SINGAPORE - Around 5,000 new Housing Board (HDB) flats will be built on the Old Police Academy site in the Mount Pleasant area, with the first Build-To-Order (BTO) project there to be launched within the next five years.
Residential blocks will come with sky and roof gardens, along with lush greenery and pedestrian routes woven into the estate to allow for better connectivity, the HDB told The Straits Times on Tuesday (Nov 23).
The estate is still in the conceptual stage but its design will take inspiration from the heritage and nature in the area, which was developed in the 1920s, said National Development Minister Desmond Lee.
Four existing buildings that were part of the Old Police Academy, along with part of the parade square, will be retained and adapted into community spaces to serve future residents.
The estate will have a low-rise neighbourhood centre, which is typically the heart of an estate where amenities such as retail shops are located.
It will be designed to be open and green, and will feature community spaces, said the HDB, Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and Singapore Land Authority (SLA) in a joint statement on Tuesday.
The 33ha estate, around one-third the size of Bidadari, is bounded by Thomson Road and the Pan-Island Expressway (PIE). It is located close to the mature town of Toa Payoh.
Residents will be served by the upcoming Mount Pleasant MRT station on the Thomson-East Coast Line, which will open in tandem with the completion of the BTO projects.
When asked if HDB flats in the Mount Pleasant estate will fall under the new prime location public housing (PLH) model, which imposes stricter ownership conditions, HDB said it will assess the site attributes and announce more details when ready. There are currently no plans for private housing in the site, the HDB told ST.
The site for the housing estate, which is on a "brownfield" site, has been earmarked for residential use in the URA's Master Plan since 1998 and will require minimal clearance of existing vegetation.
Brownfield sites are land that had previous developments on them.
There are a number of existing pre-war black-and-white bungalows, which are not conserved, in nearby Mount Pleasant Road.
A good class bungalow (GCB) cluster is located further up north in the Caldecott area.
The Old Police Academy was opened in 1929 as the Police Depot and was used as police training and education grounds for the next eight decades before its functions were relocated to the Home Team Academy in Choa Chu Kang.
Because of the estate's proximity to Bukit Brown, the Central Catchment Nature Reserve and the densely forested surrounding areas, an environment impact study was conducted, said Mr Lee.
Besides nature groups, the authorities also consulted heritage groups and the police community on the proposed development plans in order to preserve as much of the heritage and nature in the area as possible.
Plans for the housing estate were adjusted according to the findings and feedback received, he said.
For instance, the original road network would have cut through the existing Kopi Sua cemetery but was instead revised to allow access via Onraet Road, which is off the PIE.
"It exemplifies our evolving approach towards land planning, how we're involving the community and stakeholders more to balance different needs sensitively and further strengthening how we plan for the long term," added Mr Lee.
Part of the Singapore Polo Club - around 3,000 sq m or 3.3 per cent of its total land area - will be acquired by the Government to become part of the estate.
A stable, a storage shed and a sand pit will be affected but the clubhouse, field and main horse stables will not be, said SLA.
A joint-agency workgroup will be set up to further look into how the heritage of the Old Police Academy can be preserved and incorporated into the residential parcels and the design of common spaces such as parks, before any works are carried out.
These could include proposals for new road names related to the police heritage.
The workgroup will be led by Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim.
The announcement of the new estate comes as demand for public housing remains high among Singaporeans, with application rates for BTO flats jumping by 70 per cent in 2020.
Ms Christine Sun, senior vice-president of research and analytics at OrangeTee & Tie, said future HDB flats in the Mount Pleasant area is unlikely to fall under the PLH model as the site "does not fit the criteria".
"PLH sites are near the city centre or downtown core and properties in the area should command a price premium. This location is not that near to the city centre," she said.
However, Huttons Asia senior director of research Lee Sze Teck reckons the site has potential to be considered as a prime area under the PLH model as it sits within District 11 covering the Novena, Newton and Thomson areas.
Regardless of whether the site falls under the PLH model, both concur that BTO projects in Mount Pleasant will see strong demand at their launch.
Ms Sun said: "The place sits in the centre of Singapore which makes it very convenient for residents to travel to many parts of the island. But the drawbacks could be the sound and noise from the expressway and proximity to the cemetery."
Clarification note: An earlier version of this report stated that the parade square will be retained. URA has clarified that only part of the parade square will be retained.