Sunday 20 May 2012

Clutter in HDB spaces an unfriendly act: Khaw Boon Wan

Some town councils are stepping up enforcement in the wake of fires
By Daryl Chin, The Straits Times, 19 May 2012

NATIONAL Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan has described cluttering and obstruction of common spaces in Housing Board blocks as unfriendly acts and made a call for residents to be considerate neighbours.

Writing in his Housing Matters blog, he said the recent fires in HDB towns are 'sharp reminders why we should treat common spaces with respect'.

The fires in Marsiling, Toa Payoh and Tiong Bahru involved objects like mattresses and sofas left in the corridors.

Some residents had to be treated for smoke inhalation and breathlessness while others had to be housed elsewhere till repairs to their homes were done.

Mr Khaw said it is natural that Singaporeans, who are typically house-proud, will keep their homes 'clean and pretty'.

'What is less natural to some is to keep the common spaces outside our homes clean and pretty too, and be proud of these common spaces,' he noted.

According to guidelines from the Singapore Civil Defence Force, there must be a clear passage of escape at least 1.2m wide.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the cluttering and obstruction of common spaces is a bigger problem in older HDB estates.

In the wake of the fires, some town councils, which manage HDB estates, have stepped up enforcement efforts to remind residents to do the right thing, The Straits Times has learnt.

The general manager of the Sembawang-Nee Soon Town Council, Mr Soon Min Sin, said 200 warning notices were issued last week, compared with a typical average of 50 to 80 a week.

'Some residents treat the corridor space in front of, or surrounding, their flats as extensions to their personal space,' he added. He said while most residents understand the risks posed by clutter, 'there is still a significant number who would require much persuasion to comply'.

A spokesman for Jurong Town Council said it has also produced more educational materials to distribute to residents during house visits by staff or MPs.

Cleaners have been told to notify council staff of obstructions along the walkway.

Typically, town councils issue several verbal or written warnings first. Should a resident not heed the warnings, he might be fined $100 for the first infringement.

Town councils may also cart away stuff left in common spaces. If the owner does not retrieve them, the items would be disposed of within a two-month period.

Mr Khaw said in his blog that respect for one another's shared spaces like corridors can be improved by inculcating a stronger community spirit, including a target to 'love thy neighbour'.

'We had five decades building HDB homes. Now, we want to build community among the residents. The task of building community is harder but much more important,' he added, noting he has also heard more residents complaining about noisy neighbours.

To that end, the HDB is launching its inaugural Community Week next week which is targeted at getting young people involved in their communities.

This latest initiative is part of its strategy to create community-centric towns. Other moves include the Good Neighbour Award, Heartland Ambassador Programme and welcome parties thrown for special occasions or when new residents join the community.

Tampines resident Shirley Chan, 68, said her neighbours used to leave trash outside their apartment, which created a stink.

They stopped after she went over to introduce herself.

'I'm sure it doesn't always work out this way, but getting to know someone can sometimes make (it) easier for things to get done,' said the housewife.


Large cardboard boxes which are stacked up

Bicycles that take up half the passageway

Cabinets or large shelves

Bulky, non-foldable clothes racks

Any item at the staircase and its landing


Small shoe racks

Foldable clothes racks that can be removed quickly in emergencies

Small flower pots

Shelves that allow at least a 1.2m-wide walking space along the corridor

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