Jem to reopen 'only when mall is risk-free'

Aussie developer denies taking short cuts; experts conducting checks

Staff cleaning at Robinsons. -- ST PHOTOS: KUA CHEE SIONG
Staff cleaning at Robinsons. -- ST PHOTOS: KUA CHEE SIONG
(From left): Australian firm Land Lease's group CEO Steve McCann, Jem general manager Jenny Khoo and Land Lease's Asia head for environment, health and safety Reggie Lim checking out an affected area yesterday. -- ST PHOTOS: KUA CHEE SIONG

The boss of the development firm behind the Jem mall yesterday promised that it would reopen only when there is "no risk" of incidents like a burst pipe occurring again.

It came as a team of experts flew in from Australia to assess damage at the beleaguered shopping centre - which is even considering hiring a fengshui master to revive its flagging fortunes.

Mr Steve McCann, group chief executive officer of Australian firm Land Lease, also refuted an accusation from MP Ang Wei Neng that his company may have taken short cuts in a rush to finish the mall, which was eventually opened four days late in June.

Calling the MP's comment "unfortunate", Mr McCann told The Straits Times in an exclusive interview: "We certainly do not put revenue ahead of safety."

The 48-year-old rushed to the airport at 2am to catch the first flight from Sydney to Singapore, less than four hours after water from a burst pipe brought down a 50m by 4m portion of the first-floor ceiling at the Jurong East mall. Three people suffered minor injuries, such as bruising.

Five experts from Australia, including hydraulic engineers and safety specialists, arrived shortly after. The faulty section of the water pipe that burst has been removed and is being tested.

About 40 staff are now examining the entire mall. They are scrutinising pipe connections on each floor, conducting safety checks, searching for the cause of Wednesday's incident and fixing water- damaged escalators and lifts.

"We have people checking everything across the centre to get to the point of confidence where we are absolutely comfortable there is no risk of something like this happening again," said Mr McCann.

The 241-store mall will remain closed this weekend. An update will be given to the public next Monday.

The Building and Construction Authority conducted its checks on Thursday. It handed Jem back to Lend Lease and ordered the developer to close off the affected area.

Mr McCann said: "The fact that we have this centre closed... that's a decision we take so that when we reopen, people can be assured that we have gone beyond what other people may do."

Last month, the mall also made the news when three employees suffered burns in a deep fat fryer accident and a car went up in flames in its carpark.

He added: "It goes without saying that, (it is) unfortunate, but totally unrelated to the centre and quality of the asset."

He declined to give a reopening date and would only say that compensation for tenants and those injured would be looked at. He also refused to elaborate on financial losses from the incident.

Mall tenants were seen packing items into boxes, clearing water and protecting clothes rails with drapes yesterday.

Apple reseller chain Epicentre's chief executive Jimmy Fong said that some stock was damaged and estimated the cost of damage to be thousands of dollars, excluding lost sales. He had expected long queues at his Jem store yesterday for the launch of new iPhone models.

"I will calculate everything and see how we can get compensation to recover our losses," he said.

Consumers are changing their shopping plans.

"It's inconvenient," said Ms Doreen Lek, a finance manager in her 40s. "I hope Jem opens soon but it's best to make sure the place is safe."

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.