A case study on the old Normanton Park: 3 little known factors to think about before buying a home

PHOTO: Stackedhomes

Normanton Park’s en-bloc sale in 2017 was a bittersweet occasion for my wife and her family. Sad on the one hand because it meant goodbye to a childhood home; elation and relief on the other as the stars had aligned after 2015’s unsuccessful attempt. 

Today, the site has completely changed, its density intensified with nine colossal blocks towering over Kent Ridge Park. Normanton Park ticks all the right boxes, and its 100 per cent sale completion is an impressive accomplishment, especially when you consider the initial no-sale license Kingsford Development Pte Ltd (the Developer of Normanton Park) was saddled with. 

But as someone who knew the old Normanton Park well, combined with my understanding of the Architecture & Construction industries, it’s hard to turn a blind eye to property reviews about the new Normanton Park that over-sell and under-state important details about the project – a lot of the fine print seems to be missing.

Regardless of your interest in Normanton Park, this article provides 3 broad principles to keep in mind when searching for a private non-landed home (accompanied by personal photos of what the old Normanton Park used to look like):

  1. Site context & transportation links need to be experienced first-hand
  2. URA’s Master Plan does not materialise overnight
  3. Quality Mark is a tiered award system; if you care about workmanship, check BCA’s Quality Mark and CONQUAS Rankings

Where even the birds don’t go to lay eggs

A cab driver once remarked to my wife in mandarin that Normanton (as we affectionately called it) was “a place where even the birds don’t go to lay eggs.” Whilst not an entirely accurate description, I understood where he was coming from. 

Normanton felt like an island unto itself; separated from the wider Buona Vista and Alexandra regions by a river of traffic along the AYE and backed up against the dense jungle of Kent Ridge Park.

To my surprise, some reviews associated it with The Rochester Residences, One North Residences, Heritage View and Dover Parkview, despite its lack of any urban relationship with the Dover neighbourhood. Normanton is in fact a closer cousin to the former Gillman Heights HUDC in whose place now stands The Interlace – land-locked by the AYE, abutting HortPark and close by to Alexandra Technopark.

Most reviews are car-centric in their accessibility analysis. Public transportation links tend to receive less attention. Furthermore, it’s one thing to have the closest train stations and bus stops visually represented on a map; it’s entirely another to experience the commute first-hand.

PHOTO: Stackedhomes

Getting around via public transport was always a bit of an issue at Normanton, and even though my wife and in-laws lived in the closest block to the main entrance, heading to Orchard Road typically entailed at least a 10-minute brisk walk to the bus stop on the other side of the AYE.

Tough luck if it rained. There was no direct bus to Holland Village, and whilst you could catch a bus to Kent Ridge MRT Station and ride the Circle Line there, we found it more convenient to travel and hang out at Anchorpoint and IKEA; followed by VivoCity and Harbourfront Centre, if we were up for a longer journey to-and-fro.

This sounds obvious but is worth reinforcing – no online review can substitute visiting the site for yourself, multiple times, to fully appreciate its urban setting and accessibility.

Tunnel Beneath Kent Ridge Park

Many reviews about Normanton Park point out that URA’s Master Plan indicates a future tunnel beneath Kent Ridge Park that will connect Science Park Drive to South Buona Vista Road. This, some say, will serve as a ‘gateway’ to the Greater Southern Waterfront. 

Obviously, the proposed tunnel will add to the already on-going improvements to the surrounding road network. For example, the completion of Portsdown Flyover and its junction just before Normanton Park in 2019 provided a more direct route from Normanton to One North, Alexandra Retail Centre (ARC) and VivoCity. 

What most agents fail to mention is that this connection has been in the Master Plan since 2003 and has not seen the light at the end of its own tunnel for the last 19 years. In addition, its design and construction will be no mean feat.

2003.
PHOTO: URA
Current Day.
PHOTO: URA

To begin with, the current road level of Science Park Drive is about 3.0 to 4.0 metre higher than the average ground level of Kent Ridge Park. Any tunnel connection will require a portion of the existing Science Park Drive to be reconstructed and pushed down substantially.

Then there’s the sensitive issue of Kent Ridge Park being an important storehouse of historical and natural heritage and an integral component of the Southern Ridges. Any proposal will likely be subjected to a thorough and time-consuming review by heritage groups and NParks, and rightly so. 

All things considered, it could possibly be another decade before this tunnel is fully up and running, assuming it isn’t omitted from the Master Plan in a future amendment. URA takes a long view when it comes to urban planning and development – a very, very long view, and it is with this long-term horizon that one ought to approach the Master Plan.

Building a different kind of park

The thing that stood out most about Normanton was its lush, open spaces. Tranquil and largely untouched, it was an example of biophilic design before the concept was in vogue. So natural were its surroundings that if it weren’t for the boundary fences, it was hard to tell where the condominium ended and where Kent Ridge Park started. 

PHOTO: Stackedhomes

The new Normanton Park will be a different sort of urban oasis. What used to be a serene park will be transformed into a theme park, with a dizzying number of facilities (an eye-catching ‘100 lifestyle facilities’ according to the brochure) and landscaped areas that have been labelled with almost every imaginable landscape descriptor, from ‘Boutique Lawn’ to ‘Rolling Lawn’, ‘Forest Corridor to ‘Rainforest Deck’.

It all sounds very exciting, but only if the development team can deliver. Which brings me to my last point about Quality Mark.

PHOTO: Stackedhomes

Quality Mark (QM) is a voluntary scheme that utilises BCA’s Construction Quality Assessment System (CONQUAS) as its assessment criteria and involves 100 per cent sampling of all residential units. Most reviews point to this fact as a guaranteed seal of ‘quality’ workmanship. But there’s more to Quality Mark, and the track records of Normanton Park’s Developer and Builder, than is publicised.

Quality Mark is a tiered award system (consisting of Merit, Excellent and Star) and bestows recognition to Developers and Builders who strive to achieve workmanship excellence. BCA maintains a register of QM projects here. The same website also allows you to easily compare CONQUAS scores between different Developers, Builders and completed projects.

Most QM projects are below 1,000 units.  At 1,862 units, Normanton Park holds the record for being the largest development to ever undergo QM assessment. However, it’s important to remember that QM was imposed on Kingsford Development Pte Ltd as a sale licence condition by URA.

Developers like CDL or Allgreen Properties voluntarily step up to the plate to distinguish themselves. Builders like Woh Hup maintain a dedicated team to select raw materials based on in-house quality control criteria, as described in this article.

Normanton Park is not the first project by Kingsford Development Pte Ltd to undergo QM assessment. BCA’s QM register shows that Kingsford Waterbay was given a QM rating of ‘Certified’, instead of the typical Merit, Excellent or Star ratings. Whether Kingsford Developments submitted Kingsford Waterbay for QM assessment out of their own volition or were subjected to 100 per cent sampling by BCA when they applied for CONQUAS assessment is unknown.

It’s worth noting, however, that Kingsford Waterbay’s QM assessment did not insulate it from complaints after residents moved in. Furthermore, QM assessment for the external works of a development (i.e areas outside each residential unit) such as covered linkways, playgrounds & swimming pools relies on a random sampling method, so not every square metre of Normanton’s sprawling site will be examined.

Quality Mark aside, a review of the percentile ranking (at the time of this writing) of CONQUAS scores for past projects completed by Kingsford Development and China Jingye Engineering Corporation Ltd (Normanton Park’s Builder) is eye-opening.

The percentile rankings are useful in providing a relative performance indicator for a specific review period to account for periodic fluctuations in market conditions (supply of goods, labour, etc.) with 100per cent representing first in class, 0per cent representing rock bottom: 

Kingsford Development Pte Ltd

Development Year of Completion CONQUAS Review Period Overall CONQUAS Score Percentile Ranking
Kingsford Hillview Peak 2016 FY 2019 70.0 per cent 0 per cent
Kingsford Waterbay 2018 FY 2020 82.7 per cent 27 per cent

China Jingye Engineering Corporation Ltd (Singapore Branch)

Development Year of Completion CONQUAS Review Period Overall CONQUAS Score Percentile Ranking
One Canberra 2015 2017 90.5 per cent 29 per cent
The Nautical 2016 2016 92.4 per cent 46 per cent
The Santorini 2018 2018 93.6 per cent 60 per cent

Kingsford Development has had a difficult start delivering projects with quality workmanship, based on Singapore’s standards.

After delivering two below-average developments, and with 1,862 units on the line at Normanton Park, one would have expected them to engage a Builder with a strong CONQUAS track record to decisively overcome this challenge. Its tie-up with China Jingye Engineering Pte Ltd, itself a company with a mediocre CONQUAS track record, feels like a gamble. 

PHOTO: Stackedhomes

To me, Normanton Park’s 100per cent sale completion is somewhat bewildering. What was meant to be a punitive, quality control measure by the Controller of Housing on an errant Developer, may have inadvertently played a contributing role to its commercial success arising from imperfect market knowledge about what Quality Mark constitutes. 

CONQUAS scores matter, and Developers and Builders who are self-motivated to do well are vital to a high-quality industry ecosystem. Earlier in May this year, MCC Land (TMK) Pte Ltd, a sister company of China Jingye Engineering Corporation Ltd, was hit with a no-sale licence for Sceneca Residence at Tanah Merah Kechil Link.

URA’s Controller of Housing (COH) was quoted as stating that the Developer was issued a no-sale licence as the company had failed to meet the requirements for a sale licence, which includes demonstrating a track record of completing past projects satisfactorily. 

History is already repeating itself. 

PHOTO: Stackedhomes

Normanton Park’s monumental scale makes it a gruelling project to design and deliver, with or without Quality Mark assessment. For a small country, we have an unusual appetite for mega-developments. On the bright side, now that it has ballooned from a quiet village into an Amazonian metropolis, maybe the birds will finally start laying eggs there.

This article was first published in Stackedhomes.