(Quoted - Straits Times. Jul 14, 2009)
Residents living in Housing Board flats in the two opposition wards can expect to benefit from lift landings on every floor under the Lift Upgrading Programme (LUP) earlier than expected.
Ms Grace Fu, Senior Minister of State for National Development, said yesterday that precincts in Hougang and Potong Pasir will be among 65 selected for the LUP in the current financial year, which started in April.
This marks a shift from the Government's stand after the 2006 general election, when it said the two wards would be placed 'at the end of the queue' for the LUP.
The number of precincts for this year is higher than the 50 in each of the past few years.
Speaking to reporters at an HDB event, Ms Fu said town councils and grassroots advisers in the two opposition wards, along with those in other constituencies, have made their nominations for the LUP. The selected precincts will be announced in 'a few months' time'.
Falling construction costs and available capacity in the industry were the reasons for the ramping up, she said.
'The Government is committed to rejuvenating the HDB estates, in good and bad times. Given that this is the right time of the cycle - costs are coming down, there is available capacity in the construction industry - it is a good time for us to step up our efforts,' said Ms Fu.
Ms Fu also said the inclusion of the opposition wards did not signal an imminent general election.
Started in 2001, the LUP is popular with HDB residents, especially those living in older blocks with lift landings on fewer floors.
During the 2006 election, a number of candidates promised to get residents onto the coveted project.
The Government foots between 75per cent and 90per cent of the upgrading bill, depending on the resident's room type. The remaining 10per cent to 25per cent is shared between the town council and the resident, with the resident's share again depending on his room type.
Permanent residents pay the full cost.
Potong Pasir MP Chiam See Tong, secretary-general of the Singapore People's Party (SPP) and chairman of the town council, could not be reached for comment yesterday as he was on a flight to London.
Mr Desmond Lim, the SPP's assistant secretary-general and consultant to the town council, said the move could win further support for the SPP.
'It shows that the selection of precincts is done according to the criteria set out by the HDB, like the age of the blocks, and not due to political reasons,' he said.
He added: 'This is what we've been fighting for. During the last general election, we made a promise to have lift landings on every floor. Now it's happening.'
Hougang MP Low Thia Khiang could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Potong Pasir resident Benedict Chen, 26, said the LUP was long overdue in his estate but wondered whether it was a sign of an imminent general election.
Said the bank analyst, who has lived in Potong Pasir all his life: 'If you've lived here long enough, you are used to seeing these things as 'pre-election candies'.'
Over in Hougang, logistics official Doreen Tan, 33, said: 'The lift upgrading is good to have because there are a lot of elderly residents in these estates.'
Married with one child and another on the way, however, she worried about the dust that the construction will cause.
She was also concerned that retirees and elderly residents in the estate might not be able to pay their share of the lift upgrading cost.
'I am not sure how much we have to pay...If the price is okay then it should be all right,' she said.
She added: 'Perhaps the Government can do something more for us other than lift upgrading. For example, they can build covered linkways - they are simple, just from one block to another.'
As for the politics of the project, she said she had no comment, 'so long as there is an upgrade'.
Another Hougang resident, student Ho Chi Sam, 25, said lift upgrading would benefit elderly residents most and could increase house values in the area.
He added: 'It's about time that the Government put public funds to good use and helped the people without discriminating against specific constituencies.'