Lifting up the heartland

Lift upgrading no longer a hot-button issue

Once part of PAP's campaign promises, the Lift Upgrading Programme had benefited 500,000 households by end-2014

Lift upgrading works at Ang Mo Kio in 2012. By 2009, it was announced that precincts in the opposition wards of Hougang and Potong Pasir would be selected for the Lift Upgrading Programme, as its political significance receded. PHOTO: ST FILE

A decade ago, Housing Board lifts were making headlines. Tempers flew, but the problem was not with existing lifts. Rather, it was over lifts yet to be built.

In the early to mid-2000s, lifts were a hot political topic, thanks to the Housing Board's $5 billion Lift Upgrading Programme (LUP).

The scheme was for blocks built before 1990, which did not have lifts that stopped at every floor.

At its inception in 2001, the Government made it clear that the LUP was not free of political considerations - quite the opposite.

In announcing the LUP, then National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan said that "upgrading programmes are possible only because our people continue to support the Government" which generates budget surpluses. "That is why... the Government has given priority to those who have actively supported these programmes," he said.

Two months before the 2001 General Election in November, Mr Mah was more blunt: "It's only fair that we give those constituencies that have given us support, higher priority."

In the 2006 General Election, many People's Action Party candidates made lift upgrading part of their campaign promises.

  • Safety checklist for older lifts

    Last month, the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) called on lift "owners" to modernise their older lifts for greater reliability and safety.

    It released a list of eight recommended features that lifts should have.

    These include a battery-powered automatic rescue device that can bring a lift to the nearest landing and open the doors if there is a power failure.

    The HDB said it would support town councils to modernise their lifts in line with the BCA's list, with about 20,000 lifts expected to benefit.

Opposition candidates protested at what they saw as the partisan use of a national scheme, with Workers' Party (WP) leader Low Thia Khiang calling the politicisation of the LUP "immoral".

A day before the May 6 general election, Mr Low said: "If they want to continue with the policy of upgrading using government funding to selectively reward PAP supporters, they are dividing Singapore."

Yet, between that election and the next, the LUP's political significance receded. The Government abandoned its earlier stance that lift upgrading would be completed in all PAP wards first.

In 2009, it was announced that precincts in the opposition wards of Hougang and Potong Pasir would be selected for LUP, rather than be sent to the back of the queue.

By the 2011 elections, lift upgrading was no longer a hot-button issue. Indeed, when a leaflet by several PAP candidates claimed that the WP was against national upgrading programmes, WP candidate Gerald Giam publicly rebutted this.

Mr Giam said the WP "has never been against HDB upgrading programmes, especially the Lift Upgrading Programme". And when the Workers' Party won Aljunied GRC in the 2011 elections, lift upgrading there proceeded as planned.

By the end of 2014, the scheme had benefited residents in more than 500,000 households, bringing lift access on every floor to 5,000 blocks, with at least one new lift in each upgraded block.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 02, 2016, with the headline Lift upgrading no longer a hot-button issue. Subscribe