Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Hougang getting 3 upgrading schemes

Improvements to homes, lifts, estate for WP ward
By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 27 Nov 2012

SIX months after the Hougang by-election, the opposition constituency is being upgraded at a pace that has raised some eyebrows.

The Workers' Party (WP) stronghold, which has rarely benefited from national upgrading schemes in the past 20 years, is getting three of the programmes.

The Lift Upgrading Programme (LUP) is under way, while the Home Improvement Programme (HIP) and Neighbourhood Renewal Programme (NRP) were announced in August.

Earlier this month, Hougang residents also got to use the new bus service 116, launched as part of the $1.1 billion Bus Service Enhancement Programme.

Some residents, like Mr Zephan Seow, 23, wonder if the changes signal a shift in stance by the People's Action Party (PAP). Past leaders had warned that opposition wards would be placed at the end of the queue for upgrading.

Said Mr Seow, an undergraduate: "Perhaps it is a long-term strategy by the PAP to win voters back."

The HIP, NRP and new bus service were announced after the May 26 by-election.

Asked if there had been a shift in PAP strategy, both the WP MP Png Eng Huat and the PAP's Mr Desmond Choo gave similar replies: Residents' needs come first.

"Change is an internal thing and the PAP would know best if it had changed," said Mr Png, who noted that the LUP has to be completed nationwide by 2014.

As for HIP and NRP, which will spruce up ageing homes and estates, he said it is evident that Hougang is due for upgrading.

Mr Choo, the ward's grassroots adviser, said he could not comment on his party leaders' thinking, but "for us ground workers in Hougang, my alignment is with Hougang residents".

He added: "If residents need it and it's beneficial to them...We must try our best to lobby Government to get it for them."

The peaceful relations between Mr Png and Mr Choo may be another reason. They met a couple of months ago and agreed to work for the residents' common good.

Mr Choo backed the WP town council's HIP and NRP nominations, as these programmes can proceed only with the grassroots adviser's support.

When Mr Choo pushed for a new senior activity centre, Mr Png gave his blessing to the voluntary welfare organisation which will run the centre.

However, the truce may be tested next year as Mr Png intends to ask for Community Improvement Projects Committee funds for small improvements not covered under NRP.

Grassroots advisers have to apply for these funds from the National Development Ministry. Asked if he would support it, Mr Choo said: "As long as it's within my control and something that residents will need, then yes, I will expect myself to support that."

Residents welcomed the changes, but doubted whether they would have much political traction now. Food stall assistant Lim Kim Hoi, 56, said older residents were unlikely to be swayed from their long-time support of the WP. "But who knows what the younger generation will think after their property is upgraded?"

In the meantime, Mr Png and Mr Choo are making improvements of their own.

Mr Choo said the National Development Ministry is evaluating his proposal for a wet market.

Mr Png, who is vice-chairman of Aljunied-Hougang Town Council, has fulfilled his campaign promises to start improvement works for the elderly and hold community activities like street soccer for the young.

"My main goal is: I have to manage this estate and I will manage it well," he said.

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