Saturday 11 February 2012

Facilities for elderly not welcome here either - Toh Yi estate

Some Toh Yi residents object, following Woodlands case last week
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 9 Feb 2012

ANOTHER group of Housing Board residents are objecting to plans to build elder-friendly facilities in their estate, following a similar case in Woodlands last week.

Residents of Toh Yi estate in Bukit Timah said HDB's plans to build studio apartments for the elderly will 'rob' them of their common space and the estate's main recreational facility.

A handful of the residents also likened the apartments to 'death houses' for the elderly to wait out their last days.

The apartments will probably be housed in one block. It will be sited on a plot of land at the junction of Toh Yi Road and Toh Yi Drive.

This site is currently occupied by a basketball court, jogging track and a small garden.

Yesterday, the residents submitted a petition with some 230 signatures to their MP, Ms Sim Ann.

Residents who signed the petition include those from the 19 HDB blocks in the area, as well as those living in the private landed estate opposite, and a nearby condominium.

Last night, HDB officials held a closed-door meeting with more than 100 residents to address their concerns.

But some left halfway through the meeting, which lasted more than two hours, upset that HDB officials could not give them a satisfactory reply.

This episode comes just days after a group of residents in Woodlands protested against plans to build an elder day-care centre at the void decks of their HDB blocks.

They cited reasons such as the loss of communal space and how such a centre may mean more deaths in the estate.

HDB first announced plans to build 130 studio apartments in Toh Yi last month, as part of its build-to-order launch next month.

The apartments will be fitted with features such as grab bars and anti-slip tiles. Only those aged 55 and older can apply for them.

But some Toh Yi residents said such units would be built at their expense as the basketball court, track and garden would have to go.

Businessman Ricky Goh Chok Chai, 58, who initiated the petition, said: 'It's the only sizeable leisure amenity we have. Both young and old gather here and they use it every day.'

Some argued that the chosen site, which sits on top of a slope, would be inconvenient for elderly residents, who would have to walk down the slope to coffee shops and the market.

Others, like quality engineer Heng Seoh Gek, 50, said they were upset that they were not consulted.

A handful admitted that they were uncomfortable with the idea of apartments meant for the old.

Said retiree Loh Tiam Chye, 66: 'Those old people are living there alone. It's almost as if they are sent there to just wait to die. I wouldn't want to live in such an atmosphere.'

HDB said the site was zoned for residential use in the 2008 Master Plan, and was leased to the area's Citizens' Consultative Committee for 'interim recreational use'.

An HDB spokesman added that the plot of land is the only vacant site available in the estate for building studio apartments.

An HDB official said the block will have a playground and exercise corner on its second floor, and this will be open to all residents in the estate.

Ms Sim, an MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, said she is working with HDB to ensure that the residents' feedback is 'duly addressed'.

She told The Straits Times: 'From a broader perspective, it makes sense to introduce studio apartments in this area. We do have ageing residents.'

But she also noted that because the estate is densely built-up, 'every existing amenity is precious to our residents'.

The town council spent $120,000 to build the jogging track and garden last year, not knowing the land would be redeveloped so soon, she said.

She added: 'I fully understand why some residents may be reluctant to see these go - in fact, having invested effort and resources in the site, we in the grassroots feel exactly the same way.'

'Not in my backyard' attitude: How MPs handle it
By Cheryl Ong & Shuli Sudderuddin, The Straits Times, 9 Feb 2012

CHILDCARE centres are a boon to working parents but they should preferably be in the next street to prevent traffic congestion.

Having an MRT station nearby is great, but the station openings should be facing away from one's block so it will not be so noisy.

Elderly care centres should be sited far, far away so they will not depress residents with constant reminders of sickness and death.

Such excuses are so commonplace from residents that MPs say they know better than to introduce such amenities in their ward without warning and winning over the ground first.

A dozen MPs told The Straits Times the 'not-in-my-backyard', or Nimby syndrome, pervades Singapore and they are learning to balance persuading and prodding their residents to accept new facilities they may not all welcome.

Some hold dialogues in advance with residents. Others agree to modify plans.

East Coast GRC MP Lee Yi Shyan, for example, after finding residents at a block in Bedok objected to a childcare centre in their void deck, moved it to another corner of the same block.

MPs and grassroots leaders say the Nimby syndrome comes alongside another changing reality of life here: a more outspoken electorate.

A recent residents' petition protesting against the building of an elder day-care centre in Woodlands is an example of how residents try to force their hand on the issue.

Mr Yeo Guat Kwang, an MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC said he sensed the change among residents two years or so ago. Before that, many seemed more understanding. But they have become more vocal. Early last year, for example, he recalled how residents protested over plans to build a childcare centre in a void deck at Hougang Avenue 9. They feared that there would be no room for funeral wakes and that there would be traffic jams.

'We had to speak with them extensively to try and explain that the centre was necessary to meet demands and that there were measures in place to mitigate problems they had perceived,' he said.

At the same time, he hastened the project's completion to show residents their fears were unwarranted.

Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Zaqy Mohamad said his strategy is to stand firm on national schemes, such as the Lift Upgrading Programme but to accommodate residents if their requests are feasible.

He felt residents have become more vocal since last May's General Election when the ruling People's Action Party suffered a drop in vote share to 60 per cent.

'Some may think that the Government will try to appease residents who didn't vote for them. But it will be dangerous if the Government gives in to populist demands as it would make us seem inconsistent in our principles,' he said. 'To give in to a vocal minority will not be fair to the community.'

Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Liang Eng Hwa said he had to deal with upset residents when they objected to a childcare centre being built in Senja Road in 2010 because residents did not want to lose their void deck space. He sent out notices, met residents and did house visits. Most were appeased after he had more lighting and alternative paths installed in the affected block.

Political analyst Derek da Cunha noted that residents became more vocal about their estates well before last year's election.

For example, in 2009, Serangoon Gardens residents objected vociferously to plans to build a foreign workers' dormitory there.

'It's the pragmatic instinct of Singaporeans protecting their own material interest,' he said.

MPs are resigned to having to spend more energy to get buy-in for new amenities that require the community to make trade-offs.

Marine Parade GRC MP Seah Kian Peng said it will be time-consuming if residents 'dig their heels in and refuse to compromise'.

Mayor of North East District Teo Ser Luck said MPs spending more time in dialogue will give dissenters more time to come on board. 'Delay the project a little, continue talking with them. It takes a lot of time and effort, but what you really want is acceptance,' said the Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP.

Some, though, wish that more residents could be accepting that trade-offs are necessary if a community is to live in harmony. Said East Coast MP Mr Lee: 'I wish we could be more gracious. I find it quite disturbing that people take such a narrow view with the 'not in my backyard' syndrome.'

When residents want to have cake and eat it too

THE current disquiet among residents regarding the inclusion of facilities for the elderly in Woodlands ('Unease over elder-care centre in void decks'; last Friday) and Toh Yi ('Facilities for elderly not welcome here either'; yesterday) clearly shows that we want the Government to provide all that we ask, according to our specific wish lists.

The attitude is that the Government can carry on with community projects as long as they do not affect us personally.

Genuine social care and concern for improving the lives of fellow citizens are sorely missing.

Not only is the wealth gap widening between the rich few and the rest in Singapore, but there also appears to be much deterioration in the level of tolerance, patience and fellow feeling.

Self-centredness seems to be the underlying attitude towards government projects.

If it profits a person, accept it - if not, watch us scream 'no'.

In Wednesday's face-off over the Toh Yi complaint, it was reported that some residents were angry over the lack of a satisfactory explanation from the Housing Board.

One wonders whether these residents would be satisfied only with the answer they wanted, nothing less.

I hope we can have an open mind when it comes to petitioning the Government for something.

We should back our demand with valid reasons for considering it in the public's interest and well-being, rather than think only about our own concerns - the value of our property, the pros and cons of a facility being situated on our doorstep and so on.

It is really much harder these days for politicians to get things done, what with so many demands from the people. I sympathise with their plight.

Should they go around trying to please people here and there or should we give them a free hand to do what is best for all?

We are quite well looked after by our Government, and I am grateful indeed.

Maybe we should all take a deeper look at ourselves and learn how to be more humane.

Dennis Lee
ST Forum, 10 Feb 2012

* Toh Yi welcomes new senior residents
Tensions ease after concerns about having studio flats for the elderly in the estate are addressed
By Adrian Lim, The Sunday Times, 11 Sep 2016

More than 200 Toh Yi residents signed a petition four years ago to protest against the construction of a block of studio apartments for the elderly in their estate.

But tensions over Block 21, Golden Kismis look to have eased. The project was finished a year ago, and 116 households have moved into the 132-unit block.

A community event was organised yesterday to welcome new senior residents of the nearly 30-year-old estate in Bukit Timah.

Ms Sim Ann, an MP for Holland- Bukit Timah GRC who oversees Toh Yi, told The Sunday Times: "Through repeated house visits to garner views and explaining to residents what the studio apartment project is about, the heated sentiments have calmed down."

When plans for Golden Kismis were announced in January 2012, residents submitted a petition with some 230 signatures a month later to Ms Sim, opposing the development sited at the junction of Toh Yi Drive and Toh Yi Road.

There are more than 1,700 households in the Toh Yi Garden estate.

Their main concern? The location of the block of flats, which is on a slope and would be a steep climb for the elderly. Some also grumbled about the loss of the estate's main recreational site comprising a basketball court, jogging track and community garden.

Ms Sim, who is also Senior Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth, and Trade and Industry, said the concerns have been addressed.

Along the footpath from the main road at Jalan Jurong Kechil to Golden Kismis, three sheltered resting points have been built by the Housing Board, she said.

As part of the estate's Neighbourhood Renewal Programme implemented by the Holland-Bukit Panjang Town Council, covered linkways and barrier-free access to nearby facilities were added.

The HDB was asked to provide 50 more carpark spaces to the 16 originally planned for the block. A basketball half-court was also built at the community centre nearby, said Ms Sim.She worked with the Ministry of National Development to give Toh Yi residents priority in applying for the two-room flats.

"Residents know that the studio apartments and the amenities are for all Toh Yi residents ," she said.

According to the HDB, about one in 10 Golden Kismis occupants are former Toh Yi residents.

Asked about the saga, housewife Ng Cheng Hoon, 49, who lives in a nearby block, said she had no issue with the project.

"Everybody grows old sooner or later. One day, we will also be looking for a smaller flat."

But some residents remain unconvinced. Mr Davy Nah, 45, a regional sales manager who signed the petition in 2012, said: "I still don't think it's the right location. Can you imagine an elderly person carrying groceries, toiling to climb up the slope? The rest stops are just a stopgap."

He said residents who opposed the project had been misrepresented as "selfish" and representative of the "not in my backyard" syndrome, when their aim was to persuade the Government to give the elderly better housing choices.

"It's a thorn in my heart till today," he said.

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