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8th February 2015

Views, Reviews & Forum

Wanted: Ideas for Jurong Lake Gardens

The National Parks Board is seeking ideas from the public on what they hope to see at Jurong Lake Gardens, one of Singapore's largest gardens.

Source: Channel News Asia / Singapore

The National Parks Board is seeking ideas from the public on what they hope to see at Jurong Lake Gardens, one of Singapore's largest gardens.

SINGAPORE: The first phase of Jurong Lake Gardens West is expected to be completed by 2017, and the National Parks Board is seeking ideas from the public on what they hope to see at one of Singapore's largest gardens.

The public can submit their suggestions at several roving exhibitions organised by NParks. The first exhibition will be held at Jurong Point in early April.

The NParks has established some key design principles for the 70-hectare Gardens.
This includes setting aside spaces for what it calls "show gardens”, which will be created and maintained by volunteers together with the agency's landscape designers and industry partners.

NParks also wants to see the integration of science and technology with horticulture and nature restored to the living environment.

A veteran volunteer with one of NParks' community gardening programme, the Community in Bloom initiative, said the gardens can be more than just a gardening space. "People can play mahjong in the evening and at the end of the mahjong session, maybe we can have a candlelight dinner or a garden dinner,” said Mr Tony Yau. “We get some caterers and we can run events."

Mr Yau, who has been a Community in Bloom Ambassador a year after the programme started in 2008, believes more financial support should be given to the community gardens. He said the gardeners currently buy their own equipment and tools.

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong, who chairs the Jurong Lake District Steering Committee, said the team had already received several suggestions on the Gardens prior to the public consultation. Mr Wong, who is also the MP for Jurong GRC, was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a community event at HortPark on Sunday (Feb 8) morning.

"The initial feedback, a lot of suggestions and feedback we had from people were that they wanted to maintain the rustic charm, the tranquillity, the natural habitats within the gardens," said Mr Wong.

"At the same time, there was also feedback that people wanted more spaces, more programming, more activities for families and communities to make it (the gardens) more vibrant. NParks is trying very hard to integrate the feedback together and get the balance right." 

- CNA/ec

Global Economy & Global Real Estate

End of the golden age of the suburban US mall

Changing tastes and growing inequality prompt exodus to smaller shopping districts in the cities 

Source: Straits Times / Think

Landmark Mall, a sprawling shopping complex just a 40-minute drive from Washington, DC, has seemingly all the ingredients needed for a retail hot spot.

The building is clean and well maintained, has lots of open spaces and natural light as well as ample parking. There are well-known anchor tenants in department stores Macy's and Sears. And more importantly, there isn't another enclosed mall within half an hour of it.

Yet, on a cold Friday evening, when one might expect most shoppers to want to browse indoors, Landmark Mall's broad aisles are nearly completely deserted.

A cluster of parents are huddled around a spartan playground where their children are playing while a handful of other shoppers wander about the deserted mall, sometimes peering curiously into shuttered shops.

There are only around 60 shops open at Landmark, a mall the size of Singapore's Ion Orchard, and that includes the temporary carts selling knick-knacks. Entire sections of the mall appear abandoned, with signboards dismantled, leaving patrons to guess what used to be there from the design of the doors.

At one of the few open shops, a fragrance store called Jewel Sensation, owner Nanik Mirpuri, 71, is resting in an office at the back of the store. Near closing time, he says he has had one customer all day.

"Today is considered a good day. I've got US$10 in my pocket. Sometimes I have US$1," he says.

But it hasn't always been this way.

"Ten years ago this place was very busy. I used to have three workers every day. On weekends, I would have five and during Christmas there would be 10. That's 10 workers plus me in this shop. My business has easily dropped 15 times since then," Mr Mirpuri says.

What exactly happened to the mall isn't clear to the shopkeepers. They tell The Sunday Times that some of the bigger brands started moving out a few years ago.

"One by one, they just left and more are leaving," says Mr Shah Hassan, 40, who mans a booth selling mobile phone cases. "Now the place is nearly deserted. We have only one or two stalls left in the foodcourt. There is nothing to eat here."

For retail experts, the plight of Landmark Mall is all down to a fundamental shift taking place in the US retail scene. While Americans are still spending - retail sales for the holiday season just past were the strongest in three years - how they shop has changed.

And it isn't simply a matter of buying more online; lifestyle changes among the young, growing inequality and changing tastes have combined to end the golden age of the suburban American mall.

Mr Christopher Leinberger, the chair of the Centre for Real Estate and Urban Analysis at George Washington University, says Americans now prefer shopping at smaller, densely packed shopping districts like the ones found in most cities to the sprawling malls that cropped up in the suburbs throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

He calls this a shift from "driveable suburban to walkable urban".

"Walkable urban places 20 years ago were slums. Today they are the most expensive places in their regions on a price per square foot basis. It has a life, it has vitality, you can see real people on the street, you have restaurants, you have apartment buildings. There are things to do," Mr Leinberger says, drawing a contrast between those malls and the traditional suburban ones served by one or two large department stores and a foodcourt.

He also notes that the younger generation is not driving as much as previous ones. Today, people no longer find the idea of driving out to spend the day at the mall an attractive proposition.

None of this, he adds, means an end to the suburban mall. The problem is that there are simply too many in the country at the moment. And while many, like Landmark, are fading, others - especially those with upmarket brands - are continuing to thrive.

These brands have been less affected by the financial crisis and the shift to online buying.

Mr Leinberger says: "We know that 90 per cent of the growth in wealth has gone to the 1 per cent. They are the ones shopping in Hermes and Coach. They (the upmarket brands) withstood better."

What all this means in terms of mall closures in the United States is up for debate. Some experts say the impact will be minimal, with urban growth making up for the suburban slump, while others project a 15 to 20 per cent decline in overall retail space over the next decade.

In recent months, there has been a raft of mid-range department stores announcing closures of several of their outlets.

Macy's is due to close 14 stores within the next few months while JCPenney will close 40. Last December, Sears announced it would close 235 stores this year. Sears has more than 1,000 K-mart stores and nearly 800 Sears stores.

Then there are clothing retailers Wet Seal and Aeropostale, which are closing a combined total of around 500 stores.

Electronics retailer RadioShack has just filed for bankruptcy protection after agreeing to sell 2,400 of its 4,000 outlets to a telecommunications provider and a hedge fund.

The closure of outlets by large department stores such as Macy's, JCPenney and Sears pose the greatest threat to the suburban mall as they tend to be the anchor tenants at mid-market complexes.

Mr Jesse Tron of the International Council of Shopping Centres sees this transition as one largely driven by the country's recent economic problems.

"What we have seen coming out of the recession is slow, measured growth. It hasn't been a U-shaped recession. So high-end has been doing really well, low-end like the dollar store were doing well but there was some softness through the middle."

He adds: "You have markets where the economics doesn't line up. There are places that aren't fully out of recession and that's where we are seeing some of the weakness, so it's really an economic story and a demographic story rather than a retail format story."

Mr Tron says the transition is also forcing some retailers to change their longstanding formulas. Megastores used to 200,000 sq ft of space - about six times the size of the new premises of Books Kinokuniya in Orchard Road - are now opening smaller outlets in compact urban locations. Last year, Walmart opened its first urban store in Washington, in a mixed-used building with a cluster of apartments.

Mall owners also need to think about changing their tenant mix, Mr Tron says. "There needs to be a willingness to evolve, to be creative. It is very important to have a lot of dining. We've seen a boom in walk-in health clinics and gyms in shopping centres. You need to have something people can't get elsewhere."

However, those changes will take place slowly, so for now, suburban residents will have to make do with their malls in purgatory - neither completely dead nor thriving.

In Maryland state's Owings Mills Mall, an hour away from Washington, seniors living nearby have found a new use for the deserted complex.

One Monday afternoon, there were at least three people in track pants brisk-walking around the mall. Ms Barbara Cowen, a retiree in her 60s, says: "I'm only here because it's too cold to walk outside. I sometimes walk in other malls too but the difference is in other malls I might get distracted and stop to look at the shops."

-By Jeremy Au Yong, US Bureau Chief in Washington

New UK property tax 'will not deter investors'

Experts say levy on non-residents selling real estate likely to affect speculators, not long-term investors

Source: Straits Times / Invest

A new capital gains tax (CGT) on people residing outside Britain looking to sell residential properties there is unlikely to deter foreign investment, experts say.

The CGT, to take effect on April 6, previously applied only to British residents.

The law change means non-residents selling property will see their gains taxed at a rate of 18 per cent or 28 per cent, according to their status as basic or higher rate tax payers, to be calculated based on their total British income and gains.

Taxable gains will be calculated based on the property's market value as at April 6.

Ms Jennet Siebrits, head of UK residential research for real estate company CBRE, explained the rationale for the change.

"Overseas investment into the London market is nothing new, but in recent years it has been particularly buoyant and noticeable on the back of low domestic demand. There are concerns that overseas investment is causing a housing market bubble and, in response, the government has announced it will implement CGT on foreign purchasers."

However, she said that the tax is not likely to affect overseas investors in the long term.

"Clearly, CGT will factor into purchasing decisions, and there will be some people who will inevitably look elsewhere. It is most likely to reduce the number of investors speculating on price growth and 'flipping' residential property. However, for those making a long-term investment, the tax take will be eroded; for those making an investment over a 10-year period, the impact of 28 per cent tax over a decade remains low, annualised at under 3 per cent a year."

"The overall tax treatment in the UK remains generally positive;+ moreover, the majority of those international purchasers do not simply buy for preferential tax treatment, but for a much wider range of factors which may include a stable political climate or favourable currency exchange rates."

One difficulty caused by the new tax is that foreign property owners have to prove the value of their property on April 6, even though it may be sold years later.

Fraser and Co, a London-based estate agent, is offering a valuation service to its international clients in anticipation of this obstacle. For a property valued at £500,000 (S$1.03 million) or below, the estimated cost of the valuation service is £750 plus value-added tax.

Mr Neil Jensen, its head of operations in Asia, said: "It's going to be a problem down the line - you've held property long term, and then you're asked to prove how much it was worth on this date. Even if you can give an accurate answer, how do you prove it? We are not really aware of any reliable system in the market that is in place - it's a huge, huge concern from our perspective." He added: "We just want to make it as easy as possible, and to be able to trust a company that people know in Asia."

-By Michelle Lee