Co-funding for stakeholders to improve their precincts

Guest of honour Minister for National Development and Second Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong at the fourth Singapore-India Business Dialogue on Nov 15, 2016.
Guest of honour Minister for National Development and Second Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong at the fourth Singapore-India Business Dialogue on Nov 15, 2016. PHOTO: SMU

Govt will offer them up to $500k a year in matching funds under new pilot scheme

From car-free zones to regular arts events to cleaner environments, pockets of precincts in Singapore could look livelier, with the Government giving building owners and other stakeholders up to $500,000 a year to improve their areas.

It will match them dollar-for-dollar during the first four years of a pilot scheme.

The Business Improvement District (BID) scheme will start as a pilot but could eventually be formalised depending on interest, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong said yesterday.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) is inviting stakeholders, such as property owners, to submit proposals for four-year "business plans" to improve their precincts.

"I don't think government-led programmes will be able to fully capture the unique characteristics and flavours of our diverse local areas," Mr Wong said.

"For place management to be effective, we really need ground-up ownership and participation, especially from local businesses and stakeholders who are more familiar with the local identity and needs of the precinct."

Singapore's first BID, Singapore River One, was formed in April.

Local stakeholders pay a "membership fee", which goes into a common pool that funds initiatives within the precinct.

They must then submit their proposals on how their districts can be improved by March 31 next year.

Once the proposal is accepted, stakeholders need to develop a business plan supported by at least 51 per cent of property owners in the precinct, who must in turn raise 51 per cent of the total potential contribution amount.

At the moment, most examples of "place management" in Singapore - area-based, multi-stakeholder approaches to improving precincts and making them more attractive - rely on voluntary contributions.

This means that funding is less certain, in turn making it harder for some precincts to sustain long-term business plans, the URA said.

The authority added that there has been a free-rider problem as some stakeholders do not contribute but still benefit.

To tackle these issues, the URA has been engaging precinct associations over the past two years to seek feedback on the idea of a BID model.

URA's group director for conservation and urban design Chou Mei said: "It is when communities are in charge that we see the most positive outcomes, as they know what is best for their precincts."

Mr Saeid Labbafi, chairman of the One Kampong Gelam (OKG) precinct association, plans to pursue the pilot BID.

Noting that this would "increase business activities" in the area, he added that the association was in the process of collecting information to help engage stakeholders and make them more aware of the benefits of getting involved.

Mr Labbafi received the Place Champion Award 2017 from Mr Wong yesterday in recognition of his efforts to lead stakeholders in initiatives that attracted footfall to the precinct, such as regular weekend car-free zones at several roads.

If OKG successfully gets on board the BID scheme, Mr Labbafi hopes to see a Kampong Glam that has more arts and fashion events, and is cleaner and more beautiful - perhaps with more traditional tiling, better-maintained facades and attractive-looking rubbish bins.

He added: "If the entire Kampong Glam became a car-free zone, the (effects of the) BID scheme would become even more powerful."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 06, 2017, with the headline 'Co-funding for stakeholders to improve their precincts'. Print Edition | Subscribe