Live and let live

Residents react, as 10 new sites for temporary housing unveiled

AS THE Government unveiled 10 more sites for temporary foreign worker accommodation, some lessons appear to have hit home for residents, their representatives and policymakers alike from the Serangoon Gardens episode two months ago.

In the Serangoon Gardens case, homeowners tipped off before any official announcement had opposed the idea of housing workers in their estate, complaining of a lack of consultation and a possible spike in crime rates and congestion.

This time round, the Ministry of National Development (MND) said it had spent the past two months consulting with grassroots leaders and advisers to identify and manage concerns.

Measures to “minimise disamenities” will be put in place. For instance, developers will have to ensure there are adequate facilities set up, and a worker in each dorm will be appointed as a liaison officer for grassroots groups in the area.

Only two of the 10 sites named yesterday are near residential areas the former Queenstown Polyclinic on Margaret Drive, and an empty plot close to Tai Keng Gardens along Hougang Avenue 3. The other sites are near industrial areas.

Ten Queenstown residents told Today they had not known of the plans, but only one objected.

Member of Parliament Baey Yam Keng said residents were not consulted beforehand as “the lesson learnt from the Serangoon Gardens episode is that the news was leaked out prematurely” and it had led to misunderstanding among the residents.

“This time, we made sure there is a proper study and engagement of grassroots leaders and the MP, and now also the residents,” he said.

The former polyclinic will be turned into a temporary dorm for some 150 construction workers in three to six months’ time.

Mdm Tan Gek Ling, 70, a retiree who lives in the HDB block opposite the vacant building, said “No one asked for my opinion. But it is okay, the workers are here to work and anyway, we will move out after two years because of en-bloc redevelopment.”

Mr Goh Seng Theng, 67, a bus-driver, said “Some of the shophouses below my block rent the space to foreign workers. The workers have been fine and didn’t create any trouble. With 150 more of them here, though, it’s hard to say.”

Mr Farah Fadil, 21, was less sanguine. “I will feel unsafe because they may get drunk at the void decks and make noise,” said the barista. “There are many children in Queenstown. What if the foreign workers create trouble with them?”

To gather such feedback, Mr Baey will visit one of the blocks near the dormitory on Friday.

“We will also be having a dialogue session on Dec 20 and it will most likely focus on this issue,” said the MP, who has held three discussions with the authorities and two with community leaders over the past two months.

Plans to ensure residents’ lives aren’t affected

Over at Hougang Avenue 3, the piece of vacant state land will be put up for tender, in tandem with demand for dormitories over the next few years.

Grassroots leader Eric Wong said some residents were “naturally concerned” about issues like security. But most were comfortable with the idea after community leaders explained the safeguards to be taken, he added.

Indeed, most residents at Tai Keng Gardens that Today spoke to said they were not worried.

Mrs Cindy Ho, a clerk in her 50s, said “It will be more than 500m away. And the dormitory will be separated from our estate by a thick forest, so I don’t think it will pose any real problems for us here.”

Mr Lim Kee Chye, 60, said “As long as the measures are implemented and things are kept under control, I don’t see any issue with having a dormitory nearby. If things are managed properly, such as having a dorm curfew, there shouldn’t be many incidents of littering or disorderly behaviour.”

Member of Parliament Dr Fatimah Lateef, who oversees the area, said she had visited the site several times with key community leaders to spot potential concerns.

They also held dialogue sessions with MND to come up with solutions, such as security and traffic arrangements.

“We have very detailed plans on how to make sure the dormitory will not affect the lives of our residents,” she told Today.

“We discussed things like curfews, where the workers’ transportation will come in and other issues.”

But, she conceded, it was “not possible to please everyone and there are bound to be some complaints”. They would monitor the situation “very closely” after the dorms are set up, and work with the authorities to address any issues that crop up, she added.

Source : Today – 4 Dec 2008

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