Time to relook plot ratios

In a place as small as Singapore, with one of the highest population densities in the world, space must be and is at a premium.

However, some of our building policies appear to be wasteful of that precious resource, land.

Residential plot ratios here must be among the least generous among the major cities of the world. In most parts of the island, plot ratios are between 1.4 and 2.8 times the area of the site, meaning you can have a gross floor area of between 1.4 and 2.8 times the size of the land area. So, if you have a 1,000 sq ft plot of land, you can have a built-up floor area of between 1,400 sq ft and 2,800 sq ft.

The higher the plot ratio, the more gross floor area the developer is able to build up to, thereby maximising his profits.

Plot ratios are used to control the height/form of a particular development.

In general, each plot of land is assigned a particular plot ratio. Developers and architects are not to exceed this plot ratio in their design or a development charge may be imposed.

According to Urban Redevelopment Authority guidelines, a site with a 1.4 plot ratio may be allowed to be developed up to a maximum of five storeys. One with 1.6 plot ratio up to 12 storeys, 2.1 up to 24 storeys and those with a plot ratio of 2.8 up to 36 storeys.

However, Hong Kong, which has a slightly higher population density, has plot ratios of between eight and 10 on Hong Kong Island, 7.5 on Kowloon and New Kowloon, eight in Tsuen Wan, Kwai Chung and Tsing Yi and between three and 6.5 in the rest of the Special Administrative Region.

There are, of course, exceptions in places designated for low-rise buildings like the Peak. In other words, developers in Hong Kong enjoy gross floor areas of more than three times the allowable space here.

I am not advocating densities anywhere near those of Hong Kong’s – that kind of crowding could drive most of us here mad. But surely the authorities here can be more generous?

As everyone knows, people like to live in or around certain popular districts, especially in areas near the Central Business District and near MRT stations. So, why not have higher plot ratios in these popular areas?

To me, it does not make sense for a site in Geylang to have the same plot ratio as one in Cairnhill, Newton or the Orchard areas. Surely with more people wanting to live in the latter areas, the authorities could provide for higher plot ratios in these areas.

Quite often, decisions on plot ratios here appear to be quite arbitrary. They are supposed to be made on the basis of what the infrastructure in the area can support. But, alas, in reality that does not seem to be the case.

Take, for example, the area bounded by Cairnhill Road, Peck Hay Road, Clemenceau Avenue and Scotts Road, a private residential plot there has a ratio of 2.8 while adjacent state lands have plot ratios of 4.2.

Across the road, near Newton Circus, the plot of land next to the Sheraton Hotel and on which a new condominium complex developed by CapitaLand Holdings has risen also enjoys a plot ratio of 4.2, whereas all other developments in that area carry a plot ratio of 2.8.

Don’t they all depend on the same infrastructure of roads and other amenities?

And why restrict the height at these places to 36 storeys, especially when more and more people these days are losing their fear of heights and actually enjoy high-rise living? Why also prevent more people from enjoying the view?

For sure, some hurdles are coming down. For instance, the Icon at Tanjong Pagar – a mixed development – has a plot ratio of 8.4, with the residential apartments going up to 46 storeys. Apartments at The Sail at Marina Bay rise up to 70 storeys at one tower and 63 storeys in the other tower. But these appear ad hoc.

I know that one of the reasons for the current low plot ratios is to allow for future redevelopment of these sites but why can’t residents enjoy the benefits now, especially in the better and more sought after locations?

The Government can also benefit from higher development charges in these areas.

So, let us not waste one of our precious assets with plot ratio restrictions.

Source : Today – 30 Jul 2010