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Contractors cite size of contract, shortage of subcontractors and limited daily work hours as reasons
The Straits Times - April 12, 2012
By: Daryl Chin
HOUSEWIFE Alice Teo is still waiting for work to install new lifts in her Housing Board block to be completed, after it was picked for the Lift Upgrading Programme (LUP) in 2009.
Though the end is in sight, with her block in Ang Mo Kio Avenue 4 slated to have new lifts by the middle of the year, she said she is puzzled as to why the process has stretched on for so long, leading to inconveniences for her.
'Since last year, it's been very dusty and I've had to sweep often,' said the 65-year-old. 'And if it's too noisy, we'll have to leave the flat till they stop work.'
Contractors said work to upgrade lifts in older HDB blocks - those built before 1990 - can be side-tracked by several factors, including the size of the contract, a shortage of subcontractors to install lifts, limited work hours and concerns raised by residents.
Despite the challenges, the contractors noted that most, if not all LUP projects, finish on time, which could be up to two years or more, depending on the contract.
The issue came up in Parliament on Monday when West Coast GRC MP Foo Mee Har asked if the time taken to complete an LUP project can be shortened. Residents in Pandan Gardens had asked her why it took as long as two years.
Minister of State for National Development Lee Yi Shyan replied that although advances had been made, the HDB will continue to look at ways to expedite the process. 'Taken together, for each block on the ground under LUP, the duration of the upgrading programme could take about two years,' he said.
Under the LUP, older HDB blocks without lift access on every floor will have a new lift installed where feasible, and if 75 per cent of eligible residents vote for it.
The Government foots most of the bill, with the town council sharing the remainder with flat owners who benefit. The latter pay sums ranging from a few hundred dollars to a maximum of $3,000.
Currently, about 5,000 HDB blocks have been selected and work has been completed in about 65 per cent of them. A spokesman for the Ministry of National Development said the LUP is on track to be completed by end-2014.
When asked to comment on residents' concerns about the time taken, those in the industry, like project director Kenny Ho, said the duration hinges on the size of the contract. Some blocks could have as many as five new lift shafts built.
'This has to be done sequentially so as not to inconvenience residents and spread the company's resources too thin,' noted Mr Ho, whose employer Teambuild Construction has upgraded lifts for more than 450 blocks.
Progress could also be held up by residents, he added. If they feel that their privacy is affected because the new lift is too close to their flats, they might ask their MP for a redesign.
'Work will stop until such issues are ironed out,' said Mr Ho.
Another constraint, said industry sources, would be the work hours for the construction - typically from 8.30am to 6pm. Unlike condominiums built on vacant land, HDB blocks picked for the LUP are occupied and are located near other blocks with residents who will endure only so many inconveniences within the day.
Then, there is the matter of lift supply, with any delay stalling the project by months. Typically, the builder hands over the completed lift shaft to a lift contractor. 'Besides LUP, the handful of lift contractors who do HDB works might also be bidding for lucrative private jobs, so there may be some delay,' Mr Ho said.
But the upside, said Mr Colin Tan, who is research head at property firm Chesterton Suntec International, is that the LUP adds value to the units in the block and makes them more marketable if owners want to sell.
Meanwhile, the authorities have taken steps to speed up the LUP process. Mr Lee also said that the HDB is using pre-fabricated steel lift shafts and is shortening the time taken to divert services such as water, electricity and telephone lines. The agency is also studying a possibility of carrying out work on a block-by-block basis rather than a few blocks at once.
Speaking to The Straits Times yesterday, Ms Lee Bee Wah, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for National Development, said she had explored reducing the LUP period, leveraging on her background as an engineer.
'But I think we need to give reasonable time to contractors in order to do a proper job, otherwise we may face more problems downstream and inconvenience residents further,' she added.
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