Further cut of private housing land expected

PROPERTY consultants expect the government to continue scaling back the supply of private housing land on the confirmed list for the first half of next year, given weak housing sales and the ongoing ramp-up in completions that is pushing up vacancies.

Expectations are also running high that the Ministry of National Development (MND) will release at least one office site through the confirmed list in the upcoming Government Land Sales (GLS) Programme for H1 2015, to ensure there is sufficient supply of office space post-2018.

However, while some say such a site is likely to be in the suburbs in line with the strategic planning intent of developing regional commercial centres outside the city such as in Paya Lebar, Jurong East and Woodlands, others think a CBD office site would be a better choice.

Most property consultants said the authorities are likely to continue keeping away from releasing hotel land – given weak visitor arrival numbers, as well as to avoid aggravating the ongoing labour shortage.

Some analysts also used the labour crunch argument, along with traffic congestion woes, to support their view that the government will ease up on land specifically for shopping centre development. Moreover, there is stiff competition from e-retailing and vacancy rates for retail space are increasing.

DTZ SE Asia chief operating officer Ong Choon Fah expects to see more mixed-use development sites adjoining or near MRT stations and transport hubs to optimise land use, or “white sites” on which a range of uses are permitted. This would allow developers to conceptualise the appropriate use for the site according to their reading of the various segments of the Singapore property market, she added.

As for private housing land, JLL’s head of South-east Asia research Chua Yang Liang said: “The period of supplying sufficient land to meet the pent-up demand arising from the large population growth between 2007 and 2009 is over. Now the state is likely to be looking at maintaining sufficient new supply to meet the long-term housing need, i.e. from new household formation.”

Agreeing, Alan Cheong, research head at Savills Singapore, said: “For the private residential market, the general undersupply situation has been resolved and thus the GLS Programmme may reflect a more sedentary pace in line with demographic trends.”

MND has trimmed the supply of land for private homes (including executive condominiums) on the confirmed list of its half-yearly GLS Programme from about 8,100 units for each of the H2 2010, H1 and H2 2011 lists to around 7,000 units for each of the H1 and H2 2012, and H1 2013 programmes before clipping the quantum further to around 6,000 units for H2 2013, 4,630 units in the first half of this year and 3,915 units in the current H2 slate.

Property consultants’ projections for the H1 2015 confirmed list supply range from 1,900 units (R’ST Research) to around 3,700 units (JLL).

The government launches sites on the confirmed list according to schedule, regardless of demand. On the reserve list – where sites are launched only upon successful application by a developer – land for around 6,000-7,000 private homes, including executive condominiums (ECs), is likely to be released, according to market watchers who spoke to BT. This would be close to the 6,305-unit supply in the H2 2014 reserve list which acts as a buffer in case there is a pick-up in demand.

Consultants expect new private housing (including EC) sites to be unveiled in growth areas such as Jurong Lake District, Woodlands and Punggol (the last two are part of the vision for the North Coast Innovation Corridor), Sengkang and possibly the Seletar Farmway area. “We could also see the first site from the Bidadari area being added to the reserve list,” suggested Alice Tan, Singapore research head at Knight Frank.

Dr Chua of JLL also envisages that private housing sites in older estates where there is sufficient infrastructure – such as Queenstown, Bedok, Clementi, Hougang and Bukit Batok – may also surface on the next-half GLS slate. “This would help regenerate these areas and avoid urban decline.”

R’ST Research director Ong Kah Seng said that for ECs (a public-private housing hybrid), many suburban areas – Punggol, Sengkang, Pasir Ris, Woodlands, Yishun, Sembawang and Choa Chu Kang – already have EC projects and have soaked up substantial demand for this housing form.

“But maybe there is potential to release more EC sites in Jurong since the area is fast rejuvenating, and given the near sellout of Lake Life at its recent launch,” he added.

Mr Ong expects supply of only 500 EC units in the confirmed list for H1 2015, one-third of the 1,520 EC units supply in the same list for H2 2014.

Colliers International director Chia Siew Chuin expects the EC land supply on the confirmed list to be trimmed 30-35 per cent to around 1,000 units, given the increasing vacancy rate seen in newly completed EC projects in recent months, among other factors.

For retail space, Savills’ Mr Cheong said that despite flat retail sales and labour constraints ranking high in the litany of worries for tenants, there is still room for suburban malls. Ms Chia of Colliers said that with rents still being high for retail and food & beverage operators at most well-located Orchard Road and suburban malls, “the current dissatisfaction by these operators in the public sphere might prompt the government to inject fresh retail supply” as part of the mix for commercial sites in order to “ease occupational costs for retail start-ups and expansions”.

For office supply, Knight Frank’s Ms Tan tipped Buona Vista as a likely location for a site on the confirmed list, given the success of Ho Bee’s The Metropolis office development in attracting multinational corporations to the area.

Dr Chua, on the other hand, suggested Woodlands. “Considering that the planners have focused a substantial portion of the regenerative effort around Jurong of late, the missing piece in the puzzle is Woodlands,” he reckoned.

However, some industry players think it may take some time before Woodlands takes off as an office location.

Currently there are two sites for office development on the reserve list – a plot along Marina View (behind the V on Shenton project) and a land parcel on Beach Road (that includes the former police station). The latter was made available for application just last week and is hence likely to remain on the reserve list for H1 2015, said Ms Tan of Knight Frank.

“However, there’s a fairly strong chance that the Marina View plot could be moved to the confirmed list to ensure that there will be a continuous supply of prime office space in the CBD that will be made available beyond 2018. The office components of the two big M+S projects – Marina One and Duo – are slated for completion in 2017,” she added.

DTZ’s Mrs Ong, however, thinks the Marina View site is likely to remain on the reserve list as the quantum is large. “A lack of interest if it were to be put on the confirmed list may erode confidence.”

This year, MND has not released any land specifically for hotel development. “There could be room for one to two mid-sized hotel plots,” said Savills’ Mr Cheong.

DTZ’s Mrs Ong said there may be a case for the authorities to release land selectively for three to four-star hotels “to align with changing demand of business and leisure travellers”.

RST Research’s Mr Ong said there is a low chance of hotel sites being released. “Even if any hotel sites are released, they will be either very small plots or iconic properties such as the former Warehouse disco premises in Havelock Road, and the East Coast Road site that includes the former Joo Chiat Police Station – both released last year.”

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