HDB study to find right mix of facilities for new estates

SINGAPORE - The Housing and Development Board (HDB) wants to update the way it plans shopping and eating facilities in new public housing estates.

It has called a tender to develop what it terms a new "HDB commercial planning norm", to guide the provision of commercial facilities in HDB towns, from coffee shops and wet markets to malls.

The HDB's intended study will also look at how to bring existing estates in line with the new planning norm.

An HDB spokesman told The Straits Times the tender is part of a regular review and will take into account "the changing environment such as business viability for shopkeepers and the shopping patterns of residents".

Details include the recommended walking distance from homes to the nearest commercial facility, and how much commercial space to have per housing unit.

The planning parameters will also cover the number of different activities - such as food and beverage, markets, retail and services - to place in a new town.

This means, for instance, deciding what percentage of shops in a town centre should be eateries.

The question of whether an HDB town has sufficient commercial facilities came to the fore in the 2000s, in the new towns of Punggol and Sengkang.

Some residents were unhappy with the lack of amenities such as markets and foodcourts.

But the HDB said: "All HDB towns, including newer towns like Punggol, are comprehensively planned from the onset."

Some facilities are put in place as the town is built.

Others, such as a town centre and large shopping mall, are developed only when more residents move in.

Such pacing is needed "to sustain the viability of these facilities", said the HDB.

Members of Parliament in these new towns agreed.

Ms Penny Low, MP for Punggol North in Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, said: "In the initial years where critical mass was absent, HDB built the amenities but some shops that came in early did not last long."

Sengkang West MP Lam Pin Min suggested that to help business start-ups, the HDB could give them low rental rates at the start and increase the rent as the estate's population grows.

Still, overly detailed planning may not always be for the best, warned Dr Lee Kwan Ok, assistant professor of real estate at the National University of Singapore.

"That might not give enough room to private developers," she said, noting that commercial developers and other private sector players might have a better sense of what makes a good tenant mix.

The tender closes on Feb 24.