DTL2 woes: Bukit Timah residents' pleas fall through cracks

DTL2 woes: Bukit Timah residents' pleas fall through cracks
Residents at Duchess Road have repeatedly tried to seek redress from LTA after cracks appeared in their houses as early as 2011.
PHOTO: AsiaOne

SINGAPORE - Cracked and slanted walls, burst water pipes and front gates that are unable to properly shut.

These are some of the issues that residents at a stretch of terrace houses in Duchess Road in Bukit Timah have had to live with for the last five years.

And for the most part, their repeated attempts at seeking redress have still left them in limbo.

At least six residents who spoke to AsiaOne claimed that the damage to their homes was due to the construction of the Tan Kah Kee MRT station, which is part of the Downtown Line 2.

The station, which sits about 70m from their homes, opened on Dec 27 last year.

Two residents, who only wanted to be known as Mr and Mrs Lim, serve as spokesmen for the affected residents.

The Lims, who are in the 50s, told AsiaOne that despite repeated attempts over the years to rectify the issues, they were told that neither the Land Transport Authority (LTA) nor its contractors were responsible for them.

In September 2011, the Lims noticed that a number of cracks started to appear on the walls of their house. A year later, they claimed more cracks surfaced on their car porch roof, allowing rainwater to seep through and dislodge a shoe cabinet. Several tiles in the porch had also cracked and become dislodged.

Following their complaint, LTA surveyed the defects and installed devices to track any widening of cracks. Instruments were also fixed outside a few houses to stabilise the ground.

LTA's Austrian contractor, Alpine Bau, also did some interim repairs on the couple's home in both 2011 and 2012, assuring them that full repairs will be conducted after the completion of the station.

However, Alpine Bau went bust in 2013 - before full repairs could be done - and a South Korean contractor, SK E&C, was appointed to take over construction works.

The Lims were left helpless after that.

In June 2014, the Lims and their immediate neighbour, who only wanted to be known as Mr Yang, discovered that they could not fully close the front gates as the wall supporting them had tilted to one side.

Mrs Lim said: "This was too much. My family's safety was compromised and I couldn't sleep properly knowing that we had a security issue."

At Mr Lim's request, SK E&C installed a temporary metal bar to prevent the wall from tilting further. Mr Yang claims that a similar request made by him was rejected and he had to chisel away certain parts of the wall himself to allow his front gate to fully close.

He told AsiaOne that the new contractor claimed that the cracks were due to a palm tree right outside his house.

"This is extremely illogical and utterly unreasonable as the palm tree wouldn't be able to cause damages to the internal areas of my house," said Mr Yang in a telephone interview.

The Lims' also said that LTA attributed the damage to nearby construction works of a new condominium next to their house as well as that of Hwa Chong Institution. However they noted that these projects only commenced after the cracks appeared.

When AsiaOne visited the Lim residence, the cracks on the wall were large enough to snugly slot in a number of credit cards and hold them in place.

Some cracks were so deep that the wall was nearly split in two. There was also a 10m-long crack across the floor in the Lims' backyard. Some of the bedroom doors in Mr Yang's three-storey home could not be shut properly.

Damage to the Lim's house is estimated to be about $78,000, while that to Mr Yang's house is said to be about $70,000, according to a private contractor both households engaged.

Another resident nearby who only wants to be known as Mrs Tan, claims the construction works caused her underground water pipes to burst twice - first in 2012 and then in 2014. She only discovered the leakage after her monthly water bills hit $800 on average.

Besides settling the water bill, Mrs Tan told AsiaOne that she also spent a total of $3,450 to repair the water pipes.

Member of Parliament for Holland-Bukit Timah Group Representation Constituency (GRC) Mr Christopher de Souza made two home visits over the last couple of years.

Mr de Souza told AsiaOne that his main priority is to ensure the safety of the residents and their homes.

He added: "I have requested a compensation board to be convened to address the families' concerns in an impartial way to resolve the difference in views."

This is not the first time residents living along the Bukit Timah stretch have complained of damages caused by construction.

In 2012, residents living in nearby Watten Estate, reported damage to their homes after construction works to build the same MRT station began.

In this case, LTA carried out the necessary repair works.

In a letter addressed to Mr Lim in November 2012, LTA said that the damage "could possibly be caused" by the station's construction.

When asked for a response, LTA explained that a survey carried out in 2009 found that some houses had pre-existing cracks. Independent experts also later assessed that the construction works did not cause damage to the Duchess Road houses, added LTA.

The LTA spokesman said: "Residents who do not agree with the assessment made by the independent experts may refer their claims to an independent Compensation Board, which is headed by a District Judge."

The Compensation Board requires the residents to engage a lawyer - a move they have not been keen on as it would incur additional costs.

But while the residents are grateful for the convenience of a nearby MRT station, they are still considering what to do next.

"We have invested $1 million of our life savings into building our dream house," Mrs Lim said with tears welling up in her eyes. "To be dealing with unaccounted damages like these for over five years now is really, very tiring. "

debwong@sph.com.sg

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