(Delivered on 4 March 2020)
Integrating and Designing New BTOs – Png Eng Huat
It is always exciting to see new BTO developments sprouting up in the middle of an old estate. Such developments will bring in new amenities like rooftop gardens, exercise equipment, playgrounds, eldercare and childcare facilities, and eateries to complement the old world charm of mom-and-pop shops, open void decks, and good old fashioned coffee shops.
Hougang has welcomed two BTO projects over the years and will be looking forward to welcoming another one this year. I wish to highlight some design and integration issues of such new projects in the hope that future developments could take into consideration these feedback and concerns.
First, I wish to highlight that the void decks of new BTO blocks are no longer functional. Residents living in these new blocks can get lost walking in their own void decks. The number of pillars and walls have literally transformed the new void deck into a maze, forcing residents to use the service roads in their estate. This is certainly a safety concern for residents who need to cut across the new precinct to get to their destinations daily.
Furthermore, due to the maze-like design, void deck chairs and tables have become hidden in secluded corners in the new BTO blocks. Most of the time, these amenities would end up being misused by noisy drinkers, chain smokers, and rowdy teenagers to hang out in the wee hours of the night, away from prying eyes. Noise and second hand smoke would ensue and residents would end up suffering as a result.
Next, I wish to highlight that more could be done to better connect the new precinct to the older part of the estate. In the two new BTO precincts in Hougang, the town council had to build extra ramps, footpaths, and stairs, in addition to the few designated access points, in order to facilitate the safe movement of residents on the ground.
Although it is human nature to take short cuts, the planners should look into providing a more barrier free integration of the new precinct to the surrounding built-up areas at the design stage. This will help residents on mobility aids or with baby prams as it is really not easy to navigate the maze-like void decks of new BTO blocks just to use the designated access points.
Sir, town planning is a work in progress. It may be a challenge for HDB to design better void deck spaces for now but it is certainly doable to have a truly barrier free integration of new and old precincts in a mature estate for a start.
HDB Facade Damage and Repair – Pritam Singh
Sir, the HDB’s Façade Finishes Repairs Co-Payment Scheme allows Town Councils to claim for co-funding on a 50/50 basis for repairs to HDB block façades finished with material such as bricks, tiles, cladding boards etc.
I seek to enquire under what circumstances the HDB will pay in full for such repairs. In my ward of Eunos in Aljunied GRC, there have been repeat episodes of failing block facades in a specific group of blocks at Jalan Tenaga.
The Professional Engineer appointed by the Town Council whose report is available to the Ministry has suggested that the underlying cause of the failing façade is down to shortcomings during the construction phase of the blocks. These blocks were constructed slightly less than 30 years ago. As the façade of other similar blocks in the precinct have failed in an identical or almost identical manner over the last few years, should not the HDB, as building owner, undertake to fully cover and reimburse the costs of the façade repair and the pre-emptive investigation costs of other similarly constructed blocks?
Lift Upgrading Programme – Png Eng Huat
The $5b Lift Upgrading Programme has ended and there are about 150 existing HDB blocks without direct lift access remaining.
Some of us in this house had asked for periodic updates about the fate of the remaining blocks without LUP. I have also asked HDB to look into segregating these blocks into two categories; those with technical constraints and those with cost considerations. I urge the ministry to share these numbers.
The replies from HDB have been consistent i.e. HDB will continue to study and look for cost effective solutions to extend LUP to these blocks and Singaporeans in urgent need of direct lift access due to medical conditions or mobility issues can approach HDB for possible alternative housing assistance.
Sir, the wait for a definitive answer for residents living in these non-LUP blocks has to come to a finality soon. These residents have been caught in between the wait for good news or to move out for the longest time. And any housing agent would tell you that it would be tough to offload a flat without direct lift access unless the owner is prepared to take a hit on the market valuation or selling price.
I had asked in this house for HDB to let these residents decide if they are willing to pay a little more for direct lift access since funding per flat has to be fair and equitable. The ministry had informed this house that the cost of implementing direct lift access for some blocks is not marginal, with some of the costs as good as building a new flat.
Sir, I would like to ask again for the ministry to further segregate some of these costs as I believe some blocks may only need an additional lift shaft like Block 363 at Hougang Ave 5. Let these residents decide on the share of the marginal cost.
Finally, for those lift upgrading that is going to cost as much as building a new flat, would HDB consider offering the Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme to these precincts to resolve this issue then?
Building Works – Sylvia Lim
Under the Building Control Act, proposals for building works will need to be submitted to the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) for approval. I understand that the Act will soon be amended to expand the types of projects that require BCA approval, to include major alteration or replacement works to fixed installations.
In assessing whether or not to approve such works, the BCA will examine the certifications and other paperwork of qualified persons (QPs) engaged by the project owners. To what extent does BCA itself verify the soundness of these certifications?
The incident of the PIE Viaduct Collapse in 2017 is illustrative. In that incident, one person was killed and ten others injured. To date, various professionals associated with the project have been charged and convicted in court. The QP admitted to having engineers with inappropriate experience, failing to check design assumptions and being aware of errors in calculations by the engineers. An accredited checker for the viaduct admitted that he had failed to check the designs or perform calculations for the corbels.
In a Parliamentary answer in July 2018, MND stated that at the plan submission stage, the BCA performed a sampling check pf the pans and design calculations of selected key structural elements, to ascertain that the QP and the AC had carried out the design and checks in accordance with the building control legislative requirements. MND further stated that at the construction stage, BCA would conduct targeted inspections on structural works.
As these checks by the agencies would have been done on the PIE viaduct project, does the collapse of the structure, and the facts found by the court, indicate any loophole that needs to be plugged? Is there a need for agencies to play a larger role to ensure public safety?
Cats in HDB Flats – Daniel Goh Pei Siong
Chairman Sir, earlier this year I asked the Minister whether it is timely to consider removing the ban on keeping pet cats in HDB flats and to regulate pet cat keeping to minimize dis-amenities for neighbours. Minister replied no, citing reasons of irresponsible pet ownership causing inconvenience to neighbours and unhappiness. I find this line of reasoning inconsistent, as this is applicable to all pets and pet owners, but the ban is only specifically on cats. Domestic cats are unlikely to cause the dis-amenities that Minister cited – studies have shown that cats spend 25 per cent of their waking hours cleaning themselves; their natural instinct is to cover up and hide their waste (which can be done in a litter box); sterilized cats are unlikely to caterwaul and even if they do, some of the reasons could be to alert their owners to outside activity, or they may be in pain or feeling stressed – which are similar reasons why dogs bark too!
The ban is outdated. Today, many younger families and families of all ethnic groups are pet cat owners. Regulating pet cat ownership in HDB flats will be more beneficial than a ban as it may give many stray cats a loving home, and allow cat lovers to take care of their cats at home with peace of mind. Regulation can include ensuring domestic cats remain indoors, microchipped and sterilized, and a framework to encourage community acceptance and having mediation channels for disputes. I read with interest the latest news that the dog size limits for HDB have been relaxed so as to allow more local mixed-breed dogs to be rehomed in HDB flats under Project ADORE. I hope cats, no less adorable to many Singaporeans, may be included.