Market cleaning starts today for WP-run town council

All areas of Block 511 to be spruced up over 5 days, says WP-run town council

THE Workers' Party-run town council has agreed to a request from hawkers at a Bedok North market to clean all areas - including the ceiling - over five days starting today.

This is a change from a previous decision of the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) to clean the lower areas of the Block 511 Bedok North Street 3 market over three days, and clean high areas only next month.

"It is now agreed that (the) market will close for five days as past practice to facilitate high area cleaning to coincide with spring cleaning," said WP and AHPETC chairman Sylvia Lim yesterday in an e-mail to The Straits Times.

She said the town council acceded to the request by the Block 511 hawker association after further discussions, following a June 6 meeting between AHPETC, the National Environment Agency (NEA) and hawkers from two markets.

At that meeting, according to NEA and the hawkers, it was decided that the town council would spring-clean the lower areas of the markets at Block 511 and Block 630 in Bedok Reservoir within a month.

AHPETC would then clean the high areas on another occasion.

That brought to a close one thread of a long-running dispute, which flared after hawkers from two Bedok North markets said they were asked by AHPETC or its cleaning contractor to pay extra for the cleaning of high areas.

NEA backed the hawkers' claims, but AHPETC denied repeatedly that the hawkers were asked to pay more.

As part of a series of exchanges with NEA, AHPETC released a tentative schedule for the annual top-to-bottom cleaning of the five hawker centres in Aljunied GRC under its charge.

Block 511 was scheduled to be cleaned in November.

A day later, NEA issued a statement calling on AHPETC not to delay the annual cleaning of Block 511 as the major clean-up was due on June 24, and could not be postponed.

The issue appeared to be resolved at the June 6 meeting, but the NEA, WP leaders and Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan continued to trade barbs for another week.

Yesterday, Ms Lim confirmed that AHPETC would provide the necessary scaffolding and equipment for the high-rise cleaning at Block 511 without extra cost to the hawkers.

The town council's notice on the market closure and high-area cleaning was sent to hawkers last Friday, she added.

Hawker association secretary Chan Kheng Heng said most of the hawkers would rather close shop for five days for a thorough cleaning, than close for three days and have the high areas cleaned at another time.

They felt that the latter option would be more disruptive to business, he said.

"We feel that five days is better. The cleaning gets done, we come back, we can start working on our business," said the 55-year-old.

He added that AHPETC representatives had come down to speak to hawkers and look at the layout of the market a number of times, including last week.

As for Block 630, its lower areas will be spring-cleaned this week while AHPETC intends to clean its high areas in October.

"But we have said we will consider bringing it forward if warranted, after discussions with stakeholders," said Ms Lim, adding that details would be firmed up soon.

Asked about the town council's plans amid the ongoing haze, she said the cleaning is still scheduled to begin today but it would "assess if modification is required, depending on the haze level".

Last week, AHPETC said its contingency plans for the haze included giving out masks to staff and stopping all outdoor work when the PSI exceeds 400.