Solutions on trial for HDB blocks unsuited for lift upgrading

About 200 blocks, including this four-storey maisonette block at Hougang Avenue 8, did not qualify for lift upgrading.
About 200 blocks, including this four-storey maisonette block at Hougang Avenue 8, did not qualify for lift upgrading.ST PHOTO: CHOO CHWEE HUA

Pneumatic and belt-driven elevator systems being tested at commercial site and carpark

About 200 blocks of HDB flats are not suited to have lifts on every floor, a situation that has led the Ministry of National Development to look at two unconventional lift systems to resolve the problem.

One is a pneumatic vacuum elevator, which relies on air suction to move the lift car up and down and which went on trial at a commercial building in Toa Payoh last month.

The other is a vertical platform lift, which is a belt-driven system often used in private homes. It will be tested at a public carpark later this year.

Yesterday, Parliament was told the ministry would decide in six months to a year whether to put the two systems on trial in HDB blocks.

Senior Minister of State for National Development Lee Yi Shyan said a longer trial would allow a better assessment of the reliability of the lifts. Two MPs, Mr Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC) and Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC), swiftly offered HDB blocks in their divisions for trials.

CHALLENGING AND COSTLY

Managing the last 2 per cent (of affected blocks) will be very challenging, very costly and also technically difficult. But we will see how best we can continue to find solutions.

SENIOR MINISTER OF STATE FOR NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT LEE YI SHYAN

A smiling Mr Lee took note of their offer and said: "Managing the last 2 per cent (of affected blocks) will be very challenging, very costly and also technically difficult. But we will see how best we can continue to find solutions."

He also added that residents who urgently needed direct lift access because of poor health or infirmity could ask the HDB for help in moving elsewhere or financing a new HDB home.

Mr Lee gave these assurances when replying to MPs' questions on the Lift Upgrading Programme (LUP) and what the ministry was doing for those living in blocks that did not qualify for it. The blocks left out either have too few units to share the cost or they have severe site constraints.

Mr Baey Yam Keng (Tampines GRC) asked why the two lift systems were not tested in the residential blocks.

Mr Lee said the commercial building and the carpark were picked because they were used more regularly, so data could be collected more quickly.

He also said the pneumatic vacuum elevator could work only in buildings about two to three storeys high, which he said might be the solution for low-rise HDB blocks with few units.

But it would travel at about one-quarter the speed of a normal lift, he added.

The $5 billion LUP for older HDB blocks is 14 years old and the programme ended last December. It provided a lift on every floor to 5,000 blocks built before 1990.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 15, 2015, with the headline 'Solutions on trial for HDB blocks unsuited for lift upgrading'. Print Edition | Subscribe