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Punggol Topaz: Dazzle or Fizzle?
Noise from F16SG flying over Punggol 21, 5th Jan 2011
Image: Noise from F15SG flying over Punggol 21, 5th Jan 2011

23 Dec 2010 (updated 26 Dec 2010)
Punggol Topaz: Dazzle or Fizzle ?
By: Lim Wee Cheong

1. Smoky. Chinese temple with potential columbarium

2. Smelly. 4km from Pasir Gudang, an industrial area

3. Noisy. Punggol 21 under the flight path of military fighter jets from Paya Lebar Airbase

Punggol 21, a new town announced in 1996, now teen-aged, not yet 21, but still babyish in terms of amenities, gets another precinct. Named Punggol Topaz by HDB, it is the latest in a series of precincts named after gems, following Punggol Emerald and Punggol Sapphire. Punggol Topaz is designated a BTO (Build to Order); an idea of "if you place an order, and enough people place an order, it will be built". The lead time is 5-years. In its press release issued on 22nd Dec 2010, HDB stated "95% of the flat supply will be set aside for First-Timer households."

The application period is from 22 Dec 2010 to 4 Jan 2011. By 22nd Dec, 5pm, there were 777 applicants; and by 24th Dec 2010, 8AM, there were 2859 applicants for the 1010 flats available. 3126 as of 24th 5pm, 3323 as of 25th 8am, 3493 as of 25th 5pm, 3706 as of 26th 8am. Hardly any time needed for deliberation, and due diligence. Almost as if, all that is necessary is for a BTO to be announced, for a rush of applicants. A ready pool of eager buyers, it seems.

"Exquisite, Elegant, Eco-friendly", and "This new development is set to dazzle" declares HDB in its Punggol Topaz minisite. This puts in my mind a picture of Gollum (of Lord of the Rings fame) reaching out towards Punggol Topaz, and calling out "Shiny!". Is Punggol Topaz the flats to rule all flats? Will Punggol Topaz dazzle you with all its shininess or will it fizzle out for you?

Having built 1 million flats in 50 years, HDB has a wealth of experience. Experience that would be sorely tested yet again, in Punggol Topaz. Will HDB try out innovative architectural and engineering solutions to corridor clutter, wet dripping clothes, plants on parapets, and noise of furniture being dragged along floors ? Perhaps not, these are non buzzwords, old problems that are so entrenched, it looks normal to have them around, just not sexy enough a problem to solve. They are problems that will not gain career points. They are problems so old and unwanted, that responsiblity have been passed on to Town Councils. After all, they are just human problems, social problems, just boring. Totally opposite to green, the exciting new buzzword.

The environment, "green", is all the rage in recent years. Rightly so, the environment is important; the message has gained critical mass and gotten across to most anyone who listens, and who do not, for better or for worse. It is now the buzzword for career advancement, for business startup funding, for academic research grants, and for getting elected to form governments. And apparently, for selling HDB flats. Punggol Topaz is described as "designed for Green Mark Certification, with eco-friendly features. The blocks and units layouts are oriented to minimize heat gain from the western sun. It is designed with ecologically friendly features such as dry ponds and rain gardens that help to maintain the quality of surface runoff from rainwater prior to discharge into the drainage system."

HDB's Punggol Topaz site advertises waterways, natural attractions, scenic walks, beautiful gardens, green certification, near to MRT and LRT, near town centre, beautiful neighbours with smiles on their faces. Sounds great so far? Let's look at the map of the area, "Maps & Plans" in HDB's Punggol Topaz site; you can find it under the "Punggol Topaz" tab. See the proposed chinese temple next to Punggol Topaz? Now, look really closely at the blue colour bar at the bottom, white fonts on blue background, "places of worship may also include columbarium as an ancillary use". What is a columbarium? Wikipedia tells us it "is a place for the respectful and usually public storage of cinerary urns (i.e. urns holding a deceaseds cremated remains)". If the temple is anything like the existing temple in Punggol 21, there will be noise problems. Example? Watch video in following link, http://www.punggol.sg/forum/complaints/so_noisy_after_10pm_7_feb_09-t20652.0.html;msg70407#msg70407

Potential columbarium buried in footnotes. Well, at least it is in footnotes. Let's go on to what is not mentioned at all.

Would you want to know Punggol Topaz is 4km from Pasir Gudang, an industrial area? Wikipedia says "main industries are transportation and logistics, shipbuilding, petrochemicals and other heavy industries, and oil palm storage and distribution. It is the site of one of two major power stations in the state of Johor, the Sultan Iskandar Power Station."

Would you want to know Punggol 21 is under the flight path of military fighter jets from Paya Lebar Airbase ? Several flights most days of the week, with the 1st flight at around 8am. Each flight, of several planes, produces noise of up to 90dBA for several minutes. If you leave for work before 730AM everyday, and work till 9pm, you will usually miss the planes. Unfortunately, your children will be at home, or attending school, in Punggol 21.

Each time the topic of noise from airplanes is brought up, inevitably, someone will smugly tell you, "Paya Lebar Airbase was there before Punggol 21, before any flats were built in Punggol 21. Who forced you to buy flat in Punggol 21? "

The problem with that argument, is that URA found Punggol 21 fit to be designated a residential area for the 21st century, and HDB found it fit and proper to build and sell flats in Punggol 21. In addition, HDB, a national agency, then neglected to inform buyers of a material fact. The material fact that Punggol 21 is under the flight path of military airplanes from Paya Lebar Airbase, and residents will be subjected to noise beyond what is usually reasonable in a residential area. The other problem with the argument, is that, wherever HDB builds, that is where flats are available. If you are in your 20s, a first-timer, and want an entry-level roof over your head, you go to HDB, you go where HDB builds. If HDB builds next to a rubbish dump, and tell buyers about the rubbish dump, there will still be buyers. Wait a minute.. I have not mentioned the Lorong Halus dumping ground yet, have I ?

Yes, Singapore is small, land not enough. So, pray tell, HDB, what is the reasoning behind marketing Punggol Topaz as "Exquisite, Elegant, Eco-friendly", pumping up expectations, and nary a word of the excruciating airplane noise? Are plans afoot to alleviate the problems before another 1000 households of your fellow Singaporeans move in?

To be revised and continued, when occasion permits,

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