Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Straits Times: Only 200 HDB blocks not eligible for lift upgrading

20 Oct, 2009
Only 200 HDB blocks not eligible for lift upgrading
By Nur Dianah Suhaimi

ONLY 200 out of around 5,300 HDB blocks built before 1990 will not be getting lifts that stop at every floor.

They do not qualify for the Lift Upgrading Programme (LUP) because it would cost more than $30,000 per unit to install lifts in these blocks.

This is in spite of innovative and cost-effective solutions by the Housing and Development Board to bring costs down, Parliament heard yesterday.

Senior Minister of State for National Development Grace Fu said these solutions include installing shaftless lifts, smaller lifts for low-rise blocks and reconfigured lift access for blocks with lift landings halfway between floors.

She was responding to a question by Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), who asked for the number of HDB blocks that do not qualify for lift upgrading because of cost issues.

When the lift upgrading programme was introduced eight years ago, almost 1,000 blocks - or around one in five - failed to qualify because it would have been too expensive.

For some blocks, it would have cost more than $120,000 per unit to have a lift installed, way above the $30,000 budget.

'This cost may be as high as 40 per cent of the value of a typical three- or four-room HDB flat. It does not make sense to implement the LUP in such blocks,' Ms Fu said.

To qualify for lift upgrading, the HDB block must have been built before 1990, and at least 75 per cent of the residents must vote in favour of the programme. The cost of the upgrading should not exceed $30,000 per benefiting unit. Ground floor flats are not considered to benefit.

The Government pays between 75 per cent and 90 per cent of the upgrading bill, depending on the flat type.

The remaining 10 per cent to 25 per cent is shared between the town council and the residents.

Mr de Souza also asked if the Ministry of National Development will consider prioritising the upgrading of blocks which have a higher proportion of elderly residents.

Responding, Ms Fu said this can be one of the considerations by the grassroots advisers when nominating their precincts for lift upgrading.

'HDB will take this into consideration when selecting blocks for LUP,' she said.

In PAP wards, the advisers are the Members of Parliament, while in opposition-held wards, they are the PAP-appointed representatives.

When asked if the $30,000 lift upgrading budget remains relevant today, she said the sum acts as a general cost guideline.

'We have, in some of the marginal cases, exercised some flexibility, especially when the cost of construction went up significantly when we had problems with sand supply,' she said.

However, when construction costs came down in the past few months, the ministry was able to offer lift upgrading to more blocks with the same budget.

Ms Fu said: 'We indeed believe that the budget has helped us to allocate precious resources to benefit more HDB residents.'

The LUP is a $5.5 billion scheme aimed at providing lift landings on every floor of older HDB blocks, which usually have one lift landing for every three or four floors.

Upgrading has been completed on some 80 per cent of the eligible blocks. Work on the remaining 1,000 blocks is due to be completed by 2014.

In July this year, the Government announced that 65 precincts, including those in the two opposition wards, would be selected for lift upgrading in this financial year.

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Martin Koh/ Sherry Tang
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