SINGAPORE (THE NEW PAPER) - Occupants of some shophouses in Jalan Besar and Maude Road are concerned by serious cracks on the facade and structure of the buildings.
The road and five-foot-ways next to the buildings also appeared sunken and tilted.
Professional engineer David Ng, who saw pictures of the cracks taken by The New Paper, said they looked serious.
"If I were to rate the severity of these cracks out of 10, it would be a six or a seven," said the member of Civil and Structural Engineering Technical Committee at The Institution of Engineers, Singapore.
"If the cracks are left unattended and the ground movement continues, the buildings could collapse."
About half of the affected buildings are vacant while the rest are still occupied by businesses, mostly eateries.
When contacted, the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) told TNP: "The shophouses are structurally safe in their current condition, though repair works to the facade are advised to prevent further deterioration."
Mr Ng said the cracks were likely caused by the movement of the soft clay under the buildings, which could have been due to deep excavation nearby, tunnelling or natural settling of the clay.
The foundation of many old shophouses in Singapore could be stone or brick, making them susceptible to ground movement, unlike the stronger and thicker reinforced concrete used today, he added.
Food stallholders and regular customers claimed the cracks began appearing after the nearby MRT works started in 2014.
But the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said that its checks had shown MRT works had not aggravated the cracks.
Mr Lim Hoon Chee, 58, who has worked at a noodle stall for more than a year, said: "The cracks have been visible since I started working here."
He said that one of the supporting structures fell over on Monday night (Oct 8).
"It looks like the ground is still sinking, which might be why the metal pole toppled. It was fixed quickly, but it is still worrying," he told TNP in Mandarin.
A frequent customer, Mr Melvin Yang, 42, said: "It seems to be getting worse. I was buying food on Sunday when I realised that my foot was at an odd angle. I looked up and saw the cracks, it was scary."
The BCA said that engineers had carried out an inspection of the cracks on the facade of the shophouses at 200-208 Jalan Besar last year and advised the owners to engage professional engineers (PEs) to recommend rectification works after assessing that there were no structural risks.
As a precautionary measure, steel proppings had been installed on the building facade while the owners work with PEs to finalise the permanent rectification works, the BCA added.
"BCA engineers and the appointed PEs have been monitoring the structural safety of these shophouses regularly, as recently as last month," its spokesman said.
The LTA told TNP that an independent PE it engaged had assessed that the cracks observed during the pre-construction survey had not been aggravated by tunnelling works.
Pre-construction surveys on the shophouses in preparation for the construction of Downtown Line 3 (DTL3) tunnelling works around Jalan Besar had found a number of cracks on the buildings, the LTA added.
Its spokesman said: "When tunnelling works were completed in April 2014, instrumentation readings on the buildings and roads in the vicinity showed minimal movement."
The LTA said its engineers and contractor carried out another round of checks last year after some of the building owners told it about the cracks they observed to have widened.
A PE was also engaged. The PE confirmed that the cracks could not have been aggravated by tunnelling works, which had been completed 2½ years ago.
The LTA added: "Vibrations from train operations will not be significant enough to cause structural damage to the buildings."
A contractor, Mr Lim Ah Bah, 70, who has been engaged by the owners of one of the shophouses told TNP that it is likely that four or five shops were badly affected by cracks, and PEs would need to be consulted to come up with a solution.
Mr Peter Ng, 56, a coffee shop operator, who has been patronising one of the shops for over 10 years, said: "The damage has been getting worse over the past few months. I really hope something will be done about it."