Saturday, October 4, 2008

Green Light For Dorm Plans

Source : The Straits Times, Oct 4, 2008

Separate access road and noise and security measures will address residents' concerns

PLANS for a dormitory to house foreign workers in Serangoon Gardens will go ahead, despite unhappiness expressed earlier by some residents there.

But in a nod to their concerns, the Ministry of National Development (MND) announced yesterday that measures would be taken to minimise disruption in the area.


For starters, no more than 600 foreigners - generally factory workers in the IT and electronics industries in Ang Mo Kio - will be housed at the dormitory, which will be up within a year.

An earlier feasibility study had shown that the premises of the former Serangoon Gardens Technical School could hold up to 1,000 workers.

An access road to the building will also be built, so buses transporting the workers to and from their 'home' will not wind through the middle-class estate, which already has traffic congestion problems.

Once the road, which leads only to the dormitory, is built, the buses will enter the compound via a slip lane on the Central Expressway and exit through a new road leading to Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1.

To keep the workers from disturbing the estate's residents, the dormitory operator will have to implement noise-control, security and other measures.

The facility will also have adequate amenities, including provision shops, so workers will have little reason to leave it.

Finally, the site area will be reduced, setting it further back from homes along Burghley Drive and giving residents there an additional buffer from noise.

Announcing these measures yesterday, Minister for National Development Mah Bow Tan said they would ensure that the dormitory would not create a 'huge impact'.

The measures are a result of discussions between the ministry, the Member of Parliament for the area, Mrs Lim Hwee Hua, and grassroots leaders, he said.

A majority of residents contacted yesterday said they had expected the plan to go ahead, but that the measures went some way to address their concerns.

Their reaction was a far cry from that of a month ago, when plans for the dormitory first made the news.

The residents raised an uproar, collecting more than 1,600 signatures from among the more than 4,000 households in the estate, firing letters to the press and protesting vociferously in a meeting with their Members of Parliament.

They said that allowing large numbers of foreign workers into the area could lead to a spike in crime, drunken and disorderly behaviour and traffic congestion, and that the value of their properties would be hit.

The issue also spiralled into a national debate of sorts, with residents and those who supported keeping foreign workers away from population centres on one side, and those who cried 'discrimination!' on the other.

Yesterday, Mr Mah reiterated that the need for temporary dormitory spaces was pressing and added that other sites - fewer than 10 - would be released within a month. No details were given on their locations but a feasibility study will be done for each before the MND goes to grassroots leaders for their feedback.

In the meantime, Mr Mah said, the Government was working hard at getting permanent dormitories in Chua Chu Kang and Lim Chu Kang ready.

There were 577,000 foreign workers here last year, up from 475,000 in 2006.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Mrs Lim conceded that some Serangoon Gardens residents would be disappointed by the decision, but emphasised that the measures had been taken to address their concerns.

She said it was 'no trivial matter' to create a new access road and that it was a 'substantial revision'.

Ms Sujata Jayaram, 43, who chairs the estate's Chartwell neighbourhood committee, said there were 'mixed feelings' but that residents were pleased with the infrastructure arrangement.

Another Burghley Drive resident, Madam S. Raja, 69, said she was glad that the road would not be clogged with traffic. Calling the decision 'a compromise', she said: 'We will cross the bridge when we come to it. At the moment, it's okay.'

No comments: