Wednesday 16 November 2011

Rochor Centre: More than 500 homes to make way for North-South highway

North-South Expressway to cut travel time by 30%
By Christopher Tan, The Straits Times, 16 Nov 2011

A 5.6KM-LONG three-lane dual carriageway running beneath some of the busiest parts of the city will form the southern stretch of the North-South Expressway.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) announced yesterday that the fully underground stretch will go through areas such as Novena, Kampong Java, Rochor and Ophir Road before joining the East Coast Parkway near Suntec City.

It will be completed some time in 2020 and will cut peak-hour travelling time by up to 30 per cent.

Like the northern segment announced in January, there will be land acquisitions, the LTA said at a briefing held jointly with the Singapore Land Authority and Housing Board.

All in, 24,700 sq m of private land will be acquired along the 5.6km stretch, on top of 55,800 sq m acquired for the 16km northern stretch.

They comprise two full lots - Rochor Centre and a clan building - and 21 partial lots.

The acquisition of Rochor Centre in Rochor Road is the biggest of its kind here to date, and involves 567 Housing Board flats in four blocks, 187 shops and eating houses and three communal facilities.

Over at Kampong Java, the 40-year-old Nanyang Pho Leng Building will also be acquired. It houses a clan association for descendants of immigrants from Pho Leng county in China's Guangdong Province.

The 21 private properties that will have bits of their land acquired include SLF Building, St Joseph's Institution International and the Singapore Polo Club.

Two properties on state land will also be affected - the Lee Ah Mooi Old Age Home in Thomson, which dates back to the 1960s, and the Victoria Street Wholesale Centre, a favourite haunt for people wanting to stock up on festive goodies.

Major construction will start from 2015

Tenants will have to move out when their leases expire by 2013.

Properties on 16 other pieces of state land will also be affected in some way, including five rented landed properties in Halifax Road and two blocks of walk-up apartments in Toa Payoh Rise. These buildings are currently state properties let out for residential use and the lease will be allowed to run out.

Transport researcher Lee Der Horng of the National University of Singapore said highway construction abroad which cut through communities can cause 'a lot of hassle' for governments. This is especially so in bigger countries, where there are often alternative routes.

'In Singapore, our situation is different,' he said. 'Land is limited. So planners face a dilemma here.'

Rochor Centre residents will be paid prevailing market rates for their flats. They will also have the option to move to new HDB flats to be built in Kallang, next to the river and near the Kallang MRT station.

These displaced owners get to buy the new flats - which will be up in mid-2016 - at subsidised prices frozen at today's rates, said the HDB. On top of that, they get a 20 per cent discount.

Displaced Rochor Centre shop tenants will also be compensated, as long as they are Singaporeans who secured the premises before March 4, 1999, or took over from another tenant before June 1, 1999.

If they are small and medium-sized enterprises continuing their businesses in a new location, they will get an extra $30,000 in relocation help. They will also get a 10 per cent discount on HDB rental shops.

Advance work for the expressway, which includes detailed engineering studies, will start from 2013. Major construction of the entire 21.5km stretch - which runs almost parallel to the Central Expressway - will start in phases from 2015.

It will serve the northern towns, which have far outgrown the capacity of the 20-year-old Central Expressway.

The new expressway, the 11th in Singapore, will have 16 entry ramps and 17 exit ramps, plus a number of slip roads. It is estimated to cost $7 billion to $8 billion, although LTA chief executive Chew Hock Yong said the eventual cost might be higher.

Unlike the Kallang-Paya Lebar Expressway which opened in two phases, Mr Chew said the new expressway will open in one go. Opening in stages, he said, could have adverse impact on traffic flow along the corridor.

The LTA said that when the highway is in operation, it will shave up to 30 per cent off peak-hour travelling time.

For instance, a 30- to 35-minute journey between Yishun and the city will be completed in 20 to 30 minutes. A similar trip to and from Bishan will take 10 to 15 minutes, down from 15 to 20 minutes today.

Dr Lee of the NUS commented, however, that there seem to be a lot of entrances and exits, which can prove to be 'challenging' to motorists.

He said too many entrances and exits could disrupt traffic flow. He added a better way would be to have fewer access and exit points, which means drivers have to travel a slightly longer way to and from the expressway, but will experience a far smoother drive once they are on it.

Mr Chew assured motorists that the highway will be designed in a way that ensures smooth flow.

Compensation for flat owners

ROCHOR Centre residents living in a three-room, 67 sq m Housing Board flat will be given between $423,400 and $485,300 for their apartment, according to a compensation leaflet issued by the HDB.

A three-room, 67 sq m new flat in the Kallang development being built for them is estimated to cost between $348,000 and $401,000, under subsidised selling prices.

Eligible residents will also get an additional 20 per cent discount of up to $30,000.

The Government yesterday also announced a slew of relocation benefits for eligible HDB flat owners. They include:

- Compensation for their existing flats based on prevailing market value

- Assured allocation of new flats in Kallang

- Purchase of new flats at subsidised prices frozen as at the date of the acquisition gazette, that is, yesterday

- Additional 20 per cent price discount on the new flats, of up to $15,000 for singles and $30,000 for joint singles and families

- Option to sell their existing flat with relocation benefits in the open market to eligible buyers, or to apply for a flat elsewhere with relocation benefits

- Exemption from paying the resale levy for existing subsidised flats

- Incumbent flat owners who are first-time Singapore citizen or permanent resident households are exempted from paying the $10,000 premium on top of the purchase price of the new flat

- Concessionary housing loan subject to credit assessment

- A comprehensive financial package

Compensation for shopowners

Relocation benefits for the 187 rental shops or eating houses at Rochor Centre:

- 10 per cent discount on successful bids for other HDB rental shops or when the owners take over other HDB rental shops through assignment

- $60,000 ex-gratia payment per tenancy for Singaporean tenants who took over the premises by tender before March 4, 1999 or by assignment before June 1, 1999

- $30,000 relocation assistance per tenancy for Singaporean small and medium-sized enterprises that move to alternative premises to continue business

Kallang flats for Rochor residents

THE Housing Board will build about 810 new flats at Kallang as replacement housing for HDB residents at Rochor Centre.

The new flats will be located next to Kallang River, and will be a five-minute walk from Kallang MRT station.

The new HDB development will have studio apartments, three-room, four-room and five-room flats.

Residents will be offered relocation benefits similar to those given under the Selective En Bloc Redevelopment Scheme (Sers).

An HDB spokesman said that according to compensation estimates, most Rochor Centre residents will be able to move to a brand-new flat that is at least of an equivalent size, or bigger.

Those who move to an equivalent-size flat should also enjoy some net proceeds as well, she said.

Registration for the new flats will take place in the third quarter of next year, and construction of three 30-storey HDB blocks will begin at the end of next year.

The flats are slated for completion in the middle of 2016, and Rochor Centre residents will be progressively moved to Kallang thereafter.

They will have access to amenities such as shops and eating houses nearby, as well as the Upper Boon Keng Market and Food Centre.

The road (almost) not taken
By Christopher Tan, The Straits Times, 16 Nov 2011

THE North-South Expressway (NSE) will be one of the most challenging - and possibly the most disruptive - infrastructural projects here.

The northern stretch - which is largely a surface road - stirred up controversy when it was announced in January. Many residents, in condo projects such as Nuovo and Castle Green, were concerned about the noise, dust and degradation in air quality during construction and when the highway is finally completed.

The southern stretch presents challenges of its own. Although less than 6km long and making up merely a quarter of the entire NSE, the fully underground portion of the three-lane dual-carriageway entails massive excavations through one of the most built-up districts.

It has also triggered a number of land acquisitions, including Rochor Centre. The latter consists of 567 Housing Board flats, 187 shops and eating houses, and three communal facilities - making it the single biggest property acquisition here.

Asked why the road could not avoid Rochor Centre altogether, for instance by veering to the east, Land Transport Authority (LTA) group director of engineering Paul Fok said an expressway needed to be as straight as possible to accommodate the higher speeds.

The authority later elaborated that it had considered 'all possible alignments', but was unable to avoid the acquisition of Rochor Centre due to site constraints along the Bukit Timah Road-Sungei Road-Rochor Road-Ophir Road corridor which is highly built-up.

'Besides the many buildings in close proximity to the roads, there are five underground MRT stations... There is also the Rochor Canal to consider,' it said.

In short, Rochor Centre has to go.

The complexity of the expressway - Singapore's 11th - may explain why engineering studies alone will take nearly three years to complete.

That's not all. The NSE has been on the drawing board for more than a decade. Several feasibility studies have been done on it, with some dating back to the early noughties.

Retired LTA traffic planner Joseph Yee recalls there were six to eight alternative alignments.

One notable alternative was actually adding an upper deck to the Central Expressway (CTE), which was eventually deemed too complex and not feasible.

Another was to link up and expand existing roads such as Lornie and Farrer roads to form an expressway.

The LTA also considered running the southern stretch through Orchard Road, or slightly to the west, through areas such as Telok Blangah.

Yet another had a portion going under the nature reserve.

The final alignment is one that starts from Yishun in the north, forming almost a straight line drop towards the city, and running parallel to the CTE most of the way.

'It's probably the cheapest and most efficient alternative,' said Mr Yee.

Nearly half of the 21.5km NSE - or 10.2km - will be underground, with the 5.6km southern stretch announced yesterday being fully subterranean.

It will have five ventilation buildings. They are at Ang Mo Kio Town Garden West (opposite the library); Kampong Java Park; near the junction of Marymount Road and Braddell Road (at the corner of Raffles Junior College); Thomson Flyover; and near the Nicoll Highway (before the NSE joins the East Coast Parkway).

These buildings, which suck out vehicle exhaust gases from the tunnels, as well as blow in fresh air, are usually sited as far away from residential and activity centres as possible.

Construction works on the NSE will begin in earnest in 2015, and will last at least five years. The LTA will adopt the cut-and-cover method of excavation. It explained that the expressway was too big for it to use the boring method, which is less disruptive and often safer.

Seeing how the southern stretch passes through a densely developed part of Singapore, it is not hard to imagine the construction period will be nightmarish for those living and working near the alignment.

The Novena portion, for instance, is flanked by developments that are already hugging Thomson Road. It is a site of perennially heavy congestion, which wor-sens when the Novena Church holds services.

Building diversions in such an area will be challenging because there is practically no room to do so. Contractors might have to erect a temporary viaduct - as they did in Cross Street to facilitate the construction of Downtown MRT Line Stage 1. It is something the LTA does not rule out.

In the meantime, it is best for motorists who can avoid the construction sites to do so. Only thing is, with the ongoing Mass Rapid Transit works, and more to come in the next few years, finding detours will be tougher and tougher.

Rochor Centre residents getting a good deal: Analysts
They'll be paid market rate and allocated units in new Kallang project
By Jessica Cheam, The Straits Times, 22 Nov 2011

RESIDENTS of Rochor Centre may still be coming to terms with the news that their homes will be acquired, but analysts say they are getting a good deal from their compensation package.

The Housing Board (HDB) will acquire their flats based on market rates, and has assured them that they will be allocated replacement flats at subsidised prices in a new project in Kallang.

If they accept the offer, they will be trading their 34-year-old flats for new units with fresh leases of 99 years.

They could also reap capital gains when they are able to sell the Kallang flats after the minimum occupancy period of five years.

Those who decide to sell their Rochor flats now are also likely to gain. Agents say prices are set to increase as buyers - who will also enjoy the relocation benefits - come knocking on their door with offers.

Last Tuesday, the Government announced details of the southern stretch of the North-South Expressway (NSE), which is scheduled to be completed in 2020.

Rochor Centre will be acquired as part of construction works. This will affect flat-owners from 567 HDB flats in four blocks, as well as 187 shops and eating houses.

According to figures given by the HDB, the compensation for three- and four-room units at Rochor will range from $423,400 to $645,000.

An independent valuer from the private sector will consider relevant attributes such as flat size and the condition of renovations, it said.

The Kallang flats are due to be completed by 2016.

In the HDB's examples (see table), a three-room flat owner at Rochor who buys a similar replacement unit at the Kallang project would get a net payout of around $100,000, or up to around $300,000 if the owner chooses a smaller studio apartment. Owners who choose to upgrade their flats will have to pay between $19,000 and $200,000 for a four- or five-room flat.

Rochor flat owners can also choose to apply for other build-to-order (BTO) projects, and will enjoy the same discounts although they will not be guaranteed a flat, said HDB.

PropNex chief executive Mohamed Ismail said that if the Kallang project were being offered as part of an HDB BTO exercise, 'the demand for it would be very strong'.

'If buyers today purchased the Rochor flats, they are guaranteed a new flat in a central location,' he said, adding that the Rochor flats would become harder to sell as the lease on them decreases.

'Owners can upgrade to new flats with a fresh lease of 99 years, so financially they are better off,' he said.

If owners choose to sell their flat in the next few months, property agents said there would be takers.

The Rochor flats would now probably command a cash-over-valuation (COV) of $50,000 to $70,000 or more on the resale market. The COV is the amount a buyer pays over and above the valuation of an HDB resale flat.

This is almost twice the median COV for flats in the Central area - where Rochor Centre is located - which ranged from $33,000 to $36,500 in the second quarter of this year.

ERA Realty property agent Jason Ng, who listed a three-room flat at Rochor Centre just two weeks ago before the NSE announcement was made, said its Indian owner - who is currently overseas - has already asked for a revaluation of the 87 sq m flat and upped his expectations of the selling price. It was valued at $475,000 and the owner was originally asking for $550,000 - but 'negotiable'.

Mr Ismail said home values and COV amounts will likely be boosted by resale flat buyers who do not mind paying a premium for the relocation benefits.

He estimates that, based on previous relocation projects, perhaps 10 per cent of owners will sell their units along with the relocation benefits and take the cash - either to buy at another location, or because they already own a private property and do not want to have to stay in the new flat for a minimum of five years.

The HDB said yesterday that owners can begin selling or transferring their flats from Dec15 until Oct 31 next year.

Ms Joanna Lim, 65, a three-room flat-owner at Rochor Centre, said she was sad to leave but happy that she can upgrade her home of more than 30 years.

She bought her 67 sq m flat in the 1970s for $19,500 and has fully paid off the loan. With help from her three children, she intends to fork out $200,000 for a five-room flat in Kallang 'so that I have plenty of rooms for my grandchildren to live with me'.

But for others, such as Ms Yang Chan Nan, 66, a retiree, the replacement flat does not quite cut it. 'We'll be living right next to Geylang,' she said.

Rochor residents 'will get fair compensation'
HDB says valuers will ensure market valuation for units; residents can bid for flats in launches
By Jessica Cheam, The Straits Times, 30 Nov 2011

ROCHOR Centre residents can apply for flats in all of the Housing Board's new launches until the end of next year.

If they are not successful, they will still be guaranteed a replacement unit at a new project in Kallang.

The HDB clarified this yesterday in response to queries from The Straits Times, adding that valuers from GSK Global have been appointed to ensure residents - who have to move house to make way for an expressway - get fair compensation.

Earlier this month, the Government announced details of the southern stretch of the North-South Expressway, scheduled to be completed in 2020.

Acquisition of the 34-year-old Rochor Centre for construction works will affect 567 HDB flats in four blocks as well as 187 shops and eating houses.

As part of an acquisition package, residents are assured of a new flat near Kallang MRT station, due to be completed by 2016, on top of additional discounts for eligible households.

Some residents have, however, said that the Kallang flats are not an equivalent substitute for their centrally located units. One Forum letter writer, Ms Lim Xin Hui, 23, said residents are not pleased that Kallang is near the red-light district of Geylang.

'If the residents are going to lose a place they have called home for decades, is it not only appropriate for HDB to, at the very least, offer them more BTO options, rather than restrict them to a take-it-or-leave-it offer?' she wrote, referring to build-to-order projects.

HDB clarified yesterday that residents who prefer to apply elsewhere can do so. They are guaranteed a flat in Kallang should they be unsuccessful, until Dec 31 next year.

It added that compensation will be based on market valuations as of when the acquisition was announced - Nov 15. HDB also said that valuers from GSK Global will consider the past resale transactions as well as flat type, orientation, storey height and extent of renovation. The compensation figures - from $423,400 to $645,000 for three- and four-room units - are only estimates, it said.

Some residents have told The Straits Times that the compensation does not take into account the expected increase in the value of the Rochor flats when the Bugis MRT interchange opens.

'Residents also have to tolerate construction noise for the next few years and suffer the inconvenience of having to move,' said Ms Amy Kong, 34, a human resource executive.

She lives with her retired parents in a three-room flat bought for $265,000 in 2007. 'My parents had intended to retire here due to its proximity to the city centre and its amenities. How do you measure such accessibility?' she said.

Moulmein-Kallang GRC MP Denise Phua - the area's MP - had also weighed in recently, saying she would try to seek higher compensation for those affected.

Responding to residents' feedback that the Rochor flats could have a higher value in five years' time, the HDB said this 'assumes that the economy and property market continue to appreciate'. It pointed out that as market compensation and subsidised selling prices of the new Kallang flats are frozen, 'this insulates the flat owners at Rochor Centre against market fluctuations in receiving the compensation and in paying for the new flat'.

'Furthermore, in five years' time, the Rochor flats will also be close to 40 years old. Hence, taking a longer-term view, the new flats at Kallang which have a fresh 99-year lease may have the greater potential to appreciate more in value,' it said.

The HDB will inform flat owners of the compensation they will get in the third quarter of next year. Those who dispute the value can appeal to the Appeals Board (Land Acquisition).

* Rochor Centre demolition to begin on 26 June 2018, says LTA
By Charmaine Ng, The Straits Times, 21 Jun 2018

Rochor Centre will be demolished gradually beginning next Tuesday, in preparation for the upcoming North-South Corridor, said the Land Transport Authority (LTA).

The iconic public housing estate's four residential blocks will be demolished floor by floor using machinery, with works starting at the top floors, said LTA yesterday.

The demolition is expected to be completed by April next year, it added.

During the demolition works, pedestrians can use temporary sheltered walkways as alternative routes around the site. Signs have also been put up at public areas to redirect pedestrians.

Noise barriers and dust screens have been put up around the site, to minimise noise and dust affecting residents and businesses nearby, said LTA. A water spraying system will also be used to suppress airborne dust and particles during the demolition.

"The contractor is also required to monitor and comply with the permissible noise level stipulated under the prevailing regulations," added the authority.

The demolition will be carried out by contractor Aik Sun Demolition and Engineering, which was awarded the $1.81 million public tender for the works in September last year.

After the complete demolition of Rochor Centre and site preparatory works, construction works to build the North-South Corridor will follow, said LTA.

It added that it will release more information on the tender award for construction works "in due course".

The estate sits on a 13,749 sq m site that has been earmarked for the upcoming North-South Corridor, a new expressway that will connect towns in the northern region to the city centre.

The expressway is slated for completion in 2026.

Rochor Centre is made up of four Housing Board blocks, each painted mainly in red, blue, yellow or green, and was one of the few remaining landmarks from 1970s Bugis. The residential and retail complex, originally home to 183 shops and 567 households, was completed in 1977.

Most of Rochor Centre's residents have since moved to Kallang Trivista, a Housing Board development in Upper Boon Keng Road that was fully completed in June 2016.

**  Rochor Centre's iconic blocks disappear
After months of demolition works, the colourful blocks of Rochor Centre are no longer part of the city skyline
By Rachel Au-Yong, Housing Correspondent and Jamie Koh, The Straits Times, 8 Apr 2019

Floor by floor, the iconic rainbow-coloured Rochor Centre came tumbling down.

Over nine months since June 26 last year, excavators clawed at the four public housing blocks until there was nothing left: first with the blue and yellow ones, then the green and red.

It was one of the few remaining landmarks from the 1970s Bugis district, where sailors and transvestites frequented before the area was cleaned up in the 1980s.

Built in a podium-and-tower style, with the four blocks sharing a playground on the fourth floor, the estate was meant to facilitate the "kampung spirit" and community bonding.

The multiple colours that made the building a favourite among some newlyweds, however, were a relatively recent add-on - the blocks received the coat of paint in 1994.

The site, which sits on a 13,749 sq m plot at the junction of Ophir Road and Rochor Road near the Rochor River, was torn down to accommodate the upcoming North-South Corridor which will connect the island's north region to the city centre when completed in 2026.

The 21.5km corridor was originally conceived as an expressway, but was re-designed as Singapore's first integrated transport corridor, featuring dedicated bus lanes and cycling trunk routes.

In the Draft Master Plan 2019 released last month, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) said there will be more homes in the Central area, including Downtown, Marina South and Rochor.

In all, more than 20,000 homes will be injected. But where these will be and whether they will include public housing to replace the 567 flats that Rochor Centre once had are still under detailed study.

The masterplan, however, has the Rochor Centre site earmarked for residential, as well as commercial, use.

During the demolition, pedestrians had to use temporary sheltered walkways to get around.

Noise barriers and dust screens were also erected to minimise noise and dust affecting residents and businesses nearby, although many said the works, coupled with the loss of footfall, affected their quality of life and bottom line.

Most of Rochor Centre's residents have since moved to Kallang Trivista, a Housing Board development in Upper Boon Keng Road that was fully completed in June 2016.

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