Town councils may have to set aside funds for new lifts

Repairmen inspecting a lift at Block 322, Tah Ching Road, last October after a resident's hand was severed when the doors of the lift closed before her dog could enter, and while its leash was looped around her left wrist. As the lift moved up, her h
Repairmen inspecting a lift at Block 322, Tah Ching Road, last October after a resident's hand was severed when the doors of the lift closed before her dog could enter, and while its leash was looped around her left wrist. As the lift moved up, her hand was dragged through a gap in the doors.LIANHE ZAOBAO FILE PHOTO

Town councils may be required to set aside a stipulated portion of their sinking fund to replace old lifts, a move the authorities are considering even as they pledge to step up checks on lifts in the light of recent high-profile accidents.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong announced the potential measure yesterday when he said his ministry was looking into ways to help town councils manage their finances better.

It wants them to plan ahead and keep an eye on whether they have enough funds for the long term. To this end, it may require "town councils to submit their projections and plans for financial sustainability", he said.

Pinpointing lift replacement, he noted that, as it is a major item of sinking fund expenditure, his ministry is considering "ring-fencing part of the town councils' sinking funds" to pay for it.

Mr Wong was answering Mr Chong Kee Hiong (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC), who wanted to know whether town councils have enough funds to replace lifts.

Town councils manage HDB estates. Under the law, they are required to set aside a minimum portion of the service and conservancy charges they collect from residents and the grants-in-aid they receive from the Government, to pay for cyclical works. These include the replacement of lifts and lift parts.

The portion is 30 per cent for one- to three-room flats, and 35 per cent for larger flats, Mr Wong added.

Lift safety and maintenance in HDB estates have hit the headlines in recent months.

Last October, an 85-year-old Jurong resident's hand was severed when the doors of the lift closed before her dog got in, and while the dog leash was looped around her left wrist. As the lift moved up, her hand was dragged through a gap in the doors. Investigations, however, found nothing wrong with the lift.

In January, the operation of a lift in Punggol was suspended after an inner door remained open while the lift moved.

Then earlier this month, a lift in an Ang Mo Kio block suddenly shot up 17 floors, causing a 36-year-old woman in it to fall and hurt her back. The lift later stalled and trapped the woman inside for more than an hour.

The incidents led the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) to announce that it would step up its audit of lifts in Singapore, especially those in HDB blocks. It also said there would be changes to the law when it completes its ongoing review of lift regulations this year.

MPs came up with ideas to boost lift safety yesterday.

Mr Ang Hin Kee (Ang Mo Kio GRC) asked if the Ministry of National Development (MND) would establish a skills framework to ensure lift maintenance is up to standard, while Ms Tin Pei Ling (MacPherson) suggested having an internal appraisal system to rank lift companies by their performance.

Replying, Mr Wong said the HDB pays attention to quality when procuring lifts.

"It will and already looks at breakdown rates of different lift models as a quality measure in selecting the new lift model for installation in new HDB blocks," he said.

"Beyond the installation, the rest of it really depends on maintenance, regular, good checks and proper inspection regimes."

Still, the BCA is looking at ways to "strengthen the capacity" of lift technicians and authorised examiners, including a performance-based regime to ensure that lifts are properly maintained, he added.

Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) asked if the MND would consider an upgrading programme or subsidy for lifts that have not reached the end of the recommended 28-year replacement cycle but have obsolete parts.

Mr Wong said the HDB will work with the town councils to help them look for "appropriate replacement for these lift parts, in particular".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 25, 2016, with the headline 'Town councils may have to set aside funds for new lifts'. Print Edition | Subscribe