Wednesday 21 September 2016

$450 million set aside to boost safety of HDB lifts; Town councils must set aside 14% of conservancy fees for lift replacement from 1 April 2017

Under new scheme, town councils get 90% funding to install recommended features
By Yeo Sam Jo, The Straits Times, 20 Sep 2016

The Government will set aside $450 million to modernise public housing lifts, and ensure that costs are not a barrier to maintaining high safety standards.

Under the new Lift Enhancement Programme (LEP) announced yesterday, town councils will get 90 per cent funding to install safety features recently recommended by the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) after a series of lift incidents.

About 20,000 lifts are eligible and while no start date has been fixed yet, town councils will have 10 years to take advantage of the scheme.

Explaining the reason for the LEP , National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said yesterday that implementing the extra safety features will pose a considerable financial challenge to town councils if they were to do it alone. "But given the importance of lifts in our daily lives and in our high-rise HDB living environment, the Government is prepared to commit to this additional spending and maintain high safety standards," he said.

Last week, the BCA drew up a list of eight safety-improving features that, while not mandatory, were recommended for all lifts here. These include devices to prevent unintended lift movements and multiple-beam sensors for doors.

The recommendations are part of the BCA's ongoing review into lift safety here. This comes after several accidents that have taken place since last October. In the most serious incident in May, an elderly man died after he fell as his mobility device reversed out of a lift that was not level with the ground.

The Housing Board, which will administer the co-funding scheme, said that of the recommended features, all its lifts already have one - the automatic rescue device. It brings the lift to the nearest landing and allows doors to open during a power failure. But HDB acknowledged some of its older lifts may not be equipped with the more modern features "due to technological advancements".

The LEP is not mandatory but HDB urged town councils to upgrade, "to bring the older lifts to the same standard as newer lifts".

The programme applies to lifts not yet equipped with some or all of the eight features. They must also have been in operation for 18 years or less. "For older lifts, it will make more sense for the town councils to replace them with new lifts which will come with these enhanced features," said Mr Wong.

Town councils already have a lift-replacement regime, in which lifts are generally changed after 28 years. About 24,000 of the 61,000 passenger lifts here are in HDB blocks. More details of the LEP will be shared with the town councils in the coming months.

Bukit Panjang MP Teo Ho Pin, the coordinating chairman for the People's Action Party town councils, said the LEP will reduce the financial burden faced by town councils and help them comply with the BCA's new lift-maintenance requirements.

Town councils must submit projections for sinking funds
By Yeo Sam Jo, The Straits Times, 20 Sep 2016

Town councils will have to submit 10- to 30-year projections of their sinking funds, to ensure that they are setting aside enough for their lift-replacement programmes and other long-term expenses.

Blogging about the new Lift Enhancement Programme yesterday, which will help town councils fund lift modernisation, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong stressed how town councils must also plan ahead for major expenses such as lift replacements while coping with the increasing costs of managing their estates.

He said the total sinking fund balance across all town councils is about $1 billion. The sinking fund, drawn from service and conservancy charges (S&CC) and government grants, is the part of the town council's finances set aside for long-term replacement works and major repairs.

"This may sound like a healthy amount, but it is still not sufficient to cover the cost of future lift replacements, which is estimated at almost $3 billion from now to 2035 for some 11,500 lifts across all HDB estates," said Mr Wong.

Other expenses such as cyclical repainting of Housing Board blocks and replacement of water pipes and tanks, which also come from the sinking fund, will also go up as estate infrastructure ages, he added.

"All town councils must take a long-term view and start planning now for asset and lift replacements in their estates. This is the basis of Singapore's success. We do not leave things to chance," Mr Wong said.

Dr Teo Ho Pin, coordinating chairman for the People's Action Party's town councils, said they will "cooperate fully with MND (Ministry of National Development) to... ensure that sufficient sums are set aside in the accounts".

When asked if S&CC rates would go up as a result, Dr Teo said they are "looking into" a revision, but did not provide more details. These monthly rates vary according to town council, flat type and whether one is eligible for rebates.

Mr Chong Kee Hiong, chairman of Bishan-Toa Payoh Town Council and deputy chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for National Development, said raising S&CC rates would be a "last resort".

Mr Alex Yam, who chairs the same GPC, said such charges are bound to go up over time as costs rise.

But the chairman of Marsiling-Yew Tee Town Council added: "We have got to really build up those reserves and moderate any cost increases (to residents) as much as possible."

PAP town councils set aside $45 million for safer lifts
Funds to be used to carry out task force's recommendations, such as lift enhancement scheme
By Yeo Sam Jo and Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 6 Dec 2016

To make lifts safer and more reliable, all People's Action Party (PAP) town councils will join hands and pump in a total of $45 million between them over the next five years.

This will go towards implementing recommendations unveiled by the PAP Town Councils Lift Taskforce yesterday, which the 15 town councils have accepted.

Set up in July and led by PAP town councils' coordinating chairman Teo Ho Pin, the task force made its recommendations upon the completion of a study to improve lift safety and reliability.

Housing Board lift issues have been in the spotlight in recent years after a spate of accidents and injuries.

One task-force recommendation is for all lifts to have a surveillance system with 24/7 monitoring.

Another is for all PAP town councils to undergo the HDB's Lift Enhancement Programme (LEP).

For this optional scheme, the Government has set aside about $450 million over 10 years to co-fund 90 per cent of lift modernisation works. Town councils pay the rest. "The PAP town councils will prioritise the LEP implementation over the next 10 years based on the age and performance of the lifts," the task force said.

The $45 million allocated by PAP town councils will go towards this LEP, as well as "additional resources for the lift support team under the care of PAP town councils", said the task force in response to queries. This is on top of usual lift expenditures. The task force could not provide a total estimate of current lift spending across PAP town councils.

Other recommendations concern servicing and maintenance.

Besides incorporating new lift maintenance outcomes, all PAP town councils should do additional checks and carry out preventive maintenance on key components.

Lift servicing should take an average of 100 minutes per lift, subject to the number of lift landings.

The task force also recommended that all PAP town councils jointly develop a system to monitor the performance of lifts and lift contractors. "This will allow town councils to benchmark the performance standards of their lifts and lift contractors," it said.

All PAP town councils should also conduct cost analysis on lift spending, provide information on lift contractor performance to HDB for tender evaluation, and develop a protocol for the use of lifts by renovation contractors.

WP town council to spend $17.5m to replace lifts
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 6 Dec 2016

The Workers' Party-run Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) expects to spend $17.5 million to replace selected lifts over the next five years, ahead of those lifts' usual 28-year lifespan.

The AHTC, which manages more than 1,700 lifts, also gave details of how it plans to implement the Housing Board's Lift Enhancement Programme (LEP), which helps town councils fund the installation of recommended lift features.

In a statement, AHTC chairman Pritam Singh noted that lift maintenance and part replacement costs have been rising.

The town council's lift department continues to review the scope of maintenance works needed for each age group of lifts, he added.

Under HDB guidelines, lifts are scheduled for major upgrading or replacement after 28 years.

The AHTC plans to "progressively schedule lifts nearing the 15-year mark of their lifespan" for the LEP, roughly corresponding to the halfway point of the recommended lifespan. But the AHTC also noted that some older lifts had critical parts which became obsolete earlier than the 28-year guideline, "contributing to frequent breakdowns".

It will thus replace selected lifts ahead of the 28-year guideline.

On Oct 6, it issued a tender for the installation of 20 new lifts in Aljunied GRC. Over the next four years, it will call similar tenders to replace selected lifts.

"Over a five-year period, the overall cost of this lift replacement exercise, funded chiefly through the town council's sinking fund, is estimated to cost, at current prices, approximately $17.5 million," said Mr Singh.

* HDB bans firm Sigma from new lift projects after breakdowns
Action taken against Sigma after its newer lifts broke down more often than usual
By Ng Jun Sen, The Straits Times, 14 Jan 2017

A company which has installed some 3,500 lifts in Housing Board estates has been banned from tendering for new HDB projects.

Lifts installed by Sigma Elevator have, over the past two years, been breaking down more often than usual in their early stages of operation, confirmed the HDB.

It was responding to queries after The Straits Times (ST) found that more than half the major reported cases of lift incidents in 2015 and last year involved Sigma as manufacturer or maintenance contractor.

Checks by ST also revealed a spate of lift faults in relatively new Build-To-Order projects - Compassvale Mast and MacPherson Residency - which had not been reported previously. Both involved Sigma lifts.

Yesterday, the HDB cited another reason for the ban, which has been in effect since October 2015: Sigma has been unable to meet the timeline of lift installation for certain projects.

"Going forward, HDB will not hesitate to exercise its contractual rights where required, which may also include imposition of liquidated damages and debarment from all public sector works," it said.

The statement yesterday comes in the wake of a troubling spate of lift breakdowns in Singapore's public housing estates.

In one case last year, a Sigma lift in Petir Road shot up and down between floors, injuring a 59-year- old resident.

While some faults have been attributed to ageing lifts, many Sigma lifts have been breaking down in their first year of operation.

HDB yesterday said that most of Sigma's breakdowns were due to "the alignment of lift doors or lift sensors, resulting in the doors of these lifts being more sensitive to knocks and rough use".

"This led to higher breakdowns during the initial period of usage, which typically sees heavy lift usage due to renovation and moving activities," it said.

Sigma's general manager Adreana Goh told The Straits Times that it has put up signage to raise awareness of proper lift usage and allocated additional resources and manpower "to realign door sensors and ensure that the door sills are cleaned and cleared of debris", adding that there has been an improvement in the performance.

HDB expects the works for all affected lifts to be completed by end-January.

There are about 24,000 lifts located in public housing estates, comprising about 20 different brands. Sigma lifts have been installed in HDB estates since 2007.

It has generally met performance requirements, though faults have been rather high over the past few years, said HDB.

Sigma is a subsidiary of Otis Elevator Company, an American company which also makes lifts for HDB under its own brand.

Last month, Sigma was fined by the Tampines Town Council for a safety breach. A Sigma worker had left the lift door open and unattended while cleaning a lift shaft at Block 886A, Tampines Street 83.

MP for MacPherson Tin Pei Ling, whose ward has experienced a number of Sigma lift breakdowns, said she was glad to hear the news. "I am relieved that HDB is taking action against lift contractors with poor performance. More importantly for affected existing lifts, the problem must be solved so as to ensure safety of all users."

Lift contractors are selected through open tenders based on their past performance in supplying and installing the lifts, the contractors' track records and financial capabilities, said HDB.

** From 1 April 2017, Town Councils to set aside at least 14% of S&CC collections, grants into lift fund; will also get more grants from MND

By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 24 Jan 2017

From April 1, all town councils must set aside a minimum of 14 per cent of their income in a dedicated Lift Replacement Fund, the Ministry of National Development (MND) said yesterday.

This is on top of existing sinking fund contributions, but town councils will also get more MND grants to help with costs.

The new Lift Replacement Fund requirement was announced last September as part of efforts to improve Housing Board lift performance and reliability. But the specific proportion that town councils have to put into the fund was revealed only yesterday.

To help town councils with the new requirement, MND will increase the operating grants it gives and allocate additional grants to match part of town councils' contributions to the new fund. Details of these will be released separately.

Town councils have two main sources of income: Service and conservancy charges (S&CC) and an annual operating grant from MND, which accounts for about 15 per cent of total annual income.

Most of these go into a town council's operating fund for short- term routine expenses such as estate cleaning. But town councils must also set aside at least 26 per cent of S&CC collections and government grants in their sinking funds. This is for long-term replacement works and major repairs.

The new requirement announced yesterday means that each town council will have to set aside several million dollars.

Ang Mo Kio Town Council, for instance, would have to set aside more than $11 million, based on how much it collected for the financial year that ended March 31.

The smaller East Coast-Fengshan Town Council would have to set aside about $4.5 million.

Explaining the need to set more funds aside, MND said: "As our HDB estate infrastructure gets older, more expenditure will be needed for the maintenance and replacement of these infrastructure assets. Town councils must therefore plan ahead and contribute more to their sinking funds to pay for these major expenses."

As another example of how town councils are getting help to cope with long-term expenditures, MND pointed to HDB's $450 million Lift Enhancement Programme. Announced last September, this co- funds town councils' costs of retrofitting older lifts with safety features and enhancements.

Dr Teo Ho Pin, coordinating chairman for the 15 town councils run by the People's Action Party (PAP), said the town councils support the Lift Replacement Fund move, and "welcome any additional grants" from the Government.

Asked if PAP town councils were looking at raising S&CC, Dr Teo said: "We are studying the revision of S&CC in view of the new requirements and rising maintenance cost."

Mr Pritam Singh, chairman of Workers' Party-run Aljunied-Hougang Town Council, said his town council "will wait for more information from HDB before commenting".

Lift safety has made headlines after a spate of accidents. In one incident, the lift door at a Tah Ching Road HDB block closed on a woman in October 2015, severing her hand.

*** $63 million a year in new grants to improve HDB lifts

By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 3 Feb 2017

Town councils will get an extra $600 a year for each lift they own to "help them cope with higher lift-related servicing and maintenance costs", the National Development Ministry said yesterday.

They will also receive half the amount they put into the Lift Replacement Fund for lifts around 28 years and older.

The two new grants will cost the ministry at least $63 million a year and come amid safety worries after a spate of breakdowns.

These are on top of the Lift Enhancement Programme announced last September that will give town councils $450 million in the next 10 years to help modernise lifts - or an average of $45 million a year.

This means town councils will get more than $100 million a year in additional funding for lift expenses. The Lift Replacement Fund goes into effect on April 1. It was announced last week when the ministry said town councils must set aside at least 14 per cent of their income for the fund, on top of existing sinking fund contributions.

The grants announced yesterday are meant to help with the heavier burden. The ministry said: "This is a substantial package to help the town councils with their running costs, and assist them with their lift modernisation and asset replacement programmes."

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