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Saturday, November 17, 2007

9 Hougang blocks to be torn down for estate makeover - Nov 16

Move aimed at better land use, says HDB; part of area will be used for private homes
By Tan Hui Yee, Housing Correspondent

NINE blocks of rental flats, shops and workshops, and a hawker centre in the opposition ward of Hougang are being cleared by the Housing Board.
The board said yesterday that the move was 'part of ongoing plans to rejuvenate older estates and to facilitate better land use'.

It will give tenants a chance to move to newer or upgraded homes and 'inject new life to the estate and offer new housing options and modern commercial facilities', said the HDB.

Similar clearing exercises have been conducted in Clementi and Tanjong Pagar.

The selected blocks - 3, 4, 8 to 11, and 11A to 14 in Hougang Avenues 3 and 7 - are about 33 years old. The site occupied by blocks 12 to 14 - which has 60 workshops - will be put up for sale for private homes in 2009.

The remaining land freed up will be developed for residential or commercial use after 2010, depending on market conditions.

The Hougang cluster includes 654 one- and three-room rental flats as well as a hawker centre described by residents as the heart of the ageing community.

'The stallholders are very close to the customers...the community spirit is very strong,' said Ms Nur Aidah Abdullah, 39, who sells drinks at a stall.

The food centre is also a place where local MP Low Thia Khiang, who is the Workers' Party's secretary-general, meets his residents. The incumbent MP defeated People's Action Party challenger Eric Low in last year's election.

Among the 654 rental flats being cleared, 400 are let out to low-income families. The rest are leased to companies - which use them mainly to house foreign workers - and managing agents, who let them out in turn.

All residents will have to move out in about a year.

Many, like Ms Lin Caifeng, 65, said they will miss the place. 'I've been living here for 10 years and have friends from all the blocks. If I move elsewhere, I won't have anybody,' she said.

Unlike HDB's selective en-bloc redevelopment scheme - which is offered to property owners - relocated tenants are not offered a single alternative development to move to.

The HDB will offer flats in housing estates such as Pipit Road, Beach Road, Geylang Bahru and Ang Mo Kio, but has reserved small clusters of flats so that some tenants can be rehoused together.

Eligible low-income tenants and stallholders will get the standard clearance benefits and aid when necessary.

Tenants who want to continue renting will receive priority in getting flats. Those who choose to buy will be given priority over other buyers.

Tenants will also get a $1,000 allowance to help with the move.

MP Mr Low told The Straits Times by e-mail that he was informed about the plan only yesterday morning.

'I would expect the HDB to provide adequate assistance to residents, market stall holders and shop tenants who are affected,' he said.

The removal of the market and shops will inconvenience Hougang residents, he added.

'Since the market and commercial area, according to HDB, will only be developed for residential and commercial use after 2010, depending on prevailing market conditions, why is there a need to clear them by August 2008? What is the urgency?'

He did not reply when asked how he would help affected residents.

The PAP's Mr Low said the residents would be better off on the whole after the move: 'The kampong spirit may have to be given up. But on the whole, this will be better for them.'

Nov 17, 2007
Clearing of Hougang blocks: Move is 'common' practice
By Liaw Wy-Cin

MINISTER for National Development Mah Bow Tan said clearing the old blocks that are targeted for redevelopment in Hougang together makes practical sense, and that doing this one to two years before the vacated land is expected to be re-used is a common practice.
At a community event at the Tampines East Community Club, Mr Mah was responding to reporters' queries related to Hougang MP Low Thia Khiang's questions about the haste of the move.

The Housing Board announced on Thursday that nine blocks of rental flats, shops, workshops and a hawker centre in the opposition ward of Hougang will be cleared in about a year.

The site occupied by some of the 33-year-old blocks will be put up for sale for private homes in 2009.

The remaining land freed up by the exercise will be developed for residential or commercial use after 2010.

Mr Low had asked why the market and the commercial area had to be cleared by August next year, when those areas were going to be redeveloped only after 2010.

Mr Mah told reporters last night that this was for the convenience of everyone.

He said that if all the residents were to go, the market, which is old, would have no business. It would make sense to move everyone out at the same time.

Added Mr Mah: 'Moving people out one to two years earlier is quite common. It is not a big issue; all this is part of HDB's routine programmes. we didn't select Hougang because it is an opposition ward. We also do it for PAP wards.'

Similar clearing exercises have also been conducted in Clementi and Tanjong Pagar, wards held by the ruling People's Action Party. Mr Low is the secretary-general of the opposition Workers' Party.

As to giving those affected ample notice, Mr Mah said that shopkeepers had been briefed. 'The leases of the industrial shops are on a yearly basis, so we've already indicated to them some time ago our plans to redevelop the area,' added Mr Mah.

He said: 'It is important for us to be able to redevelop the estates, to make the best use of the land that we have. This will go on all the time, so long as we make sure we have alternatives.'

Such alternatives included ex gratia payments for hawkers and industrial tenants, said Mr Mah, so 'they can actually retire'.

He assured the public that all the terms and conditions of relocations would be adhered to in this case.

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