Several nurseries in Yishun face uncertain future as lease expiry nears

2nd and 3rd generation owners of Ban Nee Chen, Mr Ng Jim Ming, 62 and his daughter Ms Kelly Ng, 29 at their nursery on 21 December 2021./Nurseries are being asked to move out of Bah Soon Pah Road as their lease expires on Dec 31 2021. The nurseries ask
Mr Ng Jim Ming and his daughter Kelly Ng at their Ban Nee Chen nursery on Dec 21, 2021. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR
Workers at Ban Nee Chen on 21 December 2021./urseries are being asked to move out of Bah Soon Pah Road as their lease expires on Dec 31 2021. The nurseries asked Singapore Land Authority for an extension but SLA said they're unable to grant the extensio
A worker watering the plants at Ban Nee Chen nursery on Dec 21, 2021. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR
Pioneer Garden Services supervisor Sumon working at the nursery on Dec 21, 2021. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SINGAPORE - Four of the nine nursery and farm tenants in Bah Soon Pah Road in Yishun have only a few days left to find new homes, as their tenancies expire at the end of the year.

The land that they sit on has been earmarked for residential development from next year.

Some may close down permanently after more than 30 years there. They cited problems finding suitable plots that are big enough for their plants to grow in, and which are at locations that are more accessible to customers.

The other five tenants have managed to secure new plots. But they said the labour shortage brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic has delayed relocation plans.

They are hoping for more time to get contractors in to move their supplies and prepare the land to return it to the authorities.

This is despite the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) informing the tenants in Bah Soon Pah Road, which is near the Seletar and Jalan Kayu districts, in July 2017 of the lease expiry.

The nine tenants comprise an organic farm, and wholesale and retail nurseries. The farm and three nurseries have not found new locations.

The space that most of them occupy ranges from 5,000 sq m to 32,000 sq m, which is equivalent to 0.7 to 4.5 football fields.   

In a statement to The Straits Times, SLA said that for the past 4½ years, various agencies "have been engaging the tenants regularly to encourage them to secure replacement sites before their tenancies expire" on Dec 31 this year.

"Due to the urgent need to provide for the housing needs of Singaporeans, the tenants will be required to return their premises to the Government when the tenancy expires, so that the site can be developed for public housing," the agency explained.

SLA, National Parks Board and Singapore Food Agency have also launched various sites for tender since 2016, and affected tenants that are keen to continue business can bid for a plot.

SLA added: "Tenants have also been advised that they can source for rental of other suitable spaces such as shops, warehouses or industrial units."

However, some tenants pointed out that many of the plots available at tender exercises were unsuitable for plant nursery activities, or were too far from the heartland where most of their customers are.

Ban Nee Chen Nursery, for instance, has not secured a new plot yet, Mr Teng Kai Wei, its corporate development lead, said. The nursery currently occupies a 32,000 sq m space.

A worker tends to plants at Ban Nee Chen nursery on Dec 21, 2021. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

"We have tried seeking commercial properties, but as the upkeep of plants requires natural lighting, we have not been able to find a strategic location that is able to house them," said the 34-year-old.

Its retail reach is currently focused on the heartland, and relocating from its current location may put off residents from getting their garden supplies from the nursery, added Mr Teng.

Without a new place to move to, the nursery would also not have the capacity to provide sufficient supplies for their retail outlets, he noted.

The Ban Nee Chen nursery currently occupies a 32,000 sq m space. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

"In the event that we are not able to sustain our business model, it will dishearten us to let go of our employees who have been with us for many years," said Mr Teng, adding that the nursery currently employs more than 120 Singaporeans.

Some tenants that are fortunate enough to secure a new plot are facing unexpected delays, with the pandemic causing issues such as labour shortage.

Mr Jesse Chua, 35, business development and operations manager at nursery World Farm, said it would need about a year to move to its new location at Sungei Tengah and return the land to the authorities.

"As a result of the manpower crunch, the contractors we spoke to were not able to commence work before Chinese New Year due to ongoing projects," he said.

"Furthermore, due to safe management measures, construction workers can no longer go to multiple job sites on the same day."

Mr Chua added that the perishable nature of their products makes it tough for tenants to temporarily rent warehouses while waiting for their new homes to be ready.

He was also concerned about whether the current predicament would affect the livelihoods of older workers as many businesses in the plant industry hire older Singaporeans. They may also lack other skill sets.

With time running out to complete reinstatement works and move out, some tenants said they may have to end their businesses.

Ms Nancy Ang, 57, manager at Pioneer Garden Services, said her nursery found a suitable plot in June this year. She had been looking for a plot since 2018. However, the tender results would be announced only next month.

Pioneer Garden Services supervisor Sumon closing the gate to the nursery on Dec 21, 2021. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR
Mr Sumon tending to plants at Pioneer Garden Services nursery on Dec 21, 2021. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

"We will have no choice but to wind up our business of over 30 years if a time extension is not granted," said Ms Ang, adding that an extension of between 10 and 12 months would be needed to relocate and engage contractors to return the plot.

SLA said some tenants have asked for more time - till the end of Chinese New Year - to complete their reinstatement works due to manpower and relocation site issues.

It added that their request for extension is being reviewed and will be responded to soon.

Join ST's Telegram channel here and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.