WP town council, hawkers reach agreement after meeting with NEA

The National Environment Agency (NEA) and a Workers' Party- run town council came to an agreement yesterday for the council to clean the ceilings of two hawker centres within a month and stagger the cleaning times so stalls will not have to close.

They did so at a meeting involving the NEA, staff of the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) and representatives of the hawkers at two food centres in Blocks 511 and 630 in Bedok. MPs in charge of the town council did not attend.

The meeting was held to resolve a long-running dispute between the NEA, AHPETC and several groups of hawkers over the cleaning of food centres.

A key issue was whether the town council or hawkers should pay for the scaffolding needed to clean the ceilings of the food centres and other high areas.

Some hawkers in Bedok had complained that they had been asked to pay for the scaffolding. The NEA stepped in to remind AHPETC that all town councils were obliged to do the major cleanup without imposing extra fees on hawkers.

After yesterday's meeting, Mr Richard Tan, director of NEA's hawker centre division, told reporters: "We note that the town council is committed to ensuring that spring-cleaning is done without any costs to the hawkers and without compromising public hygiene and safety. They will do the spring-cleaning in a month."

Earlier this week, the dispute shifted to when AHPETC should carry out the spring-cleaning for the food centre at Block 511, Bedok North Street 3.

On Monday, AHPETC released a cleaning schedule for the food centres in its charge. It showed that the spring-cleaning would take place in either October or November. A day later, the NEA responded to say that the cleaning of the food centre at Block 511 should take place without delay.

Hawkers who attended the hour-long meeting at NEA's office in the HDB Hub said they were "satisfied and happy" with the outcome.

The parties present agreed that the food centre at Block 511 will have its floor and tables cleaned later this month, and its ceiling cleaned next month. Block 630, Bedok Reservoir Road, will be cleaned from top to bottom later this month.

Block 511's hawker association secretary Chan Kheng Heng said they were told that the cleaning of the high areas would be done when there are "not many customers around" and "in segments".

Still, yesterday's meeting began on a tense note when Mr Chan asked AHPETC why it had taken so long to release its cleaning schedule and make clear to hawkers that they need not pay extra fees for the cleaning.

"I told them off. I said if you have a schedule, you should have told us earlier and not keep quiet all this while. They never replied to our e-mails," he said.

"We won't hold anything against them, we are moving on since they say the cleaning will be done without any hindrance to us. This is good for both residents and hawkers."

Representatives of AHPETC, including property manager Tai Vie Shun, declined to comment yesterday when approached.