Upgrade more ageing flats? Govt must do sums carefully

The Government's fiscal position and budget have to be carefully considered when deciding whether to expand the Home Improvement Programme (HIP), National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said in Parliament yesterday.

He was responding to Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) who had asked whether the scheme, which upgrades ageing flats, can be extended to units built after 1986 when they become 30 years old.

The scheme, introduced in 2007, applies only to flats built up to 1986 and which have not undergone the Main Upgrading Programme.

Ms Lee pointed out that some blocks in Nee Soon South were built just after the cut-off date, in 1987 and 1988.

This has led to residents comparing flats that have been upgraded with those that have not.

Mr Wong noted that the HIP is not a one-time expenditure, but a multi-year expense that has cost "billions of dollars".

Of the 300,000 eligible flats, more than 200,000 have been selected to undergo the programme. The remaining eligible units will be selected by the 2018 financial year.

"So when we want to think about another round of upgrading, I think it's fair and prudent for the Government to think about sustainability, to consider whether or not we are able to afford such a major programme that will run through many years, potentially even past this term and future terms of government," said Mr Wong, who is also Second Finance Minister.

"Certainly from an MND (Ministry of National Development) point of view, I will be very happy to support this and I will want all our older towns to be upgraded as soon as possible. From an MOF (Ministry of Finance) perspective... I have to say we will have to consider this very carefully and study and make sure that budget availability is sustainable," he added.

Both Ms Lee and Ms Jessica Tan (East Coast GRC) raised the issue of clothes drying racks, which are sometimes challenging for residents, especially the elderly, to use. Many old flats come with pipe sockets for laundry poles to be slotted in, but these can be difficult to manoeuvre with heavy loads of laundry.

Ms Tan asked if the design could be modified even if the HIP could not be extended in totality.

Mr Wong gave the assurance that feedback from residents will be factored into future upgrading projects, even in the form of smaller refinements.

"We will always take into consideration feedback like the ones that have been expressed about hanging of clothes, and we will see what we can do in future rounds of upgrading," he said.


This article was first published on November 9, 2016.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.