COS 2021: Commercial Spaces in HDB Multi-storey Carparks

Assoc Prof Jamus Jerome Lim (Sengkang): Mr Chairman, the design of modern towns, such as Sengkang, the constituency I represent, tends to be denser, with commercial spaces and similar amenities located in specific clusters, often close to a transportation hub. Such design, undeniably makes sense from an urban planning perspective and can help minimise residential complaints pertaining to routine business operations, such as noise or trash.

The upshot, however, is that, compared to mature estates, modern towns often sacrificed more widely distributed nodes for gathering and social exchange since commercial spaces inevitably fulfil this function.

Another common feature of modern towns is that multi-storey carparks (MSCPs), especially those that go into the sixth or seventh floors may inadvertently be under-utilised, especially at the uppermost levels. This reflects not so much poor planning as much as the inherent difficult of adequately forecasting parking space demand at the point of construction. As our Government continues to plan its transition of our transportation towards a lower carbon future, demand for private transportation may fall even further, releasing even more spaces in our MSCPs. Needless to say, this represents an inefficient utilisation of our built environment. 

I would like that HDB consider the possibility of designating in part or whole the topmost floors of HDB-owned multi-storey carparks for expanded commercial use. There is precedent in the conversion of segments of the MSCP for uses beyond the parking of vehicles. Most notably, many MSCPs now feature car wash space, typically with self-operated water jet and vaccum machines. HDB also grants permits for car grooming and car sharing businesses. However, special dispensation has historically also been granted to Town Councils for setting up office facilities. 

As far as I am aware, however, there is no systematic scheme to permit the conversion of under-utilised MSCP space into other commercials uses, such as cafés or bubble tea shops or central kitchens. Enabling such use would not only provide additional hubs for residents to shop, eat and socialise. It would also offer convenient employment opportunities for locals who may wish to work for such businesses. For operations, such as central kitchens, the businesses may find themselves co-located closer to their customer bases.

Of course, there are potential costs that have to be considered when commercial activities are allowed to operate on the top decks of MSCPs. These include the obvious noise disturbances or expanded electricity baseloads but these are surmountable challenges. For instance, noise complaints could arise just as easily when residents choose to play football in the low use upper storeys of MSCPs. Similarly, many coffeeshops operate on the ground floor below MSCPs and generate comparable needs for electricity load and exhaust management.

Ministry of National Development
4 March 2021

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