New $2 million fund to help construction firms acquire quieter building equipment

The National Environmental Agency received some 9,500 public complaints in 2018, equal to 25 a day, on construction noise.
The National Environmental Agency received some 9,500 public complaints in 2018, equal to 25 a day, on construction noise.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Construction companies can apply for a new $2 million fund to help pay for quieter equipment from April 1, as the authorities seek to slash noise levels from construction sites.

The new Quieter Construction Innovation Fund will encourage construction firms to continue investing in new machines and methods to reduce noise, which is part of the National Environmental Agency's (NEA) strategy to use technology to defeat noise pollution, said its chief executive Tan Meng Dui.

"Excessive noise from construction activities such as demolition, piling, excavation and concreting can be a constant bugbear and pose serious disturbance to people living and working in the vicinity," Mr Tan said in an address to some 200 industry players in the Quieter Construction Seminar at the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources.

He added that the NEA received some 9,500 public complaints last year, equal to 25 a day, on construction noise.

The new fund replaces the original Quieter Construction Fund, which will expire end-March. The maximum grant money per project will be raised to $300,000, up from $200,000 now.

The fund will also introduce a new subcategory for quieter equipment for piling and demolition works, which the industry considers as the noisiest phase of the building process.

Firms will be able to defray their equipment costs by up to $300,000 - an increase from the $150,000 limit currently - by purchasing piling and demolition equipment that is at least 10 decibels quieter than conventional ones.

Contractors can receive increased funding support of up to $50,000 - an increase of $30,000 from the original fund - when leasing or sub-contracting specialist contractors to carry out such works.

The new fund also lowers the minimum amount to qualify for funding support for innovative construction methods, from $5,000 to $3,000, and for localised noise enclosures or curtains, from $5,000 to $1,000. These noise enclosures are used to block noise coming from a single machine, for example.

Many in the industry welcomed the NEA move, although there were doubts about whether the amount set aside for the fund was sufficient.

Some said government subsidies for quieter construction equipment were a good incentive for contractors to fight noise pollution, rather than the threat of penalties under the existing noise regulatory framework for construction sites.

Currently, firms that breach the permissible noise limit rules can be fined up to $40,000.

China Construction senior project manager Poon Sai Kit, 44, said quieter technology could reduce project disruptions and regulatory costs.

"Less noise means less complaints from residents, and less violations of the permissible noise limits too," he said.

But Singapore Contractors Association secretary-general Lee Kay Chai said the total amount earmarked for the new fund - $2 million - was inadequate , noting that $10 million was set aside when the original fund was launched in 2014.

Around $5.1 million had been spent at 112 project sites from April 2014 to February 2019.

NEA estimated that when the original fund reaches its expiry in April 1 this year, construction firms would have tapped a total of $7.5 million - or around 75 per cent of the funds set aside under the original scheme.

"Every (piece of) equipment is very expensive, and if every applicant asked for the full $300,000 subsidy, you will only get six or seven applicants, and no more," said Mr Lee, who is also an executive director at Lian Soon Construction.