SINGAPORE - Parliament on Tuesday passed a law that will make it easier for heartland shop owners to get upgrading works in their precinct, by lowering the voting threshold to proceed with such works from 100 per cent to 75 per cent.
Presenting the Housing and Development (Amendment) Bill for debate on Tuesday, Senior Minister of State for National Development Sim Ann said physical upgrading of heartland shops is necessary to rejuvenate these precincts and “improve the shopping experience for customers, while retaining the character and charm of the shops, especially older ones”.
She noted that Housing Board shops play important social and economic roles in neighbourhoods.
“They provide affordable and convenient essential goods and services to residents. They also form the social glue within a community,” Ms Sim said.
“HDB shops and shopkeepers that have been serving their communities for a long time contribute not only to local employment, but also add to the heritage and character of our heartland.”
Under the Bill, upgrading works at HDB commercial sites carried out under the Revitalisation of Shops (ROS) scheme can proceed if 75 per cent of shop owners vote for it – the same threshold as HDB upgrading programmes for residential sites.
HDB introduced the ROS scheme in 2007, where it co-funds common area improvement works at HDB towns or neighbourhood centres, such as corridor retiling and landscaping. Presently, the merchants associations have to gather 100 per cent support from shop owners in the precinct before upgrading can proceed.
In her speech, Ms Sim cited how upgrading works at Marine Terrace Neighbourhood Centre could not proceed despite 77 per cent of shop owners supporting the proposal, as a small minority were against it.
Some shop owners are less interested in upgrading because they rent out the entire shop unit, rather than operate the shop themselves, she noted.
“Unfortunately, if the upgrading does not proceed, the physical environment around the shop cluster may become dull over time, and it may become less attractive to customers,” said Ms Sim.
Five MPs spoke during the debate, including Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) and Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten), who asked if shop owners who felt they do not benefit from the ROS works should be excluded from the poll.
Mr Henry Kwek (Kebun Baru) suggested that HDB consider excluding non-responsive shop owners from the poll.
Mr Lim said shops located at the fringe of the HDB centre are usually considered part of the precinct, and it may not be fair to ask them to contribute to the cost of upgrading if they do not benefit in any way. He also pointed out that the owner of a smaller shop may feel the strain of paying up to $5,000 for upgrading without knowing whether it would result in increased business for his shop.
Mr Ng asked what indicators HDB would monitor to determine if the purposes of the upgrading works have been achieved.
Responding, Ms Sim said the key basis for lowering the threshold is “to avoid a situation where a single shop owner can exercise what is effectively a veto and deny the rest of the opportunity to upgrade, even if they were all supportive”.
“We have hence taken a leaf from other upgrading programmes, such as the Home Improvement Programme, where the threshold of 75 per cent has come to be widely accepted,” she said.
Workers’ Party MP Louis Chua (Sengkang GRC) asked if it is necessary for shop owners to co-pay for the upgrading, to which Ms Sim said it would be reasonable to expect some co-payment as they are slated to gain from better business after the works are completed.
Responding to Ms Cheryl Chan (East Coast GRC) who highlighted the importance of curating the mix of tenants, and to Mr Chua who flagged the lack of coffee shops in Sengkang, Ms Sim said HDB follows planning parameters in adding food and beverage (F&B) outlets as well as other kinds of amenities and facilities needed by residents as it plans and builds each town.
“In the case of Sengkang, we have been hearing feedback from residents and also progressively been injecting F&B or eating facilities, especially as new developments come up,” she said.
Other amendments to the Bill include providing HDB with the option of serving notices via e-mail. However, notices or summonses of a more serious nature – such as those about compulsory acquisition and vesting of title – will continue to be served physically.