In neighbourhoods of the near future, residents can head home from the LRT station using a sheltered bridge, which then transitions into a shop-lined corridor on the upper floor of an airy building.
There, they might stop for dinner at a foodcourt, shop for groceries or pick up their children from a childcare centre. The residents can then take an elevated walkway that is linked to their Housing Board block – all without going down to street level.
Such convenience will come with the introduction of next-generation HDB neighbourhood centres that house amenities and provide a gathering place for residents too.
For a start, two will be built in Punggol, and one each in Hougang and Sembawang. They are expected to be ready from 2018 to 2020. This will benefit executive condo residents such as those from The Terrace EC and Amore EC in Punggol as well as The Brownstone EC and Parc Life EC in Sembawang.
Neighbourhood centres differ from the larger and more extensive town hubs such as those being built in Tampines and Bedok. The latter serve tens of thousands of residents across an entire town, and are located in town centres. Each neighbourhood centre will serve about 5,000 to 6,000 residents.
The four new neighbourhood centres are the first ones that the HDB is building in more than a decade. The last ones it built were Pioneer Mall and Punggol Plaza, launched in 2000 and completed in 2004.
Since 2000, private developers have been allowed to bid for land set aside for neighbourhood centres and build them.”We have taken back the role of building these centres because we think that meeting the residents’ needs and creating spaces for residents is very important,” said Mr Fong Chun Wah, HDB group director for development and procurement.
When the HDB designs and builds neighbourhood centres, it can better integrate them with public housing projects, he added.
Three of the four new centres are being built at the same time as new HDB estates. Northshore Plaza in Punggol is being built with the Northshore Residences I and II projects, launched in the May Build-To-Order (BTO) exercise, as well as three other Punggol projects to be launched in the upcoming November BTO.
Besides providing amenities, the centres aim to be the focal point of community life. Each has a plaza acting as a meeting point. “We don’t want people to just come and shop… but (to have) a place where the community feels very comfortable in meeting together,” said Mr Fong.
Among the new centres, some have elevated linkways going to the HDB blocks. Buangkok Square in Hougang has five floors of parking.
The HDB held focus group discussions and surveyed residents living near the centres to find out what facilities are needed, and this consultative approach will apply to future neighbourhood centres. Where applicable, the HDB will work with other government agencies to site facilities in new neighbourhood centres. For instance, Oasis Terraces in Punggol will house Punggol Polyclinic.
On the fear that neighbourhood centres may hurt smaller heartland retailers, Mr Fong said the latter still have a role to play. “Mom-and-pop shops are convenience shops… where, if you want a loaf of bread, you can just run down and buy. You don’t have to go all the way to a neighbourhood or town centre.”
An exhibition on the four new neighbourhood centres is now on at the HDB Hub in Toa Payoh.
Hougang resident Lee Ah Boon, who is in the childcare sector, believes the centres will be a boon for the older generation. The 52-year- old said: “They don’t have to walk too much to get to different amenities. It will save time for others too.”