 per cent, with non-landed properties up 32.6 per cent. Properties in the core central region where the prime developments are located went up by 7.5 per cent in the last quarter, while those outside fetched 7.7 per cent more.

For the fourth quarter, prices of landed properties were up 4.2 per cent, against 7.5 per cent the previous quarter. For the whole year, prices for such properties went up by 23.4 per cent, with detached houses going by 5 per cent more, semi-detached (3.9 per cent) and terrace houses (3.5 per cent).

In an indication of the market cooling off, URA said prices for a number of uncompleted private residential projects in the suburban areas have come down to 'a more affordable level.'

"There are also a number of projects with a significant number of units that have not been sold yet," it noted.

Rentals also rose at a slower pace
In line with the slowdown, rentals of private residential properties rose 6.8 per cent, compared with the 11.4 per cent the previous quarter.

But for the whole year, the overall rentals soared by 41.2 per cent.

Nearly 65,000 uncompleted units in the pipeline
There were 64,852 uncompleted units of private housing units in the last three months of 2007, with more than half - 38,260 units - still usold.

These comprise 2,063 units that had been launched for sale by developers and 7,099 units which could be launched soon.

Of the supply in the pipeline, URA said 56,149 units are expected to be completed between this year and 2011, of which 29,722 are being built.

The number of private residential project launches also fell by more than half - only 1,686 units were launched in Q4 compared with 3,709 in the previous quarter.

It was the same story for offices. Prices rose 8 per cent in the fourth quarter, slightly lower than the 8.1 per cent previously.

Rentals for office space grew by 10.9 per cent, moderating the 14.8 per cent growth in the previous quarter.

Retail space also saw much smaller growth in rentals, which rose 0.6 per cent after rising 8.1 per cent in the third quarter.

For the whole of last year, private home prices rose an impressive 31.2 per cent, while rentals surged 41.2 per cent, said the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

Office prices jumped 32.6 per cent in the year, with rentals shooting up 56.1 per cent.

As for shops, prices rose 13.2 per cent last year and rents, 18.2 per cent.

Values of industrial property went up 22.7 per cent, while rents rose 32 per cent.