Let’s get building

Mah: HDB upgrading a priority as deferred projects reinstated

SOME of the Government’s $4.7 billion worth of deferred construction projects are to be brought forward again, in a move expected to help smaller local building contractors. And priority will be given to smaller projects, National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan said.

“We are also looking to see whether the different ministries are able to bring forward some of their projects, to take advantage of the potentially lower cost of construction,” Mr Mah told reporters at the HDB Hub on Friday.

“We think that with a reduction in inflationary pressures, material costs will come down. Some of the manpower costs will start to come down as well,” he added, saying the: various ministries are still finalising their decisions.

As recently as July, the Government was still adding projects to the list of those to be delayed as pressure on construction resources increased.

The delays were needed so that work on big projects like the two integrated resorts, the Marina Bay Financial Centre and the Downtown MRT line could get priority, the Building and Construction Authority said.

A new financial target should be announced early in the new year, along with details of the projects involved, some of which could be completely new – not just those earlier delayed.

Mr Mah said that some HDB upgrading programmes should be accelerated.

“There are other upgrading projects that we are doing – the Home Improvement Programme, the Neighbourhood Renewal Programme – and I’m seeing how we can bring this forward so that there will be some benefits for our local contractors.”

He also spoke of the HDB’s built-to-order (BTO) projects, where he has asked for priority to be given to Punggol, which is undergoing an ambitious remaking.

On Friday, Mr Mah officiated at the prize-giving ceremony for the winning Punggol waterfront landscape design competition, and launched a design contest for its waterfront housing.

At Punggol, he said: “We have about 17,000 flats already completed. We hope to launch 3,000 flats a year. So, if you take into account all those BTO projects that we have announced, we should have around 23,000 projects by 2010-11.”

The Punggol flats are intended to be affordable for all, with less than 30 per cent of a household’s income going to housing. The more expensive flats will be along the waterway, the centrepiece of the Punggol 21+ vision.

With all the new building going on, a big town-centre project will be justified for Punggol, Mr Mah said. “It will also be viable for the developers to start building a new commercial shopping centre complex in the new town.”

But as the economic downturn takes hold, the government is expecting a rise in mortgage difficulties. In a recent parliamentary statement, some 33,000 households a year were said to be in mortgage arrears.

Mr Mah said: “If the economy goes down even further as we all expect, and if there are further job losses, then inevitably there will be more cases coming up.

“There are many different ways of helping; deferment of payments is only one of the ways.”

Each case is looked at individually, he said. But “we encourage people to look for alternatives like downgrading. If for example, they cannot afford a large flat, we suggest to them why don’t you downgrade and move into a smaller flat. In those circumstances, the HDB will be prepared to extend them another HDB loan.”

Source : Today – 13 Dec 2008

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