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Changing Caldecott Hill

Urban redevelopment will be coming soon to the Caldecott area.


Mediacorp has finally put up for sale the sprawling site that formerly housed the Caldecott Broadcast Centre in Andrew Road.

Credit: The Straits Times.

The sale, via a public tender exercise, will close on Dec 9.


Spanning 752,015 sq ft, the site served as the broadcast hub for more than six decades until 2015, when Mediacorp relocated to the Mediapolis in one-north.


The media organisation was granted an outline approval by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) to redevelop the site, located in the Caldecott Hill good class bungalow (GCB) area, into two-storey bungalows with a minimum land area of 800 sq m per house.


It appointed an architect to work out a subdivision scheme for the 7ha site, accommodating 67 bungalow plots, subject to approval.


GCBs are detached houses located within one of the 39 designated zones and have a minimum land area requirement of 1,400 sq m.


But there can be houses within these designated areas which do not meet the minimum size.


The site, currently zoned for civic and community institution use under the URA’s Master Plan 2019, will have to be rezoned to residential use, which will entail payment of a differential premium (DP) to the state.


The leasehold site currently has a balance lease term of 73 years, which means the developer would also need to pay a lease upgrading premium (UP) to the Singapore Land Authority for the lease to be extended to a fresh 99-year tenure.


An application has been made for an in-principle approval for the lease to be extended.


Mr Karamjit Singh, chief executive of Showsuite Consultancy, one of the two consultants appointed to advise and market the property, said: “The gross land value for a proposed bungalow redevelopment on site is expected to be in excess of $400 million including DP and UP, which would translate to a land rate in the region of $540 per sq ft. The net land value could be in excess of $260 million.”


Based on the proposed scheme of 67 bungalows, the land cost would work out to about $6 million per land plot.


At this price, a developer may break even at about $9 million to $10 million per bungalow.


The detached houses are expected to be priced between $11 million and $14 million, subject to design and configuration.


“These ‘junior GCBs’ would cater to the underserved mid-tier segment of detached houses - the market between GCBs and entry-level bungalows,” Mr Singh said.


There has been no large-scale project of brand-new GCBs, junior or conventional, for a very long time.


The closest proxy would be bungalows at Sentosa Cove, which were launched between 2005 and 2010. As a result, the number of detached houses in Singapore has remained stagnant over decades.


“It was 10,000 plus 25 years ago and it remains 10,000 plus today. This represents less than 1 per cent of the country's total housing stock. During the same period, the average household net wealth has increased by over 300 per cent,” Mr Singh said.


Mr Michael Tay, head of capital markets, Singapore, at CBRE, the other consultant to the project, said: “There is a growing generation of buyers who see the more affordable leasehold properties as an opportunity to tie down less capital for their homes, while achieving their aspirational goals.


“In so doing, they free up capital to invest in another property for rental income.”


He added: “In addition to the bungalow redevelopment potential, we understand that URA may also be prepared to consider a proposal for the site to be redeveloped into a retirement village, subject to detailed evaluation.”


But Mr Singh said: “Buyers seeking to convert the property to a retirement village would need to consult and submit a proposal to the planning authorities.


“That said, we do believe the property would likely be redeveloped into bungalows as there are more housing developers than retirement village investors.”

Credit: The Straits Times.

The bungalows should fetch very good prices, as Caldecott Hill has an ideal geographical location - it’s a hill, near the geographical centre of Singapore Island, right next to the greenery of Bukit Brown, MacRitchie Reservoir, and the Central Catchment Area, and yet near Caldecott MRT Station (soon to be an interchange).

Base picture credit: Google Maps.

Caldecott Hill is part of an extensive cluster of hills south of MacRitchie Reservoir and west of Thomson Road. In the 1920s, the hill was covered by rubber plantations, while the hills to its west were part of the Bukit Brown municipal cemetery; Mount Pleasant to its south hosted colonial black-and-white mansions.

Base map credit: The National Archives, United Kingdom.

In the late 1930s, a housing estate of 70 dwellings was built on part of the hill. That was when the hill, and the estate, acquired the name Caldecott, after British colonial administrator Sir Andrew Caldecott (1884-1951).

The Straits Times reported on Caldecott Hill Estate’s construction in 1937:

In 1966, Mediacorp’s predecessor, Radio and Television Singapore, arrived at Caldecott Hill, moving into a new $3.6-million Television Centre, where it remained until the shift to one-north in 2015.


***


Following news of the sale of the Caldecott site, a Straits Times Forum writer submitted this letter:


It is disappointing that the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) has granted an outline approval to redevelop the 752,015 sq ft Caldecott Broadcast Centre site into two-storey bungalows (Mediacorp’s former Caldecott Hill home put up for sale, Oct 15).


Allowing for the development of an exclusive and gated community serves to accentuate the rich-poor divide.


It was mentioned that URA may also be prepared to consider a proposal for the site to be redeveloped into a retirement village.


The concept of a retirement village has not taken off, and locating it on a hilltop will pose accessibility issues for the elderly. A recently proposed dementia village in Sembawang also failed to take off, receiving only one bid, which was rejected as the offer price was deemed too low.


Perhaps inspiration can be drawn from other similar hilltop sites. Take, for example, Fort Canning with its hilltop capped with a colonial-era service reservoir. Pearl's Hill City Park also features another service reservoir.


The hilltop site in Caldecott can maintain the current zoning for civic and community institution use, coupled with the incorporation of a sizeable park and a service reservoir to increase Singapore’s water catchment as we strive further to be more self-sufficient in our water sourcing and needs.


Another idea would be to consider the site for a second infectious diseases centre, surrounded by lush and sizeable parkland, to expand upon the current success of the National Centre for Infectious Diseases.


The past has shown us that hilltop sites are preferred for hospital developments for ease of disease containment and treatment. Tan Tock Seng Hospital and Singapore General Hospital are both set on top of hills.


An alternative is to expand the Mount Alvernia Hospital campus located just across the road as the current site has reached its development potential and space constraints.


The authorities could launch a design competition for ideas and to seek local architecture firms’ input and creativity to harness the maximum potential of the site.


This would be better than the land owner’s appointment of its preferred architect to plan out the space for the development of good class bungalows, which excludes any public engagement and does nothing to bridge the rich-poor divide.


I don’t see Mediacorp budging from its plans, though. If it owns the lease for the land, why would it give up the golden opportunity to make tons of money from high-end bungalows? This is Singapore Inc., where the city-state is run like a corporation.

The abandoned Caldecott Broadcast Centre. Credit: Finbarr Fallon.