The guidelines include specifications of how large the public space areas have to be, their accessibility, and the need to provide shade

OWNERS and developers of certain private developments will soon need to comply with minimum standards for building public spaces according to a set of new design guidelines drawn up by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).

This will apply to owners and developers that are required to provide a public space either according to tender requirements under the government land sales programme or planning conditions for redevelopment proposals.

It will also apply to owners and developers seeking to get gross floor area (GFA) exemption for their first-storey covered public space - meaning that the GFA of the public space will not be included in the maximum GFA they can build up till.

This will take effect from April 24, 2017. URA, in a circular to the industry, said this is to incentivise developers to provide privately-owned public space to promote more good-quality public spaces in Singapore. It also included a "good practice guide" that developers can refer to.

The des gn guidelines include specifications of how large the public space areas have to be, their accessibility, and the need to provide shade as well as public seating.

URA encouraged all property owners and developers to adopt these guidelines from project inception and design, all the way until management and use of the space by the public, adding that the recommendations included in the good practice guide will be considered when it assesses development applications.

Cushman & Wakefield research director Christine Li said the guidelines are "timely" to create a common understanding of what public space is, as many parts of Singapore are going through rejuvenation and there is a need for public space to conduct community events and social activities.

"With high land prices and development costs, developers whose main objective is to maximise profits could sometimes compromise on the quality of such public spaces if the guidelines are not in place."

She suggested that the government may want to provide tiers in its guidelines for developers according to the gross development value of the project, as the building costs for a public space for a small development could be not much lower than that for a larger development. This is because the price of installing public art or water features remains the same.

In addition, she hopes that if developers have innovative counter-proposals for public spaces that do not necessarily fit into the mould of the guidelines, there can be an added option for them to propose these to URA for approval.

She also believes that it would be good for the industry to share ideas, so that smaller de elopers can also learn to build effective public spaces without a hefty financial commitment.

Indeed, even without the guidelines, many of the big boys in the developer fraternity such as CapitaLand, Mapletree Investments and Frasers Centrepoint already include public spaces in their developments.

Poon Hin Kong, deputy chief development of Asia and head of design management at CapitaLand, said: "Even before government guidelines, we have catered for community spaces on our properties, which are considered from the start of the development process."

Many of its integrated developments, shopping malls and office buildings have atrium event spaces and children play areas, serving as communal spaces to promote community engagement.

It is rather the smaller developers that may struggle financially to build and maintain these public spaces. Ho Bee Land for example has lined the entrance of its office complex, The Metropolis, with trees and sculptures.

Its group director (projects and marketing), Chong Hock Chang, said: "It would cost more for the maintenance and upkeep of the public spaces especially with the art installations we have at The Metropolis, but these are duly offset by the intangibles such as the vibrancy these art installations bring to the development. We are happy with the outcome we have achieved here."

Ho Bee Land has lined the entrance of The Metropolis with trees and sculptures. Ho Bee said the maintenance and upkeep of the public spaces would cost more, "but these are duly offset by the intangibles".

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Posted in Featured, Construction on Jan 25, 2017