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23rd October 2014

Singapore Economy

Cycling can be viable transport mode: Khaw

Source: Straits Times / Top of The News

CYCLING should not be just a recreational pursuit, but also a viable transport option for short trips around Singapore, said National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan yesterday.

He wrote on his blog that the Government wants Singaporeans to be able to cycle "to the supermarket, coffee shop, hawker centre or the nearest MRT station".

"To do so, we must make such trips safe and pleasant," he said. "Cities are increasingly finding it important to make themselves friendly to pedestrians and cyclists."

Mr Khaw noted that Singapore is lagging "way behind" cities such as Amsterdam and Copenhagen, where cycling is part of the "normal way of life".

He praised both European capitals as good examples of cities with "active mobility", where walking and cycling make up over half of all modes of transport.

In contrast, cycling makes up just 1 per cent to 2 per cent of transport modes here, he noted.

Singapore's National Cycling Plan envisions a 700km cycling network by 2030, within, as well as between, neighbourhoods.

By next year, 100km of cycling paths will be built in Yishun, Punggol and Bedok. Eventually, said Mr Khaw, all 26 Housing Board towns will have cycling paths connecting homes to neighbourhood centres and MRT stations.

Singapore is also exploring bicycle-sharing schemes and increasing safe-cycling education initiatives, such as the Safe Cycling Programme for Youth for secondary school students.

Mr Khaw said Singapore has always embraced active mobility, with its extensive Park Connector Network (PCN), pavements and sheltered walkways being examples of this.

The PCN, he said, lets people walk, jog or cycle safely close to greenery. The city itself is "quite walkable", he added.

When contacted, Mr Francis Chu, co-founder of cycling group LoveCyclingSg, said more cyclists are keen to use their bicycles for short daily commutes.

But roads in town centres can be unsafe and intimidating for inexperienced riders, he said.

As for non-cyclists such as motorists, it may be difficult to motivate them to switch to bicycles as driving often gets them to their destinations faster, he said.

"But with improvement of the cycling network, more and more people will start to consider cycling as a serious mode of transport."

-By David Ee

Cycling should be viable transport option in Singapore: Khaw

In a blog post, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan noted that Singapore is "quite walkable", but lags behind cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, where "walking and cycling as modes of transport have been honed to be the normal way of life".

Source: Channel News Asia / Singapore

SINGAPORE: National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan says cycling should be a viable transport option in Singapore for short trips to places like the supermarket, coffee shop, hawker centre or the nearest MRT station. For this to happen, such trips should be made safe and pleasant.

In a blog post titled "4 Wheels Good, 2 Wheels and 2 Feet Even Better" on Wednesday (22 Oct), Mr Khaw noted that Singapore is "quite walkable", with good pavements along most roads, pedestrian priority at traffic junctions and sheltered walkways.

"But we are not perfect. In fact, some cities, like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, have raised active mobility to a higher level. Walking and cycling as modes of transport have been honed to be the normal way of life. In these cities, they make up more than half of the modes of transport," he wrote.

"Bench-marked against them, we are way behind."

Cycling, he said, merely makes up one to two per cent of transport modes here. "We must now go beyond cycling for recreation," he added.

Mr Khaw highlighted initiatives such as the National Cycling Plan, which envisions a cycling network of 700km by 2030.

Next year, 100km of intra-town cycling paths in Yishun, Punggol and Bedok would have been developed. Eventually, all 26 public housing towns will have similar networks to connect homes to neighbourhood centres and MRT stations.

At the same time, the government is exploring bike sharing schemes, as well as increasing safety education programmes, such as the Safe Cycling Programme for Youth for secondary school students.

Mr Khaw's remarks came as the Centre for Liveable Cities and US-based Urban Land Institute on Wednesday launched a publication detailing recommendations to make Singapore more walkable and bicycle-friendly.

The strategies include integrating walking and cycling into public transport systems, installing amenities such as shower facilities, lockers and bicycle parking lots, and planting more trees to shield pedestrians and cyclists from the heat.

- CNA/by/xq

Cycling can become a viable transport option, says Khaw

Source: Today Online / Singapore

SINGAPORE — The Government wants cycling to go beyond the realm of recreation and become a “viable transport option” for short trips, said National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan on his blog today (Oct 22).

And to make that happen, these trips — to the supermarket, coffee shop, hawker centre or the nearest MRT station — must be “safe and pleasant”, he said.

Singapore has a “wonderful” Park Connector Network that has brought greenery and recreation closer to homes, and is also quite walkable, with good pavements along most roads, pedestrian priority at traffic junctions, and sheltered walkways.

“But we are not perfect. In fact, some cities, like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, have raised active mobility (cycling and walking) to a higher level. Walking and cycling as modes of transport have been honed to be the normal way of life.”

In these cities, they make up more than half of the modes of transport. “Benchmarked against them, we are way behind. Cycling merely makes up 1 to 2 per cent of our transport modes here,” said Mr Khaw.

A new book, by Singapore’s Centre for Liveable Cities (CLC) and the United States-based Urban Land Institute (ULI), provides ideas and practical measures, he added.

Launched today (Oct 22), the book is based on research that began last November. Two workshops were held with participants from the private sector, government and civic groups in Singapore and sought to identify potential improvements.

Also, a “Bikeshop” cycling study tour led by renowned Danish architect and urban designer Jan Gehl was held. Together with 55 participants, he observed and discussed challenges and strategies for bicycling at Ang Mo Kio Town in Singapore.

“Their conclusion is that when more people walk and cycle, there are substantial benefits to the individual, society, environment and the economy,” said Mr Khaw.

The report also included 10 ideas to make cities more walkable, bikeable and people-friendly. Some of these include keeping motorised traffic slow in high-pedestrian areas, making street-level crossings a priority, and making walking and cycling paths comfortable and attractive.

It also noted that with dedicated cycling infrastructure still limited in Singapore, conflicts between pedestrians and cyclists on sidewalks have arisen. On-street cycling, which is becoming more common, has also resulted in an increase in conflicts between drivers of motorised vehicles and cyclists.

Dr Park Byung Joon, an urban transport management expert at SIM University, said it is essential to keep the speed limit low in high-density pedestrian areas to encourage cycling. The speed limit at high pedestrian areas is currently is about 40kmh, and should remain so, he added. “When cars start running around in a high speed, then sometimes you just don’t feel like this is the right place to walk,” added Dr Park.

Under the National Cycling Plan, there will be a cycling network of 700km by 2030, including intra-town and inter-town networks. Come next year, Singapore will have developed 100km of intra-town cycling paths in Yishun, Punggol and Bedok.

Eventually, said Mr Khaw, all 26 HDB towns will have similar networks to connect homes to neighbourhood centres and MRT stations.

He added that the government is exploring bike-sharing schemes, and increasing safety education programmes such as the Safe Cycling Programme for Youth for students from secondary schools.

10 ideas to make cities more bikeable, walkable and people-friendly*

- Make walking and cycling convenient and efficient, integrating them into public transit systems

- Provide dedicated space for all forms of transportation

- Ensure high visibility at junctions to improve safety

- Maintain continuity of movement

- Keep motorised traffic slow in high pedestrian areas

- Make street-level crossings a priority

- Ensure consistency in design standards throughout the city

- Make walking, cycling paths comfortable and attractive (e.g. shady trees help shield people from heat, sun and rain)

- Mix up the land uses adjacent to the routes; mixed-use developments are conducive to walking and cycling as an easy way to get from one place to another

- Close the loop with end-of-trip amenities such as shower facilities, lockers and bicycle parking

*From the Creating Healthy Places through Active Mobility report

-By Amanda Lee

Singapore top destination in Asia for expats

HSBC survey also ranks the city-state No 2 in the world after Switzerland for expat living

Source: Business Times / Consumer

Just after Lonely Planet picked Singapore as the top tourist destination for next year, the city-state on Wednesdaywas cited by an HSBC survey as the best place in Asia for expatriates to live in, even amid escalating costs. The annual bank survey also ranked Singapore second only to Switzerland in the world for expat living. The survey captured views from about 9,300 expatriates from more than 100 countries, including 344 in Singapore. Six in 10 expats in Singapore had moved to the island for better job prospects, and the number of them who earned more than before is higher than the global average.

-By Jamie Lee

Singapore Real Estate

RB Capital and Royal Holdings eye S$10b asset size by 2020

The companies, owned by son and father team, will be integrated over 18-24 months; overseas share of asset size to grow from hotels

Source: Business Times / Real Estate

KISHIN RK, who founded property and hotel group RB Capital in 2006, plans to integrate the group's portfolio of assets with that of his father's Royal Holdings - resulting in a combined value of around S$4.5 billion.

This will be part of succession planning as well as to provide a single management platform to propel the group's growth to an asset size of S$10 billion by 2020, Mr Kishin said in a recent interview.

"Over the next 18-24 months, we plan to integrate the two platforms. We might have an umbrella holding entity encompassing both companies," he added."Currently, we have two different offices, two different management teams, two asset platforms. These will collapse into one integrated team that will be driven by a common vision."

"In the past four years, from being mostly in the office and retail markets, we have diversified into hotels and medical suites. Our integrated platform will focus on the same asset classes, though we hope to diversify geographically too. Right now, we have 90 per cent of our asset value in Singapore. Our overseas exposure is limited to Kuala Lumpur, where we have an office building, 33 Jalan Sultan Ismail with HSBC as anchor tenant, and a hotel development site in Bukit Bintang."

Moving forward, what Mr Kishin would like is for Singapore to account for about 70-80 per cent of the asset size, with the rest being driven by the growth of its hospitality business overseas. "At the moment, we are looking at completed hotels in Europe and Australia," he added.

The overall doubling in asset size by 2020, though, will come mostly from development projects in Singapore. "The difference between our two entities is that RB Capital has focused a lot on building ground-up, greenfield projects. Royal Holdings, on the other hand, has focused mostly on repositioning completed assets. This is also where we see the synergy between the two platforms."

Today, RB Capital and Royal Holdings each has about slightly more than S$2 billion of assets. This values development and repositioning projects on a completion basis.

Among the completed projects in RB Capital's portfolio are EFG Bank Building, which was finished in 2009 following a total redevelopment of the combined site of the former Satnam House and Amar Raj House; and the 442-room Holiday Inn Express Clarke Quay on Magazine Road, which opened its doors this year and was built on a 99-year-leasehold site the group acquired at a state tender in 2010.

Come 2016, the group will unveil two major projects. Farrer Square - comprising the 300-room Park Hotel Farrer Park and 27,500 sq ft of medical suites - is being built on a 99-year-leasehold site above Farrer Park MRT Station in Little India. The group clinched the site at a 2012 state tender.

Along Robertson Quay, RB Capital will soon begin a major revamp of The Quayside retail podium (acquired in 2012) and the neighbouring Gallery Hotel (bought in 2013). The transformation will result in the unveiling of the 225-room InterContinental Singapore Robertson Quay and nearly 100,00 sq ft of combined food and beverage-led retail space between the two assets.

"Our next round of asset rejuvenations may include redevelopment of the RB Capital Building in Raffles Place, and a major re-positioning of Cuppage Terrace," said Mr Kishin. Cuppage Terrace is a row of 17 conservation shophouses off Orchard Road.

He revealed that a design competition is now underway to select an architect for the proposed redevelopment of the 16-storey RB Capital Building, formerly known as Royal Brothers Building and prior to that, DBS Securities Building. A new project could have 50 storeys or more.

In the meantime, the group will continue to look for opportunities in the retail and office front in Singapore. "We still believe there are opportunities, though they may be in areas that have been earmarked to benefit from the decentralisation of the city centre," said Mr Kishin.

Summing up the group's strategies, he said: "We buy land, build and hold. Or we buy completed buildings, do asset enhancements and hold. We generally don't sell, unless we view the asset as non-core to the group."

Another principle is maintaining low leverage, where on a group basis, loan-to-valuation (LTV) today is below 20 per cent. "At the time of acquisition, we may take on higher leverage; however upon completion of our development or asset enhancement process, our target LTV for the project will be below 20 per cent.

"Being a cash flow-driven group, we enhance our yields through the asset repositioning that we undertake for each property. It is that process that creates value for the group."

Royal Holdings - controlled by Kishin's father Raj Kumar - holds Cuppage Terrace and half stake in RB Capital Building (the other half is owned by RB Capital) in addition to a substantial strata retail portfolio spanning Tanglin Shopping Centre, Far East Shopping Centre, Far East Plaza, Lucky Plaza and Orchard Plaza in the Orchard/Scotts roads shopping belt. It also owns strata retail units in Queensway Shopping Centre and Peninsula Plaza.

RB Capital too holds strata units - in Coronation Shopping Plaza in Bukit Timah as well as Malacca Centre.

Both companies own their own strata retail units in The Arcade.

Mr Raj Kumar and his brother Asok founded the Royal Brothers property empire in the 1970s. Under a restructuring exercise that culminated in 2012, the brothers swapped assets estimated to be worth S$1 billion. The move was aimed at succession planning for their respective sons.

The two men set up their own vehicles, Royal Holdings for Mr Raj Kumar and Royal Group for Mr Asok Kumar.

That restructuring exercise was the first phase of succession planning. "The proposed integration of RB Capital with Royal Holdings can be seen as the second phase," said Mr Kishin, 31. His father is 60.

Mr Kishin in 2011 spoke about plans to do an initial public offering in Singapore, possibly a real estate investment trust. Looking back, he said those plans had been minted against the backdrop of the group's bid at the time for the portfolio of 42 Marriott hotels in the UK that had been put up for sale by Royal Bank of Scotland.

Had RB Capital been successful with the acquisition, the UK hotels could have been combined with the group's Singapore hotels and that would have made for a good hospitality Reit listing story, Mr Kishin reckoned. The Marriott hotel portfolio was however sold to Abu Dhabi Investment Authority.

"Moving forward, if we have an opportunity like that again where we have a strategic portfolio of hotels, then we might revisit a hospitality Reit listing - subject to market conditions at that point in time," he said.

-By Kalpana Rashiwala

Malaysians widen lead over Chinese as top private home buyers

They account for about 29% of Q3 purchases made by PRs and foreigners, against the latter's 26%

Source: Business Times / Real Estate

The gap between the top two nationalities of private home buyers among foreigners and PRs widened in the third quarter, after purchases by mainland Chinese fell more than those by Malaysians. This is the first time since Q3 2012 that a significant lead by the Malaysians has emerged. According to a caveats analysis by DTZ, the Chinese share fell four percentage points to 25.62 per cent in Q3 from a quarter earlier. This is their lowest share since Q4 2012, when it was 25.42 per cent.

-By Kalpana Rashiwala

Cairnhill Mansions in collective sale bid

Source: Straits Times / Money

THE owners of an ageing District 9 residential property are launching their fourth attempt at a collective sale.

Cairnhill Mansions' 61 owners will begin the process next June with the aim of getting the requisite 80 per cent backing before the option expires a year later.

The 50-year-old freehold building, which sits on a prime site near Goodwood Park Hotel, has 60 apartments and a penthouse.

The last attempt at a collective sale coincided with the rollout of property market cooling measures in 2011.

The owners failed to find a buyer at the reserve price of $361.5 million, or about $2,308 per sq ft of potential gross floor area. Earlier collective sale attempts were in 2005 and 2007.

Sale committee chairman Charles Ho said the building's ageing infrastructure is costly to maintain and can be a hazard: A resident was recently trapped in the lift for four hours.

"Old electrical wirings are hazards. Carpark shortages, inefficient use of space, water seepage during heavy rain are all inconveniences. Replacement costs are high and have to be funded by owners. Even if the place is upgraded, there is a limit to how much it can be brought up to date," he added.

Retiree Andy Lim, 65, who has lived at Cairnhill Mansions for about 20 years, said its antiquated design features can be inconvenient. "The lift lobby is on the second floor, instead of the ground floor," said Mr Lim, adding that he plans to buy a smaller unit in the same area if the en-bloc sale is successful.

Developers are constantly on the lookout for prime freehold sites and collective sales are one of the few ways to acquire such a parcel, said Ms Elaine Chow, executive director and head of research at Chestertons Singapore.

However, "given the lacklustre luxury residential market, developers will not be able to bid as aggressively as before".

Cairnhill Mansions will have to be priced at around $2,000 per sq ft for redevelopment to be viable, added Ms Chow.

If the sale is successful and the land redeveloped, new homes on the site would go for about $2,500 per sq ft, given the sluggish high-end residential market, said R'ST Research director Ong Kah Seng.

Based on that selling price, developers would be willing to pay about $1,500 per sq ft per plot ratio to the building's owners.

Mr Ong added that owners who are "sceptical about how they can make use of the sale proceeds to find a replacement home that is value for money, and of fairly good standards" might hesitate to agree to a collective sale at this price.

Separately, property consultancy CBRE announced yesterday the public tender for Fragrance Court's collective sale, with a reserve price of $70 million or $1,235 psf per plot ratio.

Located 200m from Pasir Panjang MRT station, the 38,220 sq ft freehold site is zoned for residential use under the Government's Masterplan 2014.

The development comprises 32 apartments and owners representing more than the requisite 80 per cent of share value and strata area have consented to the collective sale.

"Given that the neighbouring project, Bijou, achieved an average sale price of $2,120 psf in August, we envisage keen interest from developers," said CBRE's director of investment properties Galven Tan. "The development size is very manageable and will draw in a wide pool of buyers."

-By Chia Yan Min

Fragrance Court up for en bloc sale

The 38,220 sq ft freehold Pasir Panjang site is zoned for residential purposes

Source: Business Times / Real Estate

Fragrance Court has been put up for collective sale at a reserve price of S$70 million, about S$1,235 per square foot per plot ratio, property consultancy CBRE said on Wednesday. The freehold site at Pasir Panjang, zoned for residential purposes, has an area of approximately 38,220 square feet. It has a plot ratio of 1.4 under the Masterplan 2014. The existing development is made up of 32 apartments. The owners, who represent more than the requisite 80 per cent of share value and strata area, have consented to the collective sale.

-By Jamie Lee

More seniors servicing private mortgages

Figure triples over 6 years to 15,500, but group still forms a minority

Source: Straits Times / Top of The News

THE number of elderly home owners servicing private mortgage loans has ballooned in the past few years, as more people buy homes in their later years for investment.

According to data from Credit Bureau Singapore, there were 15,506 Singaporeans and permanent residents aged 65 and above with outstanding mortgage loans from financial institutions in July this year. This is almost triple the July 2008 figure of 5,190.

These older home owners also make up a growing proportion of all residents holding bank mortgage loans: 3.15 per cent now, up from 1.84 per cent in 2008.

Retiree mortgage debt has been a cause for concern in countries such as the United States, where 30 per cent of people aged 65 and above had outstanding mortgages back in 2011.

But while there could be cause for concern, experts are not worried about the situation here, because older borrowers with outstanding mortgage loans still form a minority here.

At the same time, not everyone with an outstanding private home loan at age 65 or above is in financial difficulty, they said.

"(The increase) is a cause for concern only if loan holders aged 65 and above face a higher risk of difficulty in servicing their mortgage payment (during) retirement and are 'underwater' on their mortgages," said Singapore Management University economist Phang Sock Yong.

Instead, some retirees might have taken out mortgage loans for investment properties, which yield rental income, she said.

Experts also note that cooling measures aimed at limiting the tenure of a private loan will also prevent the numbers from rising much further.

Elderly home owners with outstanding private mortgages are more likely to own multiple properties, said Professor Deng Yongheng, director of the Institute of Real Estate Studies at the National University of Singapore. "Typically, Housing Board households are what academics and the Government worry about more."

For HDB home owners, the picture is much better. As of the end of July, 93 per cent of elderly households have fully paid for their flats, the HDB said in response to queries. This is out of the 102,000 households with owners aged 65 and above.

It is also an improvement from 2008, the last time the HDB's Sample Household Survey was conducted. Then, 72.4 per cent of elderly people had no outstanding mortgage loans.

The HDB noted that the 7 per cent of elderly households with outstanding loans this year are mainly those who took them up before April 1997. That was when the policy was changed to cap loan tenures so that they do not extend beyond the age of 65.

"With the tighter age-related mortgage rules, it will be harder to retire with a mortgage debt," said Professor Phang.

-By Janice Heng