A tribunal that can force mediation between feuding neighbours should be used only as a last resort, say most of the 87 people who gave their views on it in a public consultation.
The new tribunal, which could be set up by the end of the year, involves a judge who will hear cases and has the power to issue orders, such as making someone stop playing loud music after 11pm, for example.
It is meant for the most difficult cases, and if orders are not followed, the party involved can be prosecuted.
But members of the public could not agree on whether the proposed tribunal should mandate mediation, said the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, which released the consultation findings yesterday.
Some felt it would be a good platform to bring disputing parties together. Said mediation consultant Aloysius Goh, 35: "Having a tribunal with mandatory mediation may lead to more conflicts being resolved amicably. Some people don't want to initiate mediation for fear of looking weak."
But others thought that making it mandatory went against the spirit of mediation, where both parties are supposed to come to a decision voluntarily. It could also be used by an unreasonable neighbour to punish another neighbour, they said.
Currently, neighbours who cannot resolve disagreements on their own or with the help of grassroots leaders can take the matter to a Community Mediation Centre (CMC). But this does not work very well. In 60 per cent of its 1,500 applications each year, one side does not even bother to show up.
The Government is studying the proposed system further.
Respondents also agreed that cultivating good relationships between neighbours was an important way of avoiding such mediation altogether. Ideas included having mobile hawker centres close to estates and getting neighbourhood committees to help residents move into their new homes.
Retiree Lau Kim Boo, 74, suggested forming interest groups among neighbours. He said: "When neighbours have established good relationships, they are more tolerant of one another and will take the step to talk things out when issues arise."
So the Government says it will focus on stepping up public education efforts to promote good neighbourliness.
Grassroots leaders will also receive training to help them mediate disputes and the CMC will train more mediators to help feuding neighbours settle differences amicably.