Monday, June 22, 2009

A quicker fix

THE last time the estate he lived in was upgraded, Mr Winston Lim’s street just missed the cut-off boundary for inclusion in the works.

In the ten years since, there have not been enough funds for the public areas of Hwan Gardens in Serangoon to be given a facelift. “Our drains are not covered; there is always the threat of mosquito breeding,” said Mr Lim, 45, who works in sales.

But with a $25-million interim upgrading scheme for private estates launched yesterday, Mr Lim and his neighbours could see some long-wished-for improvements coming his way.

Private estates – which are not managed by Town Councils like Housing Board estates are – have long lacked the resources to improve amenities such as footpaths and barrier-free access for the elderly and physically-disabled.

The new three-year programme, which complements the Estate Upgrading Programme (EUP), is expected to benefit 250,000 households in Singapore. In its first year, some $6 million will be disbursed for small-scale and urgent projects such as lighting up dark alleys, as well as building ramps for wheelchair access.

“You have the EUP but it only gets allocated to very few estates each year because of budgetary constraints, and because those are wide-scale,” said Mrs Lim Hwee Hua, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC, which Hwan Gardens comes under. “But day to day, you always have little things that need some attention.”

This could include more mundane works such as rain shelters, covered linkways, drop-off points, and paths for better access to public transport.

“These are the things we can do immediately; you don’t have to wait 30 years,” said Dr Mohamad Maliki Osman, the Parliamentary Secretary for National Development.

Urgency, not estate’s age, the factor

Each estate’s residents can work with their Citizen Consultative Committee (CCC) on deciding what enhancements they want, and the CCC can then submit proposals to tap the Interim-EUP kitty.

For this year, the applications must be submitted by December. Whether projects are approved will depend on the urgency of the works needed, rather than the estate’s age, which is a criterion for the large-scale EUP. Under the EUP, just five to eight estates are picked every one to two years.

So, an interim fund like this is “long overdue” as many of the private estates lack barrier-free access, MP Lee Bee Wah (Ang Mo Kio GRC) told Today.

“I have many senior citizens living in the neighbourhoods and they are always telling me how difficult it is to walk to the bus stop because of the staircases,” said Ms Lee, who advises the Nee Soon South estates which include Yio Chu Kang and Khatib.

Joo Chiat MP Chan Soo Sen said such neighbourhood enhancement works had, in the past, depended on the grassroots organisations’ ability to appeal to public agencies to carry them out.

“But we know they have funding limitations, so having this fund will be very useful for us,” he said.
Budget caps will be set for each project, and for fairness’ sake, the committee approving such projects will ensure no one estate uses up too large a share of the fund, said Dr Maliki who chairs the panel.

Since EUP was launched in 2000, some 38 private estates, such as Serangoon Gardens, Tanjong Katong and Braddell Heights, have been selected for upgrading, benefiting 29,000 residents.

Source: Today, 22 June 2009

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