Thursday, September 4, 2008

Residents Air Dorm Fears

Source : The Straits Times, Sep 4, 2008

Serangoon Gardens folk get assurance their worries will be looked into

FOR some time now, Serangoon Gardens resident Kelvin - he did not want his full name used - has been trying to find housing for his firm's foreign workers, with little luck.

Serangoon Gardens residents at a two-hour dialogue with Aljunied GRC MPs George Yeo (with microphone) and Lim Hwee Hua last night. They expressed worries about a plan to house foreign workers in their neighbourhood. -- ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

So when he found out that the former Serangoon Gardens Technical School might be converted into a foreign worker dormitory, the 38-year-old, who is in the construction business, went into a tizzy.

The reason: The proposed dorm is next to his home, and there is no way, he says, he is willing to accept 'half-naked men' sitting in his neck of the woods.

Last night, Kelvin and about 250 other indignant residents of the firmly middle-class neighbourhood trudged through the rain to make their views known to their Members of Parliament from Aljunied GRC, Mr George Yeo and Ms Lim Hwee Hua.

At a two-hour dialogue, held under a marquee at a park along Chartwell Drive, the residents listed their objections to the proposed move, with some barely able to disguise their anger over it.

Their key worries: Security, traffic congestion caused by vehicles which will ferry the foreign workers to their worksites, and insufficient infrastructure in the area to support over 1,000 new residents.

Madam Lim Chor Yeow, 71, a retired teacher, echoed a view of many when she asked: 'If we have workers coming in here, is it safe for old people?'

Administrative manager Rose Koh, 52, said she would worry about leaving her ageing mother and two young children at home when she left for work.

Others said parks might be overrun by foreign workers. As would buses.

One resident, Mr E.T. Mohan Dass, 60, a programme manager, feared that as foreign workers flood in, the estate's value would go south.

Assuming there were 1,400 households, each worth $1 million, in the estate, he said 'even a 1 per cent drop in asset value (because of the workers' presence) would mean a $14-million loss'. Another, Ms L.S. Lim, 70, urged the authorities to 'think of Singaporeans first'.

Feelings against the dorm plan run high in the estate: A petition against the idea has been started by residents, and has been signed by about 1,400 households so far. There are about 7,000 households in the area.

After hearing their complaints and trying to temper some of their concerns, Mr Yeo and Mrs Lim said they would pass the feedback and petition to the Ministry of National Development.

At the meeting, Mr Yeo said he could understand the residents' position, adding that Serangoon Gardens is a place where 'people feel a lot for the heritage, and we should not upset that'.

But he also asked them not to cast aspersions on foreign workers, as they have 'come to Singapore, and benefit Singapore'. Mrs Lim added that residents' security will be taken into account in the plan.

However, after the dialogue, she admitted to reporters that those living in the estate should have been informed about the plan first-hand, instead of having to read about it in newspapers or get the news from neighbours.

She added that she has been in touch with MND, and is trying to 'bring home the points, the valid concerns that residents have to the minister...'

Mr Yeo also told residents: 'We are not just postmen and women transmitting your views. URA and MND have the final decision, but I assure you we are not doing nothing.'

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