En bloc sales creating environmental problems?

Cheryl ChiewMay 31, 2021

Singapore apartment housing with Central Business District city view daytime

With en bloc sales picking up and like to come back in 2021, questions surrounding sustainability and the environmental cost of tearing down a building before the tenure of the land is due arise.

With the en bloc fever likely to make a comeback this year, some analysts believe Singapore’s love affair with collective sales is becoming increasingly problematic, in view of the city-state’s recent pledges to sustainability, reported Channel News Asia (CNA).

An en bloc or a collective sale occurs when owners band together to sell their development to a developer.

The country—which registered four collective sales since January 2021, compared to just four throughout the whole of 2020—has come up with a Green Building Masterplan to lower the carbon footprint of the built environment sector.

Experts told CNA that the “process of tearing down and re-building is highly carbon-intensive and especially wasteful when developments in good condition are demolished”.

Alexis Chua, Course Chair of the School of Design & Environment at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, said Singapore’s building guidelines generally ensure that developments could last many decades.

“Buildings are usually designed to last for the tenure of the land”, said Dr Lee Nai Jia, Deputy Director of the Institute of Real Estate Studies at the National University of Singapore.

“While it makes sense to redevelop if the buildings become structurally unsafe, there were a number of developments sold en bloc that were less than 20 years old,” he said as quoted by CNA.

Based on data he compiled, at least 51 developments that were less than 20 years old were sold en bloc since 1995. He noted that Singapore has no specific law stating the age at which buildings could be demolished.

And “cycling through buildings before their time is up creates environmental problems”, said Professor Thomas Schroepfer, who teaches architecture and sustainable design at the Singapore University of Technology and Design.

“You have to take care of the debris from tearing down, there’s steel, concrete, glass—all materials that have high (embodied carbon), meaning it was very energy-intensive to bring them into life in the first place,” he said as quoted by CNA.

“So in terms of life cycle analysis, the tearing down and rebuilding is very energy hungry, and therefore not good for environment.”

The World Green Building Council revealed that about 40% of global carbon emissions are from building and construction. Operational emissions account for 28% of this, and embodied carbon emissions make up 11%.

For Singapore buildings—which have a shorter lifespan due to urban renewal—embodied carbon emissions are higher at up to 40%, Lisa Bates, Chair of World Green Building Council, told Eco-Business.

With these, some have called for the revision of the existing en bloc sale laws.

Under the Land Titles (Strata) Act (LTSA), buildings less than 10 years old can only be sold en bloc if 90% of the owners consent to such a sale. Buildings 10 years and above require 80% consent of owners before they can be sold en bloc.

Experts noted that ruling out collective sales for the sake of the environment would be too extreme.

As such, Nicholas Mak, Head of Research and Consultancy at ERA Realty, suggested tightening the age requirement for en bloc sales.

“Say, instead of below 10 years, make it 20 or 30 years, such that any building less than 30 years old will need a higher percentage of consensus,” he said as quoted by CNA.

He added that the level of consensus needed for an en bloc sale could also be raised to 85% for older buildings and 95% for younger buildings.

The authorities can also ramp up the Government Land Sales (GLS) programme considering that developers’ need for land drives en blocs.

Experts, however, noted that this might not be feasible in the long run since there is a finite amount of state-owned land, which varies from district to district. Supply in the Central Business District (CBD), for instance, is tight.

Experts then suggest repurposing buildings instead of demolishing them entirely.

“Urban rejuvenation is possible without demolition,” said Prof Schroepfer, citing the Fullerton Hotel which used to be a post office as an example.

The partially-conserved former National Aerated Water Company has also been integrated with the new housing project, Jui Residences, noted Urban Land Institute Chairperson Ong Choon Fah.

The Old Hill Street Police Station has also been repurposed to house the Ministry of Communications and Information, while the old Parliament House now accommodates the Arts House.

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Cheryl Chiew, Digital Content Specialist at PropertyGuru, edited this story. To contact her about this story, email: cheryl@propertyguru.com.sg 

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