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HDB stands firm on flats for elderly in Toh Yi area
But it will build more recreational facilities, in response to residents' feedback
By: Janice Tai
THE Housing Board (HDB) has decided - it will not budge.
It will stick to its original plan to build a block of studio apartments for the elderly at the junction of Toh Yi Drive and Toh Yi Road, despite protests and a petition by some residents there.
It said yesterday that alternative sites suggested by 230 residents in the estate - including siting it about 20m away near Block 17 instead - were unsuitable.
This came as good news to residents of Block 17, who had themselves started a petition upon learning about the idea to move the flats near them. They, in turn, proposed another site.
But some residents around Toh Yi Road were clearly unhappy. Several of them met The Straits Times near a basketball court last night, and were disgruntled and frustrated. Some complained that residents had been told there was going to be another open dialogue if there were updates, and were fed up that HDB was now going ahead with its plans.
They also brought up again their concerns about facilities being taken away from them, and how the site was unsuitable for the elderly because of the slopes.
The Build-to-Order exercise for the units will be launched later this month.
The Toh Yi saga, as well as the recent case of Woodlands residents opposed to an eldercare centre being built in their void deck, led to a national debate on how some Singaporeans appear to have a Not In My Backyard, or Nimby, attitude towards vulnerable groups like the old.
Studio apartments are a housing option for the elderly and have fittings such as grab bars and alarms. There are currently 6,800 of them in various housing estates, and HDB will launch 2,000 more units this year.
At a media briefing yesterday, HDB said it was not turning a deaf ear to the concerns of Toh Yi residents.
They had said that the block will be built on what is now the basketball court, jogging track and community garden - the area's main recreational facilities.
To this, HDB said it will build a children's playground and community garden on the second floor of the studio apartment building. This will be open to everyone to use. A jogging path will also be built. These will be on top of the usual facilities that studio apartments get, such as an elderly fitness corner.
Fifty more carpark spaces will be added to relieve the parking shortage in nearby blocks - another concern raised. This excludes the 16 spaces reserved for those in the studio apartments.
Some Toh Yi residents had said the site was unsuitable as it is on top of a slope and will pose a challenge for elderly residents to get to amenities near the main road.
HDB said it will add more footpaths to link the studio units seamlessly to the surrounding neighbourhood. It will also be adding rest areas along the Toh Yi Drive footpath.
HDB said that the site had all along been set aside for eventual development. It had earlier agreed to a request by the Bukit Timah Citizens Consultative Committee to use the area temporarily for a basketball court and garden. But the site had to be returned when needed for development.
HDB had proposed building the studio apartments (SA) there as there is currently no such block in Bukit Timah estate. Also, more than half the households in Toh Yi have at least one elderly occupant.
'A studio apartment project would benefit many elderly residents in Toh Yi, who could consider staying in an SA while continuing to live in a familiar neighbourhood,' the HDB said.
It added that Ms Sim Ann, the MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC who oversees the area, had asked HDB to give priority to elderly residents in the estate who wish to apply for the studio apartments.
HDB said that in response to her request, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan had announced the Ageing in Place Priority Scheme in Parliament last Friday.
This gives studio apartment applicants who are existing flat owners living in the same estate or within 2km of the studio apartments twice the chance of being balloted. 'Elderly residents of Toh Yi will be among the first to benefit from this new scheme,' said HDB.
It had announced the apartments on its website in January. About 230 residents signed a petition and made known their concerns to Ms Sim. One resident sent a proposal to site the block near Block 17. There is currently a temporary carpark there.
But 50 residents from Block 17 signed a petition last weekend, saying that the block would obstruct their view and that the main road would be too noisy for the elderly. They suggested moving it to a site between the Bukit Timah Market and Food Centre and a petrol station.
HDB yesterday said that all in, four sites had been suggested by residents.
Ms Sim described HDB's decision as 'a reasonable outcome that addresses the overall interests of residents in our estate'. She added: 'Most residents I have spoken to told me they do not object to having studio apartments in the estate. The key question has always been about the site and a minority of residents have voiced objections.'
Yesterday, HDB officials distributed a circular to all the 1,600 residents in the area about the decision.
Financial consultant Michael Ong, 36, who lives in Block 12 which is next to the future studio apartments, said: 'I'm sure HDB has studied the best place for the studio apartments, and I'm happy they've made some improvisations. You can't please everyone.'
But housewife Priscilla Loo, 40, who also lives in Block 12, said: 'It's the only open space we have and it's being taken away. The park has been there for such a short period of time and it is wasteful for the facilities to be demolished.'
Additional reporting by Sarah Giam and Cheryl Ong