According to the Straits Times (ST), the proposed nursing home will be 6 to 8 storeys high and will house 260 beds to meet the needs of a greying population in the Bishan East estate.
On 16 May 2012, the Bishan East Citizen’s Consultative Committee (CCC) sent a circular to the residents in the area to inform them of the plans by the MOH and to also seek residents’ views on the Lions Home through a dialogue session on 27 May. The dialogue was attended by MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, Mr Wong Kan Seng, and MOH representatives, including MOH's Group Director of Ageing Planning, Teoh Zsin Woon.
However, from what residents have said, the dialogue seemed to be more an exercise to disseminate information about the decision made and to handle objections from the ground rather than to proactively involve residents in the decision making process.
Petition to propose alternative sites and options for nursing home
During the dialogue session, a petition with 40 signatures of residents in the affected Bishan East was presented. The petition requested that alternative sites and other creative options be explored by the MOH instead of proceeding with its intended plans.
[The petition is published below.]
In the petition the residents suggested that there should be a relook into the current surrounding infrastructure of the Bishan East estates. They also feel the authorities should explore other more worthwhile alternatives before proceeding with the proposed plans.
Mr Ang [not his real name], a Bishan resident who would be affected by the plans, proposed two alternative sites that could also be considered for the construction of the nursing home. One is situated next to the Bishan Swimming Pool and the other along Bishan Place, nearer Bishan Junction 8 and the Bishan MRT station. But with these sites situated at prime locations, he believes that the likelihood of the government constructing a social amenity on the site may not be high.
Another case of unilateral top-down decision making?
The ST had reported that the decision by the authorities had been made after prior consultation with the area’s grassroots advisor and representatives of the residents, presumably the Residents’ Committee (RC).
Yet, a slightly different picture emerged after speaking to some of the residents.
Wong, a middle-aged resident living in Block 182, said, “My family actually welcomes the construction of a nursing home as it makes sense for us baby boomers in the decades to come. But what can be done was really to genuinely engage us residents in this decision from the start. We were actually pretty surprised when the circular came in and that was the only form of communications regarding the home!”
Another resident who is in her late twenties echoed the same views.
“[Perhaps] the decision made will be more [acceptable] if they had held a poll among residents of the affected blocks before sending out the circular. I can imagine those units that are directly facing the home will be most affected and upset. They will likely reject the proposal.”
When asked if she had known about the proposal from her RC members, she replied, “I did not hear of any events or conversations about this home until my mother received the letter informing us about the dialogue that was to be held.”
A cursory view of the Bishan East Zone 4 Residents’ Committee listing at the lift landings of the surrounding blocks reveals that there are only 3 members (out of 15 RC members) residing in the affected blocks of 175, 181, 182 and 186. Furthermore, none of these 3 members are currently residing in units that will be directly impacted by the construction of the nursing home.
It was almost the same scenario for the Zone 3 RC listing, with only 3 members (out of 17 RC members) residing in affected blocks and only 1 of them residing in a unit in Block 182 that directly faces the proposed location of the nursing home.
Possible problems that could arise would include airflow and the quality of air, as suggested by petitioners, which is otherwise not an issue with the current empty plot of land.
As seen in the above table, a total of 101 residential units would be directly affected out of the total 334 units in the surrounding four blocks by the construction. This translates to a considerable 30.2% of the residential units that would be directly impacted .
The questions that would naturally come out from this process would then be,
1. Given that a considerable amount of residents would be directly impacted by the construction, why wasn’t there sufficient or any forms of direct engagement and consultation with the surrounding residents prior to the dissemination of the circular detailing MOH’s decision and the impending dialogue?
2. How would prior consultation with only the RC members provide opinions representative enough of the impacted residents when only a fraction of them reside in units directly affected by the construction?
Genuine consultation is required
It is quite clear from the views of the residents that the problems are not just about the impact of the nursing home on their environment. They are also perturbed by the way the authorities have gone about the whole decision-making process itself.
An 8-storey high building is a significant addition to the area. So, naturally, residents would want to be consulted before any such plans are finalised.
It is thus regrettable that the authorities did not, according to the residents, extend an invitation to the residents to be involved in the decision-making process.
This incident also raises questions of the grassroots leaders’ roles – how did they go about consulting the residents for their views? It would seem that they too failed, going by the negative sentiments residents have of the proposed plans.
It is this same lack of engagement which was also evident in the previous incidents involving the proposed studio apartments in Toh Yi Drive and the construction of a highway through the Bukit Brown cemetery.
Dear Health Minister (MOH), Prime Minister (PMO), Dr Balakrishman (Environment), Dr Khaw (Housing & National Development):
Greetings from a Bishan Blk 181 Resident. I am writing to all of you in response to the MOH's decision to build Lion's Elderly Care Home in front of Blk 181, Blk 175 and Blk 182.
Many of the Bishan residents are aware of the dialogue session tomorrow at Bishan CC and will be attending it.
We are all for supporting looking after the elderly. I fully endorse the building of the day care centres in void decks. I agree with the Prime Minister's view of inclusive environment and consideration for others in building new facilities. The issue we are expressing is one of deterioration of home environment for some 50 - 80 families - air flow and quality of air.
In line with Mr Gan's idea of building in bus hubs, our suggestion points are as follows:
1. Reconsider the building of Lion nursing care in front of blk 175 and blk 181. The criteria for nursing home would be inclusive benefits for ALL stakeholders
2. That elderly care homes can be built amidst non-residential buildings e.g. schools, churches, temples, etc. These facilities are generally further from homes.
3. Redesigning of existing under-utilised schools, bus hubs, foreign language centres, scout / girl guide homes, and blending elderly care homes with some of the facilities, would be a far superior option.
4. The government ministries should explore creative options, work with architects to even build up to 30 storeys for such elderly care homes to maximise space utilisation.
5. Instead of air conditioning the centre, orientating such centres facing the bishan river would create air flow for the patients and reduce energy costs, thus reducing fees.
Enclosed is a petition letter carrying the signatures of some 40+ residents whose environment is directly impacted by the Lion's care nursing home. This would be higher if not for 15-20 owners who have tenanted out their homes.
It is a tall order, but one which is possible with a mindset change from all ministries, private sector architects and even selective residents who can offer constructive suggestions to explore solutions together. As DPM Mr Teo Chee Hean has said, civil servants must strive hard at working out options, policies to benefit all residents. If this is done and we can have a solution that address all parties, I am certain the ruling party support will continue, and I will share this success factors as an example with all Singaporeans.
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