SINGAPORE: At least two town councils have appealed to increase their budgets for estate renewal and upgrading projects, as the COVID-19 pandemic drives up construction costs and hampers productivity at worksites.
Responding to queries from CNA, the Ministry of National Development (MND) said on Monday (Aug 30) that it has received appeals from Chua Chu Kang and Jurong-Clementi town councils for an increase in their Neighbourhood Renewal Programme budgets.
MP Tin Pei Ling (PAP-MacPherson) told CNA earlier that she also plans to appeal to the ministry to review her constituency's upgrading budget.
But MND said it is not necessary to raise budgets now.
"We are currently monitoring the situation and at this juncture, do not see the need to increase the budget for NRP (Neighbourhood Renewal Programme) projects. (Town councils) have been advised to work within their allocated budgets," said a ministry spokesperson.
The programme, which is fully funded by the Government, focuses on block and precinct improvements and is implemented by town councils.
According to this financial year’s Budget Book, Singapore will spend more than S$551 million on ongoing upgrading projects. About 27,800 flats will be upgraded under the Neighbourhood Renewal Programme and another 85,700 under the Home Improvement Programme.
This includes ongoing projects at various stages of implementation such as flats built between 1987 and 1997.
The Home Improvement Programme covers essential improvements paid for by the Government, such as repairing structural cracks, and optional improvements partially paid for by flat owners, such as toilet upgrading and elderly-friendly fittings. Unlike the Neighbourhood Renewal Programme, it is implemented by the Housing Board.
SOME PROJECTS DELAYED, SCALED DOWN
MPs and town councils CNA spoke to said several upgrading projects have had to be scaled down or delayed.
Ms Tin said the budget allocated to her MacPherson ward for its Neighbourhood Renewal Programme was approved before the pandemic.
Working within this sum, her team selected several upgrading projects for residents to consider and held roadshows to get their feedback.
But after the pandemic struck, the quotations they received for these works ballooned.
"We had to go through the exercise of determining what items to give up, so it was quite painful and disappointing," said Ms Tin.
She added that the whittling down of items will be "significant" – they may have to give up roughly one-third of all the improvements they had hoped for.
Based on current estimates, Ms Tin said some projects on the chopping block may include the upgrading of existing linkways, construction of new ones, new bicycle sheds and the upgrading of a drop-off porch.
But going ahead with the works while costs are high would mean wasting a "precious opportunity to do more for residents", she said.
"So to compromise, the decision is we’ll hold back for a few months, let’s see if prices stabilise. Then maybe we can pack a bit more in."
West Coast Town Council told CNA that about 80 per cent of its town improvement projects have been delayed by three to six months, with two ongoing projects likely to be extended by a year.
It said residents have been informed and that they are "generally understanding".
TOWN COUNCILS REVIEW UPGRADING PLANS
Some town councils are looking at ways to stretch their budget and review plans.
Jalan Besar Town Council told CNA that it is engaging with working committees and relevant parties to relook upgrading plans and improvement projects.
"We will explore how best to proceed, keeping in mind the anticipated higher costs, while continuing to meet the needs of our residents and the community," a spokesperson said.
Nee Soon Town Council's chairman Derrick Goh said the town has adopted a "modular" approach, where projects such as the Neighbourhood Renewal Programme are done in parts to reduce disruptions.
Projects that are "more impactful" have also been prioritised for funding, said Mr Goh, who is also an MP for Nee Soon GRC.
CNA has also contacted MPs from the Workers’ Party on whether the pandemic has affected projects in their wards.