In line with a drive to make Singapore car-lite, building owners can now apply to permanently convert excess carpark space - any above the required level - to commercial or other uses in the central area.
The area includes Orchard, Bugis, City Hall, Chinatown, Raffles Place, Tanjong Pagar and Marina Bay. Details were sent out in a circular to real estate professionals on April 15, the date from which it took effect.
No official figures indicate how many buildings could benefit but experts said these may include Wilkie Edge, Peace Centre, Capital Square and Anson House.
Some are strata-titled but a spokesman for the manager of CapitaLand Commercial Trust, which owns Wilkie Edge, said any conversion opportunity must be evaluated in terms of an asset's overall plan and financial feasibility. There is consistent demand for carpark space in the central area, she noted.
Previously, building owners could convert surplus carpark spaces to other uses only for up to 10 years, and so had to ensure the spaces could be restored.
The rule change comes after Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said recently there could be less space for parking as policies are adjusted to be in line with other global cities.
The Land Transport Authority (LTA) said with better public transport capacity and coverage, commuters are better connected between home and work and "there is less need to rely on private transport to get into the city". It cited the Downtown Line Stage 2 completed last December, Stage 3 to be ready next year, and Thomson-East Coast Line from 2019. LTA and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) will look into expanding this rule change to cover other areas, it added.
Commercial, mixed-use and hotel developments are eligible but any conversion still needs approval from URA and relevant agencies.
Drivers may lament parking is already hard to find in the area but LTA said its surveys indicate adequate overall supply. "However, it is likely some buildings are more popular than others, which may be why it is more difficult to find parking at these developments."
Will parking costs go up further? LTA said charges are set by the market and could vary based on specific demand and availability.
But there may not be many developers rushing to convert excess carpark space, said Savills Singapore research head Alan Cheong. Apart from approval issues, carparks often have a lower ceiling than commercial space, which may make the converted space layout less than ideal.
JLL South-east Asia research head Chua Yang Liang said building owners could benefit through the additional leasable area but "in this current market condition, the cost far outweighs the gain".
Still, a spokesman for Heritage Group, which bought Little India mall The Verge last year, welcomed the move. It may transform some carpark spaces into "public spaces like outdoor recreation areas".
A spokesman for Suntec City also said it will review carpark needs in the light of the new guidelines.
But being car-lite is not so much about carparks as depending less on cars and using public transport, cycling, walking and jogging, said Surbana vice-president (landscape architecture) Maria Boey. "This allows people to have more freedom moving around the civic areas, to make it more useful for pedestrians and people using personal mobile devices."