Ministry of National Development Committee of Supply 2021 – Cuts by WP MPs

HDB Blocks Façade Repair – Mr Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap

Sir, during a recent Parliament session, I proposed to the Ministry to roll-out a national programme of façade repair for ageing HDB blocks in view of recent spates of external wall seepage.

The Ministry replied that there are currently no plans to roll out such a programme as external wall seepage can be prevented through regular maintenance by the Town Council. Additionally, it was mentioned that to address building façade issues, BCA will make it a requirement for building owner to perform a Periodic Façade Inspection (PFI) for all buildings above 20 years and above 13 metres in height commencing from 2nd quarter of this year

Sir, I acknowledged the role of Town Council in conducting regular maintenance to common areas of HDB estate including blocks’ external façade. As a Town Council chairperson, I am thankful that HDB is co-sharing with Town Councils, the costs for Periodic Façade Inspection (PFI) as well as repair works.

Nonetheless, sir, I would like to suggest HDB to conduct costs-benefit analysis on whether rolling-out a national program for façade improvement and repair works for aging HDB blocks would be a more favourable option for such extensive works. In general, such an option is preferred due to economies of scale.

Sir, in managing public funds, fiscal prudence is paramount important. Hence, we should strive to adopt best practices. I believe this is HDB’s fundamental consideration when they rolled out national programmes such as Neighbourhood Renewal Programme (NRP), Remaking Our Heartland Programme (ROH) and Carpark Upgrading Programme (CUP) in rejuvenating and refurbishing our aging public housing estates.

Sir, I think it will be a wise move if HDB adopts a similar approach, that is to roll-out a national programme for façade repair work for aging HDB blocks.

HDB Flats with No Lift Upgrading – Dennis Tan Lip Fong

Last month the Minister for National Development replied to my Parliamentary Question informing me that there are 150 HDB blocks which are not eligible for the Lift Upgrading Programme (LUP), i.e. blocks where there are still residents who do not have same floor access to lifts, that there is no need to inform residents in affected blocks directly that no LUP is available for now as HDB will continue to explore new technical methods to bring down LUP costs and to improve accessibility without direct lift access.
Presently, Hougang SMC has 6 such blocks. I have continued to receive requests from residents with no same floor lift access, asking when their LUP will come. It seems like only if residents write in to HDB to ask for the upgrading will they be told the real reason for no upgrading to date e.g. whether it is for reason of cost or due to technical constraints.

Notwithstanding my PQ, I would like to reiterate my request for HDB to provide an update to residents living in all such affected HDB blocks.
It is good to give some certainty to residents. Tell all affected residents upfront the reason why HDB is not proceeding with LUP, whether it is because of cost issue for that block or because of some technical constraints.

For blocks where cost is the issue, some of my residents have asked that HDB should share with residents the costing involved and how much each resident must pay so that residents have a better understanding of the situation including deciding for themselves whether this is something that they can afford and are willing to pay. HDB should engage affected residents directly on its decision, on possible alternative lift installation methods, and also what can HDB provide to improve accessibility without direct lift access as stated in the Minister’s reply to my PQ last month.

Safe Use of Park Connectors – Dennis Tan Lip Fong

Two years ago, I filed a cut with MND on the safe use of park connectors. I said that, depending on locations, the park connectors can be busy places and well used by many people for recreational purposes as well as for commuters getting to or from nearby MRT stations or bus stops.

I highlighted my concern about the safety of park connectors, particularly the uncertainty regarding the appropriate use of the lanes provided on park connectors.

Two years on, there are a few changes in some PCNs. In the PCN near my home, there is a change to the lane markings. The lanes are now marked in red. The narrow lane has a pictorial sign showing no e-scooter. The wider lane has a pictorial sign showing a bicycle. Occasionally there is a sign on a post asking people to keep to their lanes with the pictorial showing two lanes side by side, one for cycling and one for walking. However, in other PCNs, there are only pictorial indicators for cyclists and people on foot without any line drawn in between or worse still, no lane separation at all, or worse still, no indication at all.

On the PCN near my home, aside from there being a few more people on foot using the narrow lane, not much else has changed. Like I have said 2 years ago, many people still walk on both lanes and from both directions and cyclists and PMD users are often left wading through the traffic on both lanes frequently unsafely especially during peak periods. Many cyclists are still using the lane for walking. Many people on foot who are using the wider lane often do not keep left, including many walking their dogs or pushing a stroller forcing other users to swerve around them, including forcing cyclists onto the narrow lane.

So two years on, I feel that not much has changed. In the interest of safety, I am in support of having separate dedicated lanes for those on foot and for bicycles and PMDs. If we want to mix them, we have to try much harder to ensure safe and orderly use by different users.

Once the extended cycling network is up, we may see the return of the e-scooters to our PCN in greater numbers. Their return will only exacerbate the present situation with the ill-disciplined and poorly policed use of the PCN.

We now see a smaller number of e-scooters using the PCN but how often do we see the riders dismount and walk across traffic light crossings along the PCN or stop riding when they branch off to a footpath or road.
I would like to ask the Minister again to increase both the public education and enforcement efforts by both NParks as well as LTA officers for the safe use of our PCN.

Commercial Spaces in HDB Multi-storey Carparks – Assoc. Prof. Jamus Jerome Lim

Utilizing our carpark spaces efficiently

The design of modern towns—such as Sengkang, the constituency I represent—tend 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 minimize residential complaints pertaining to routine business operations, such as noise or trash. The upshot, however, is that—compared to mature estates—modern towns sacrifice more widely-distributed nodes for gatherings and social exchange, since commercial spaces inevitably fulfill this function.

Another common feature of modern towns is that multistorey carparks—especially those that go into 6 or 7 floors—may inadvertently be underutilized, especially at the uppermost levels. This reflects not so much poor planning as much as the inherent difficultly of adequately forecasting parking space demand at the point of construction. As our government continues its plan to transition our transportation system toward a lower-carbon future, demand for private transportation may fall even further, releasing even more spaces in our MSCP. Needless to say, this represents an inefficient underutilization of our built environment.

Existing precedents for commercial usage of MSCPs

I propose that HDB consider the possibility of designating, in part or whole, the topmost floor of HDB-owned multistorey 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 bays, typically with self-operated waterjet and vacuum machines. HDB also grants permits for car grooming and car sharing businesses. Moreover, 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 underutilized MSCP space into other commercial uses, such as cafes and bubble-tea shops, or central kitchens. Enabling such use would not only provide additional hubs for residents to shop, eat, and socialize; it would also offer convenient employment opportunity for locals, who may wish to work in these businesses. For operations such as central kitchens, the businesses may find themselves collocated closer to their customer bases.

Limitations to consider

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 (illegally, I might add) to play football in low-use upper stories of MSCPs. Similarly, many coffeeshops operate on the ground floor below MSCPs, and generate comparable needs for electricity load and exhaust management.

Temporary Development Levy – Gerald Giam Yean Song

The Temporary Development Levy (TDL) is a tax payable when permission is granted for a temporary enhancement of land value. The TDL can amount to tens of thousands of dollars payable by a small business every year, and can form a significant proportion of their business costs.
Tenancy agreements seldom specify who is responsible for paying the TDL, and tenants are often in a weaker bargaining position vis-à-vis their landlords when the TDL is levied. Often, the tenant is unaware of the TDL until they receive the bill, and would not have factored this into their business expenses. It can be inequitable if the tenant bears the full TDL, because the landlord also benefits from the enhancement of land value by being able to charge a higher rent to the tenant.

Could URA require that all change of use applications include an undertaking from the applicant that the TDL had been discussed between landlord and tenant?

Second, for some industries, URA grants Temporary Permission (TP) for only one year at a time. This can result in widely fluctuating TDL payable every year, making business planning difficult.

Can URA provide businesses more certainty by giving them a choice of TP of between three and five years, to better align with typical commercial tenancy agreements? This will allow tenants to negotiate equitable rental contracts with their landlords and make other business plans.
Lastly, some businesses have lamented to me that their TDL far exceeds their business revenue, especially during the pandemic. If businesses are unable to pay the TDL, they might have to close down, leading to losses for themselves, their landlords and their employees. The Government will also lose out on tax revenue.

Can URA consider giving such businesses rebates or deferments of their TDL?

Urban Rejuvenation and Land Flexibility – Chua Kheng Wee Louis

Chairman, with our limited land area, Singapore’s planning paradigm has been one of maximising the intensity of land use. COVID-19’s economic impact may mean a need to reevaluate our planning policy. The Minister for National Development has likewise noted the same in an earlier answer, that while it remains to be seen if the shifts seen in COVID-19 will persist in the new normal, as technology changes and advances, there is a need to take a good, hard look at land use needs for the future. For example, the Circuit Breaker period has also shown the viability of working from home, which reduces the need for traditional single-use buildings and areas.
Land use is governed largely by the URA Concept Plan and Masterplan, the latter of which is reviewed every five years. However, beyond absolute land use designations and fixed plot ratios, such planning can arguably have more flexibility, considering the blurring of lines between different building use types, the prevalence of mixed-use developments and higher frequency of use building repurposing.

I recognize that the CBD Incentive Scheme and the Strategic Development Incentive (SDI) Scheme were introduced with the aim of encouraging the rejuvenation of the CBD and other strategic areas in Singapore. The schemes were implemented from 27 March 2019, for a period of five years from the date of gazette for Master Plan 2019. Two years after they were introduced, how many developments have fulfilled the conditions of the schemes? Is the government re-evaluating the conditions of the scheme to adapt to the post-COVID-19 landscape today? And would the Government considering extending the rejuvenation schemes across the island, to recognize and encourage greater creativity and flexibility in maximizing the best use of our land and buildings?

Retention of HDB Flats for Divorcees under 35 – Chua Kheng Wee Louis

Chairman, divorce proceedings are unfortunately more common than we would like them to be in Singapore, and the ownership of HDB flats are likely to come up as an issue in many of them.

Individuals from the marriage without children are only allowed to retain the flat if they meet eligibility conditions such as being a Singaporean citizen, are at least 35 years old and other prevailing conditions for retention of the flat under the Single Singapore Citizen (SSC) scheme.
I recognise that for those with care and control of their children, they will be able to retain the flat, subject to financial capabilities and other eligibility conditions.

Chairman, while I am aware that our housing policies are pro-family, and current HDB rules allow for some residents who are in the middle of divorce proceedings to retain their HDB flat, others have not been able to do so.

Individuals who are going through divorce proceedings are already going through a stressful period. Mandating a sale of the flat adds on to the stress. Individuals which are forced to sell off the flat may not be able to readily relocate, and may not be the most financially prudent option, adding on to the pressures. Further, some individuals do have the wherewithal to continue servicing the housing loan by themselves.

While the HDB may be concerned about abuse, I believe couples do not enter a marriage with divorce in mind. With divorces already a source of significant stress, is there room to allow divorcees under 35 to retain their HDB flat, subject to meeting other prevailing eligibility conditions?

Availability of Rental Flats – Chua Kheng Wee Louis

Chairman, the Parenthood Provisional Housing Scheme (PPHS) currently enables couples or single-parent families to rent from the government while waiting for the completion of their BTO HDB flat. However, demand often outstrips supply.

Chairman, as at 24 February 2021, PPHS applications have exceeded the number of flats available by 13.5 times. I believe this oversubscription is not unique to February alone. With Covid-19 delays in HDB flats construction, there will inevitably be higher demands for HDB rentals from families affected by the delay.

Beyond the PPHS, public rental scheme flats for the low income are also narrowly supplied, with demand outstripping supply despite a $1,500 household income per month cap for applicants. Tightening controls for rental applications may lower the number of applicants but not the real demand for the rental market. There is a clear need for expanding the supply of rental public homes for those in need.

On a broader landscape of change, how is MND readying itself for a growing millennial preference to rent rather than own a house? We have seen the “sharing economy” take root various areas of everyday life, such as transport. This preference likely stems from both concerns on the affordability of homeownership and a preference for work mobility. Is MND considering expanding the supply of rental housing by the HDB to meet this growing demographic trend?