Town councils and relevant agencies may act directly during disputes over common spaces if parties are unwilling to compromise despite exploring all options, said Minister of State for National Development Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim in parliament on Tuesday (Jan 9).
“Some interventions may seem harsh. But they are necessary to balance the interests of all residents,” said Assoc Prof Faishal, adding that the direct intervention ensures “a conducive living environment for all”.
He was responding to Nominated Member of Parliament Dr Syed Harun Alhabsyi’s adjournment motion on social cohesion through common areas in residential estates.
The adjournment motion comes after some common spaces in Singapore were briefly closed and blocked off in recent months following complaints from residents.
Last November, TODAY reported that Sembawang Town Council had partly cordoned off a void deck of a HDB block in Woodlands to prevent ball-playing.
The town council had received comments regarding “noise nuisance” caused by school children “kicking ball and shouting while playing”.
East Coast Town Council also briefly closed a street football court in Bedok North a month later.
As with the void deck in Woodlands, the town council said the move was in response to residents’ complaints of noise and other nuisances coming from the court’s usage.
FINDING WIN-WIN SOLUTIONS
Speaking on Tuesday, Dr Syed said that Singapore “can do better” to find win-win solutions for common spaces, and that it is possible to further nurture these places in residential estates for a wide range of activities that engage all aspects of society.
While it is “not easy” to moderate complaints and disagreements on the ground, closing shared areas of play or restricting areas of spontaneity from “fair and legitimate” interests like sports may give rise to concerns relating to social cohesion, noted Dr Syed.
He added that Singapore should try to eliminate most challenges proximally by design.
“If noise levels are a concern, could it be possible to design better noise insulation strategies for the lower floors?
“If safety of passers-by are to be considered, can we not demarcate and design areas of play better?”
In addition, there also needs to be continued policy support that allows for spontaneous day-to-day activities, he said.
“This should be coupled with a considered approach towards usage of common spaces, and engendering trust and responsibility to the end-user and resident.”
The approach can include when and where certain activities are allowed, whether modifications need to be made for certain games to be void deck or common space-friendly, or certain “no-go” areas for particular activities.
“There is enough space in the common spaces of residential estates but it’s a matter of how we allow for its use, to together achieve the best outcomes for social cohesion,” said Dr Syed.
When it comes to using common places, there are, on occasion, conflicts and disamenities that have to be managed while balancing the interests of different groups, noted Assoc Prof Faishal.
He added that residents who wish to use the common spaces must ask to the town councils for permission and that arrangement “may not be ideal” for some people.
But given Singapore’s land constraints, there is a need to ensure fairness and efficient use of room in housing estates, he said.
“At times, despite the work done to bring parties together to resolve issues amicably, there are sometimes parties who may be unwilling to compromise,” Assoc Prof Faishal said.
“In such cases, town councils and relevant agencies may have no choice but to intervene directly, to ensure a conducive living environment for all.”
Assoc Prof Faishal also noted that the interventions are “not taken lightly”, as town councils and relevant agencies would have already expended significant effort to speak with affected parties and develop win-win solutions.
Cultivating mutual respect and good neighbourliness is now “more important than ever”, as more people spend more time at home with the rise of online work post-pandemic, he said.
“Common spaces are created to serve individual and community needs.
“We will continue to design, build, and maintain conducive common spaces, and work with the community to provide meaningful programming for the community that enables social cohesion and integra