Ministry of National Development Committee of Supply 2019 – Cuts by WP MPs and NCMPs

(Delivered on 6 Mar 2019)

Coordinating Infrastructure – Png Eng Huat

It was reported in the news last November that the estate of Punggol was morphing into one of the largest housing estates in Singapore. However, residents there were reported to be suffering from growing pains as the infrastructure and services in the estate did not keep up with the growing population. Residents found themselves staring at growing congestion and longer commuting time with each new development sprouting up in the estate.

In another report, it was stated that the traffic congestion in Punggol has been a long-standing problem, stretching back to almost 5 years ago. Even when a new link road connecting Punggol Centre to the nearby expressways came into operation, one resident predicted that the traffic congestion would return in a few years’ time.

Amenities like childcare centres, healthcare facilities, and food outlets were also reported to be in need of improvement to meet the demands of the growing population in Punggol.

Sir, it’s going to be déjà vu in the estate around Upper Serangoon Road, leading towards Hougang Avenue 7 and KPE. There are new housing estates and condominiums sprouting up and the traffic on Hougang Ave 7 en route to KPE is coming to a crawl every weekday morning. This part of the estate is also short on amenities like childcare centres.

Residents in Hougang can already predict what is to come in the not too distant future when more people start to move into the new developments in the estate. Would we be seeing a repeat of what the residents of Punggol were experiencing the past 5 years? Would other upcoming estates be facing the same problems as well?

Sir, when supporting infrastructure is playing catch up in a growing estate, the belated construction work will only add to the traffic congestion woes and exacerbate the misery of the residents living there.

Some things can be hard to predict but we are living in an era of big data. Some trends and problems can be predicted and anticipated with a fair amount of accuracy.

I would like to ask the Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure how often do the various ministries and authorities meet to share and address such mismatch of housing developments, transport infrastructure, and amenities.

Dual Parking Lot (Heavy Vehicle and Car) – Faisal Manap

Sir, I have residents who earned their living as a heavy-vehicle driver who seek my assistance to appeal on their behalf for waiver of fine for illegal parking. The common presenting issue is that they are unable to find a parking lot for heavy vehicles, resulting in them parking their vehicle illegally. Many of them were issued with fine while they are attending to their needs such as answering to nature’s call and when buying packed food for lunch or dinner during their working hours. The fines imposed have great impact on them financially.

I feel and empathised with the plight faced by these heavy-vehicle drivers, being penalized, due to lacking of parking spaces for heavy-vehicle, while they are trying to fulfil their humanistic needs.

I observe that there are existing heavy-vehicle parking areas in some HDB’s housing estate usually located in the proximity of neighbourhood centres, which have dual vehicle parking lot. This dual parking lot have double markings, one marking with the dimension to cater for class 3 vehicles while the second marking, a bigger dimension, is for heavy-vehicle. Such dual parking lot will allow either type of vehicle to park, on ‘first come first serve’ basis.

Sir, I would like to suggest that such dual vehicle parking lot to be introduced at roadside in industrial areas and as well as non-major roads which has a high flow of heavy-vehicle. Such implementation will definitely facilitate heavy-vehicle driver to park legally while fulfilling their needs.

HDB Rental Flat – Faisal Manap

Sir, HDB subsidized rental flat under the Public Rental Scheme (PRS) is meant to provide low income families who are unable to afford home ownership and have no family support, with a roof over their head. One of the eligibility criteria for applicant to meet is household income ceiling of $1500.

Sir, during the budget debate, Minister Heng has announced changes in enhancing the current available support measures for two groups of Singaporean, first, lower-wage Singaporeans and, second, Singaporeans who are permanently unable to work and have little family support, to support their living expenses.

Sir, for the former, one of the measures announced is the enhancement for Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) where the qualifying income cap will be raised from current $2,000 to $2,300 per month. As for the latter, the Comcare Long-Term financial assistance scheme amount will be increased.

Sir, the revision and enhancement to financial and support schemes from time to time are indeed necessary due to the ever increasing costs of living. Sir, on this note, can I urge the ministry to conduct a review on HDB’s subsidized rental flat household income ceiling eligibility criteria. Sir, I do not have the information on when was the last time a review done, however, I do believe that it has been a while since it was conducted. I do hope HDB will make this timely review.

First-timer Flat Applicants – Png Eng Huat

It was mentioned in this House in 2014 that HDB had cleared the backlog of first-timer applicants for HDB flats. A year before that, in a Committee of Supply speech, the Minister for Housing Development said. “A couple of months ago, HDB announced that they were planning about 23,000 BTO flats. I decided to tell them to up the figure to 25,000 because I wanted to decisively clear the backlog of all married HDB first-timers this year.”

Sir, 5 years have passed, I am still hearing young couples, married or waiting to tie the knot, sharing about their difficulties of securing their matrimonial flat. I have a resident who has just made his sixth attempt to apply for a flat recently, having started the application process about two years ago, and he is getting married in a year’s time.

Some first-timers were given queue numbers that far exceeded the number of flats available for booking, while others were not even given a queue number to begin with, especially when balance flats are put on sale. I can understand why some young couples are only interested in SBF flats. If they have put off starting a family for two years trying to secure a flat, they may not want to wait another three more years for a BTO flat with their biological clock ticking away.

How can HDB help these young couples own their first matrimonial flats with less stress and more certainty as the future of our next generation depends on them? Some of them were told to spread their options further if they want to secure a BTO or SBF flat, but that will mean living further away from their parents who, more often than not, would be the first port of call for help when they are starting their own families.

Sir, first-timer married applicants are also encourage to live near their parents with the Proximity Housing Grant. And if their parents are living in a mature estate, who can fault these first-timer applicants for wanting to secure a new flat in and around the popular estate?

Next, would HDB consider offering balance flats to young couples who were unsuccessful in previous attempts to secure their first flats, be it in the same development or not, so as to help them secure a flat sooner?

Sir, when the minister announced that HDB had cleared the backlog of first-timer applicants, does it actually translate to shorter waiting time for new first-timer flat applicants?

Lift Upgrading Programme 2.0 – Png Eng Huat

The Lift Upgrading Programme (LUP) has benefitted many households since the programme was launched in 2001. The LUP has allowed many senior citizens to go out and meet their friends or watch the world go by at the neighbourhood centres or void decks at any time, even if they are on mobility aids. In short, the LUP has given these senior citizens a comforting and assuring sense of independence at an age when they may have to be home alone.

From the last update we have in this house, there are about 150 blocks of HDB flats left without direct lift access for all floors. Six of these blocks are in Hougang. In my conversation with the affected residents living in these blocks of flats, I can sense their anxiety and despair about ageing in an environment with no direct lift access. To some of these residents, their flats are not built of concrete alone, but of memories. They would like to age in a place they call home. But without direct lift access, these residents may become prisoners in their own homes over time.

Some residents told me they needed to make special arrangement just to bring their aged parents to visit the doctors. Some elderly residents would prefer not to go out at all, and they would depend on their neighbours to help with the errands.

I would like to ask the ministry how long more must these residents wait for a solution to free them of this physical impediment to active ageing and quality of life? It is good to give these residents an indication of the time required to resolve the lift access issue. These residents need to make long term plans.

While some HDB flats are challenging to implement 100 per cent lift access, some are relatively easy to resolve. Take for example, residents of Blk 363 Hougang Ave 5 are just 3 additional lift shafts away from achieving 100 per cent lift access. So it is only a cost issue.

For those HDB flats with complicated structures, can HDB look into solutions like vertical platform lifts, which are suitable for wheelchair use, and rather compact and inexpensive to implement for short level access?

Sir, the $5 billion LUP has brought relief to many residents residing in over 5,000 HDB blocks. In all fairness, residents living in the remaining 150 blocks should also get the benefits of direct lift access. I seek confirmation from the ministry that effort is continuing to bring 100 per cent lift access to these affected blocks in the near future.

Home Improvement Programme (HIP) and HIP2 – Png Eng Huat

The Home Improvement Programme (HIP) has brought much awaited relief for many households suffering from water seepage and spalling concrete issues due to wear and tear over time. Some of these issues are long standing but such relief offered by HIP should not be short lived.

While residents can pay as low as about $300 to have their bathrooms completely upgraded with new tiles, piping and sanitary wares, they should not be made to correlate the low cost of upgrading with lower quality of fixtures or workmanship.

The bulk of the costs of HIP is funded by taxpayers. The contractors are not subsidizing the upgrading. These contractors are expected to deliver quality works and fixtures that commensurate with their winning bids at the very least.

While wear and tear can continue over time in an old flat, which has undergone HIP, spalling concrete or leaks cannot possibly resurface at the same spot shortly after the 1-year defects liability period (DLP). It doesn’t make sense to the affected residents that HIP is meant to resolve such long standing issues for about a year at the very most.

Although there are not many such cases reported, it certainly lends weight to the fact that the upgrading works were not carried out properly for some flats in the first place. Thus, affected residents should not be made to pay again if such issues were to resurface at the same spot shortly after one year. I hope HDB can look into having a slightly longer DLP for spalling concrete and water seepage problems that HIP is supposed to resolve.

Next, I would like HDB to consult residents living on the ground floor before installing the new clothes drying racks in their units. The new rack will compromise the safety of residents living on the ground floor as the structure will allow intruders to gain easy access into their units via the kitchen windows using the new rack as a support.

Residents living on the ground floor also generally do not use these designated areas to dry their clothes as they are located right next to the bin chutes. They would prefer to dry their laundry elsewhere.

There are a number of such ground floor units in the two HIP clusters announced for Hougang Ave 2, 5 and 7 and they are about to go through polling soon. I hope residents living in those ground floor units can be consulted this time round before HDB proceeds to install those new racks by default.

Next, I do welcome the announcement of a new HIP2 for qualifying flats at the 60 to 70-year mark. I may not be around to enjoy HIP2 but I do have faith that technology would play a big role in making those aged homes more liveable in the future.

So apart from the standard spalling concrete and water seepage issues, which will probably return with a vengeance after another 30 to 40 years, I hope HIP2 can make these old flats more elderly friendly and smarter in energy consumption and safety. I hope these old flats can be rejuvenated with better connectivity to help the elderly access e-services easily with dedicated smart devices. More importantly, I hope all physical barriers to active ageing would be removed completely by then, inside and outside the flats.

Diversifying Elderly Housing Options – Daniel Goh

Chairman, I asked the Minister in February last year about retirement village models that could be transplanted here to give our seniors diverse options for retirement housing.

For public housing, Minister pointed to Kampung Admiralty with its Active Ageing Hub and placement of amenities within walking distance. I would like to ask the Minister about the possibility of retrofitting our public housing estates to approximate the Kampung Admiralty model. For private housing, Minister said the Ministry is reviewing Development Control guidelines to provide more clarity on retirement housing developments. I would like to ask for an update on this review.

Our future seniors will have different financial abilities, need and aspirations about active ageing. In a Lien Foundation and NTUC Income study, our future seniors prefer retirement villages to nursing homes by a large majority. There is a need to diversify elderly housing options. Assisted Living Facilities have become popular elsewhere. These facilities allow seniors to enjoy their independence and maintain an active lifestyle, while staff help with chores and monitor their health. What are the possibilities and limitations to introducing the development of affordable, privately-run ALFs here in Singapore?

Safe and Considerate Use of Park Connector Network – Dennis Tan

Park connectors are used by people for strolls, walking their babies or pet dogs, or for exercises such as brisk walking, jogging or cycling; they are also used by people to get to nearby MRT stations or bus stops.

Depending on the locations of these park connectors, they can be really busy at certain times of the day or week. Bicycles, e-scooters, mobility scooters, wheelchairs, skate scooters and strollers compete for use with people and pets on foot.

As a regular user, I have always been concerned about the safety of park connectors. I am particularly concerned of the uncertainty regarding the appropriate use of the lanes provided on park connectors.

Is the lane marked with a figure of a person walking, only reserved for people on foot?

Who is allowed to use the part marked “PCN”? Are people on foot allowed on it?

If so, isn’t it dangerous for other users such as cyclists and PMD users, to use it while people are walking on it from both directions?

In practice, many people walk on both lanes, and cyclists and PMD users are often left wading through the traffic on both lanes frequently unsafely especially during peak periods.

The lane marked with a figure of a person walking is narrower than the part marked ‘PCN’. It is too narrow for concurrent two directional use when, say, someone is pushing a stroller or walking a big dog.

I first raised this issue last September during the second reading of the Land Transport (Enforcement Measures) Bill.

I filed a PQ with MND last month asking what actions have been taken to promote the safe use of park connectors by different types of users including safe and orderly adherence to the respective lane markings for users on foot and for “PCN” users.

The Minister did not address the issue of adherence to lane markings. So I would like to ask the Minister today how are park users supposed to use the park connector safely according to the lane markings and will the authorities educate the public on safe usage of park connectors in accordance with the lane markings.

I use the park connector almost every day and I have never seen any signage or advisory on this. I have never seen any enforcement being carried out, whether it is illegal usage e.g. speeding by cyclists or PMD users, or cyclists or PMD users using the part marked with the figure of a person walking. I have however seen quite a few accidents and many near misses on park connectors. A recent accident involving a young child and an e-scooter on a park connector prompted me to raise this again.