Two-month reprieve for construction firms

SINGAPORE - Construction firms have a two-month breather before they must ensure their new projects have simpler designs and are easier to build.

These new requirements will be in force only on Sept 1, instead of the start of this month, said Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Lee Yi Shyan at the launch of Singapore's second prefabrication hub on Monday.

A Building and Construction Authority (BCA) spokesman explained that the delay was caused by the time taken to brief the industry.

"This took longer than expected and it was decided that the implementation date be pushed back by two months," she said.

Mr Lee had announced in March that new projects must be designed such that the buildings are easier to construct and save on labour too, in the light of the manpower crunch.

The minimum acceptable score on the index used to measure it was to increase by three points at the beginning of this month, and by another two next July. Industry insiders have welcomed the extra time.

Singapore Contractors Association president Ho Nyok Yong said that this "grace period" gave contractors more time to be familiar with the new requirements.

"In the beginning, during the transition, it'll always be difficult for the contractors. But after they understand and get through it, it should be okay," he said.

Contractors told The Straits Times that their sector is still coming to grips with this month's labour cuts. Man-year entitlements - the quota of foreign workers a main contractor can hire per project - have been cut by 15 per cent.

Straits Construction executive director Kenneth Loo said the industry had not yet reaped the benefits of saving on labour costs by using fewer workers.

"We're still trying to cope with the volume of jobs and projects in the pipeline," he said.

He added that coping with manpower cuts was "not something that we can change overnight", but his company has begun using less labour-intensive scaffolding.

Dr Ho and Singapore Institute of Planners president William Lau said that whether buildings are easier to construct would depend a lot on their design.

For example, a worker takes less time to install repeated windows and columns positioned regularly apart from each other.

Mr Lau added that many architects are already drawing up such designs without compromising the beauty of buildings.

He said: "I think the move (to raise minimum requirements) is correct. In the long term, it will force us to be more efficient."

Efficiency is also the aim of the new prefab hub. It will be able to produce thrice as many pre-made parts as a conventional open yard when ready next year.

Construction firm SEF Group will build and operate the factory and storage building.

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