More residents want say in how their HDB blocks look

Turnout rates to vote for preferred colour schemes have been rising, say town councils

Residents in Tampines Avenue 9 recently voted to replace their blocks' traditional red brick facades with a stark black-and-white design inspired by the Tudor period.
Residents in Tampines Avenue 9 recently voted to replace their blocks' traditional red brick facades with a stark black-and-white design inspired by the Tudor period.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Four months ago, a small election took place quietly among residents living in Tampines Avenue 9.

Every household was mailed a ballot form. They were given three candidates. When done marking their choice, the voters dropped the forms into the polling box at their block's void deck.

Residents were choosing not their parliamentarian or president, but the colour scheme for their block of flats.

And it was a choice they will have to live with daily.

Already, the 30 blocks of Housing Board flats are slowly but gradually changing their colours.

On the way out: the traditional red brick facades they have been dressed in for over two decades.

On the way in: a stark black-and-white design inspired by the Tudor period.

It was a razor-thin margin though. The latter emerged victorious by a slim margin of just 1 per cent.

The third choice was the red brick facades paired with black-and-white accents. They were shortlisted by the town council.

"I think it is new and modern... minimalist," said university undergraduate Haikal Latiff, 25, who cast his vote for the winning colour scheme.

The voting process in Tampines is not new. Letting residents vote for the final colour scheme is an arrangement that has been going on across the island for years, according to town councils The Sunday Times spoke to.

HDB blocks are repainted every seven years, as part of Repair and Redecoration works.

But "voter turnout rates" have been going up, as more residents want a bigger say in how their estates look.

A check with town councils found that they hover between 30 per cent and 40 per cent today.

Jurong-Clementi Town Council has been getting residents to vote since around 15 years ago, said its chairman Ang Wei Neng, who is also an MP for Jurong GRC.

The turnout rate now is between 30 per cent and 35 per cent - up from 20 per cent about 15 years ago, he said.

"Increasingly, residents want to have more say in the development of their precinct, such as choice of colour schemes, type of amenities to be provided and construction of covered walkways," said Mr Ang.

Bishan-Toa Payoh Town Council chairman Chong Kee Hiong also noted the same trend. The turnout rate has gone up to around 30 per cent now from nearly 20 years ago.

Tampines Town Council sees 40 per cent of households voting, similar to Choa Chu Kang Town Council's 39 per cent. Marine Parade Town Council has an average of 30 per cent of households participating, while Nee Soon Town Council's turnout rate is slightly lower at 20 per cent.

Some residents want an even greater say. "It would be nice if residents could come up with their own colour schemes" rather than having the town councils do the initial shortlist, said Mr Haikal.

However, like in an election, not all residents are happy with the results.

Mr Leong San Yin, a resident of 23 years in Tampines, felt the new look eclipses part of the estate's history.

"I prefer the old red brick facades. If you told taxi drivers you wanted to go to the red brick flats in Tampines, they'd know it was here," said the 68-year-old retired subcontractor.

Over at Jalan Dusun, where the blocks are now being repainted in colours of yellow, red and blue, resident Wan Ngan Leng, 73, was similarly disappointed with the outcome of the vote.

"The red colour is so bright, especially when the sunlight reflects off it," said the retired sales assistant who has lived there for around 30 years. "I preferred the other colour scheme with grey tones that looked more natural."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 13, 2016, with the headline 'More residents want say in how their HDB blocks look'. Subscribe