Govt wants to share its thinking on next phase of public housing, even if Vers details not ready: Lawrence Wong

While many details for the new Voluntary Early Redevelopment Scheme (Vers) will not be ready for some time, the Government felt that it “owed” Singaporeans an early explanation on its thinking for the next phase of public housing, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said on Tuesday (Aug 21).

Speaking in an interview with Channel 5’s Talking Point programme, Mr Wong called for patience as the various agencies worked out the implementation and financial plans for a sustainable and orderly roll out of the programme, which was announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday at the National Day Rally.

“It would be rash to rush into details now when some of these things can only happen decades from now,” said Mr Wong. “We have 20 years to prepare, so let’s not get too excited about what’s going to be in the Vers package, or which flat would get Vers, and speculate unnecessarily.”

At the sidelines of Government feedback unit Reach’s National Day Rally 2018 public forum on Tuesday night, Mr Wong told reporters that policymakers could take “the next few months or even years” to work out implementation details.

They will engage more groups of Singaporeans and gather feedback and ideas to work out and finetune the details, he said.

Vers is scheduled to take effect 20 years later, and is aimed at allowing more owners of Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats to redevelop their ageing properties before their leases expire.

According to Mr Lee, HDB residents will have to vote for Vers to proceed. If the neighbourhood approves, the Government will buy back the whole precinct and re-develop the area, while residents can use the proceeds to help pay for another flat.

The announcement came amid a growing public debate about the impact of the 99-year lease expiry of HDB flats. The issue has seized many homeowners in Singapore since a blog post in March last year by Mr Wong, cautioning that not all old flats will be automatically eligible for the Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme (Sers).

In Tuesday’s Talking Point interview, Mr Wong said it would be too late to announce Vers when the details are fully ready, as it would mean that Singaporeans could be “living with 15 years of uncertainty”.

He added: “Given the concerns that have been raised, I think we owe it to Singaporeans to share with them what our thinking is at this stage.

“We have been studying this for some time. Not quite ready with all the details, and a lot more work needs to be done. But we thought that given the concerns that have been raised, we do owe it to Singaporeans to explain at this stage, at the very broad level, our thinking on how we think the next phase of public housing will unfold.”

On Sunday, Mr Lee described Vers as a “necessary” scheme that is part of HDB’s long-term plan to renew older housing estates in an “orderly way” and carry out redevelopment projects over a longer period of time.

Many of Singapore’s older housing estates and towns built in the 1970s and 1980s were constructed in a “tremendous rush” due to a housing shortage – an issue which the Government wants to avoid in the next phase when Vers is carried out, both Mr Lee and Mr Wong have stressed.

Added Mr Wong: “This is a massive undertaking to systematically rejuvenate all of our public housing estates. It’s urban rejuvenation at the scale that I don’t think any other city has done.”

Asked on Talking Point if Vers would be made available at all HDB estates, he said the Government would “certainly like to do as much as possible” but this is something it would have to study.

The transit to the Vers programme will take place after all sites earmarked for Sers are completed, he said at the Reach forum.

Sers, introduced in August 1995, is a highly selective programme under which the Government acquires older flats with high untapped development value for redevelopment. The HDB estimates that around 5 per cent of flats are suitable for Sers, said Mr Lee at the rally.

To date, 81 Sers sites have been announced, of which 76 redevelopment projects have been completed.

Completed projects include Blocks 74 to 80 Commonwealth Drive (replacement site at Blocks 50 to 54 Commonwealth Drive) and Blocks 2 to 11 Teban Gardens Road (replacement site at Blocks 20 to 23 Teban Gardens Road).

The compensation for Vers will be less generous than Sers because there will be less financial upside for the Government, said Mr Lee.

Source: Today – 21 Aug 2018

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