Dorm gets the go ahead

New road, other measures to address residents’ worries

SERANGOON Gardens’ grassroots group adviser Lim Hwee Hua probably summed it up, when she told Today: “I don’t expect any of my residents to tell me they are happy, but I think they will be less unhappy.”

Following a residents’ petition and a public furore last month, the go ahead has been given to convert the former Serangoon Gardens Technical School at Burghley Drive into a temporary foreign workers’ dormitory. With it come steps to address worries raised by the estates residents. A new access road, 400-metres long, will run from the dorm to Ang Mo Kio Ave 1, so as not to add to the traffic woes of the already-busy roads within Serangoon Gardens.

To increase the buffer space between homes and the dorm, so that noise nuisance is minimised, the existing entrance at Burghley Drive will be closed, and the basketball court and school hall near this entrance will not be developed as part of the facilities.

Also, said National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan in a press briefing on Friday, just 600 workers – instead of the rumoured 1,300 – will be living at the dorm when it opens next year. There is capacity for 1,000, if it becomes necessary.

The lease is for up to five years, after which, stressed Mr Mah, “the need for a foreign workers dormitory will not be there, because by that time we would have established some of the more permanent sites”. Residents can also take assurance that the land is marked out for residential use in the long-term masterplan.

Finally, the dorm operator will be required to implement security measures, such as a perimeter fencing, and house rules to maintain order. These suggestions were made through “close consultation” over the past two to three weeks with grassroots leaders and Mrs Lim, whose ward comes under the Aljunied GRC.

Some might wonder if the new steps could throw up fresh concerns – this time, from residents along Ang Mo Kio Ave 1 and the nearby Tai Hwan estate. Referring to a map of the proposed access road,Mr Mah noted that it would run along a canal separating it from the housing estates on the other side.

Did public spotlight play a part?

Since it first leaked out that authorities were considering a workers’ dorm in the estate, the outcries of Serangoon Gardens residents have made headlines. Did this public spotlight, as well as the involvement of Mrs Lim, a Senior Minister State, and Foreign Minister George Yeo – both MPs for Aljunied GRC – impact on the Ministry’s decision?

Mrs Lim responded that “with or without the publicity, the same issues would still have been brought up to the Minister during the consultation period”.

But, referring to how some had lambasted Serangoon Gardens residents for protesting, she told TODAY: “I think the publicity over the issue took the discussion (from the actual concerns) into a different line, where people took a very moralistic viewpoint. That’s actually what my residents were very unhappy about – being judged in very harsh terms.”

On the decision to go ahead with the dorm, she said some residents “will no doubt be disappointed” but they would “work very closely with the agencies so as to minimise any inconveniences”.

Residents were indeed unhappy, but acknowledged the measures taken.

Said Mr Yeo Siang Yow: “Six hundred is still a lot of workers, and five years is not a short period of time. People are still going to worry about noise, littering and problems with their maids. And those selling now are going to feel the pain, because not everyone wants to buy a property next to a foreign workers’ dorm.

“I’m still not happy about it, but I think we’ve said all we can, and I think the Government is responding to some of it, like building the road. That’s a good move, at least.”

Another resident, who only wanted to be known as Ms Tan, said: “Five years is quite a long time, especially when we thought it would be two or three years. I’m glad the solution addresses some of the infrastructure issues, but … I think the anxiety level will be high for a while.”

Mrs Lim said grassroots leaders could look to other neighbourhoods that have gone through experience of adjusting to living alongside foreign workers, like Jalan Kayu and Teban Gardens.

Mr Terry Fong, chairman of the Neighbourhood Committee in Jalan Kayu where two foreign workers dorms opened in 2006, said: “I think eventually, it will lead to a harmonious situation, but it will take time and compromise.”

Source : Today – 4 Oct 2008

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