Saturday 29 October 2011

No go for getai at some HDB carparks

Harder to get permits, due to space crunch
By Shuli Sudderuddin, The Straits Times, 29 Oct 2011

THE space crunch at HDB carparks is making community events there a thing of the past.

A Straits Times check with the organisers of such events showed that HDB carparks are no longer the venue of choice because obtaining the permit to use such places is getting too difficult.

The Housing Board said its carparks are provided primarily for the parking of residents' cars, so it will consider allowing the space for other uses only if residents' needs are met first.

Community events and the getai variety shows held during the seventh month of the lunar calendar have thus been shunted to alternative venues, such as open fields.

The crunch has come about because the number of HDB parking spaces grew only 3.2 per cent - from 539,800 to 557,000 - between 2005 and June this year.

The number of HDB households owning a car, however, leapt 26.3 per cent to 310,400 over the same period; the number of households with more than one car shot up 76.5 per cent to 45,900.

Meanwhile, taxi driver Tan Eng Hwee may have organised his last seventh-month event at the carpark near Block 717, Yishun Ring Road this year.

That carpark has 678 parking spaces, and nearly all those for season parking have been taken.

Mr Tan, who heads his area's seventh-month committee, said: 'It's sad because I've been organising it for the last five or six years and it's been always been held at the carpark.'

He has since appealed to the HDB to be allowed to use the carpark once more next year and is waiting to hear from it; he has also sought the help of his Member of Parliament Lee Bee Wah.

But things do not look promising.

An HDB spokesman said: 'With the growing parking demand in recent years, residents say they've had difficulty finding parking spaces during the celebrations. In response to their feedback, we've decided to cease allowing other uses of this carpark.'

Event organiser Maureen Sng, 58, has already been barred from using the carpark at Tampines Street 81 for the last three years or so.

The upshot of the change for her is that the birthday of underworld deities Tua Di Ya Pek has become twice as costly to organise.

She said: 'We moved the celebration to an open field two or three blocks away. We can put up a bigger tent in the field, but we need to put planks on the ground, so the event now costs $30,000.'

Mr Goh Lay Seng, who chairs the Wu Long Gong Taoist group, said: 'We know HDB probably won't approve our applications so we don't even take the chance now.'

Some are getting frustrated with the lack of alternative spaces. Getai and event organiser Peter Loh, director of Whirltones Entertainment Enterprise, said he has held only a handful of events at carparks in the last two years, down from 50 a year.

'I can understand people need space to park, but this also means that lots of groups have nowhere to go,' he said.

Whenever such events get the go-ahead to be held at carparks, however, it is clear the residents are inconvenienced.

A Nee Soon South resident of Block 242, who wanted to be known only as Ms Sharmin, said that to be assured of a parking space, she has to return from work an hour earlier during such carpark events.

MP Lee, walking a tightrope to balance the interests of both groups, said: 'The residents do have problems parking - some park illegally if they can't find a space, but I also think the organisers should be given more time to find an alternative venue.'

Fellow MP Indranee Rajah, who faces the issue with a Bukit Merah View carpark under her jurisdiction, said of the carpark: 'Everyone wants to use it because it's convenient, but they're usually reasonable and understand that the space is also needed for parking or other types of events.'

Some residents are wistful about the passing of an era of attending carpark events at the foot of their blocks.

Yishun Ring Road resident Tan Kim Chee, 77, said: 'I've been attending the celebrations here for so many years. It's quite nostalgic.'

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