Editor's note: A concerned resident has sent us this story about the dispute between The Peak @ Toa Payoh residents and its RC members and their MP. The views of the reader are her own.
How it all started
A neighbour created The Peak @ Toa Payoh Facebook in 2012 so residents can come together online to update each other on the development of our estate.
Then a small group of like-minded neighbours came together to organise activities for the community. We called this group of neighbours "The Peak Council". This group is no longer active. The group was very cohesive and all the events organised were very well received with large number of residents. We are like a big kampong.
This was the start of the RC where a number of very passionate neighbours from The Peak Council joined RC. Their goals were to be the voice for the neighbours.
The first initiative the RC took on was to get the developer to address our engineering timber (ET) flooring issue. And our MP Hri Kumar was very forthcoming then to facilitate the dialogue with the developer. The neighbours raised issue of poor furnishings in our homes e.g. kitchen cabinet doors' laminate peeling, door sagging, door frame rusty, ET turning black, aircon malfunction, window rubber seal coming off, taps broke, lifts breaking down, etc. It was a long list.
Most neighbours got to hear about the second dialogue session with the developer in our facebook. We found out that developer requested for those, who were selected to attend, that they had to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement which was supported by Hri and RC.
Nothing conclusive came out of the session which made neighbours fuming and vented in our facebook. A number of RC members (including those from The Peak Council) resigned just before the second dialogue because they were told they could not speak up during the dialogue. They were shocked by this gag order because they thought that they could be the voice for residents in RC.
Prior to the second dialogue, a neighbour (RC member) posted in facebook about the engineering timber (ET) issues and was told off by the ex-RC chairman, Victor Chow, that he could not speak like that as he was an "office bearer". We were very upset that Victor said that in a residents-only closed group. So the dissatisfaction with RC started.
Developer shirking responsibility but our MP did little to help
Neighbours also felt that during the second dialogue, our MP could have come to our aid better. Some felt like the developers picked up pointers that would help them shirk their due diligent owed to us during the dialogue exchange between the agencies and minister present. Hri also told residents that we should "change our lifestyles" to suit the fittings in our homes. And Hri commented later to some neighbours that this whole issue is caused by a few "trouble makers".
The conclusion of the ET issue was that the developer would appoint an independent surveyor to assess the ET. We understood from a neighbour that a notice was put into his mailbox indicating that the surveyor had assessed the ET and found it to be serving its function as a flooring despite turning black. We asked for a copy of this notice but no one seemed to have it.
RC did not, from the beginning till now, update the residents regarding the engineering timber (ET) issue that they took on from residents. There was no accountability nor communications. We felt that if we were to take on this ET issue ourselves, we would have succeeded.
They force residents to accept the RC centre
With all this unhappiness with RC still fresh in everyone's mind, RC put up a notice that they would be building a centre at our void deck and construction would start on 17 Mar 2014.
Residents resisted. We went to Hri Kumar's facebook page to comment and also emailed to PMO. Hri then organised a coffeetalk session with the residents that Saturday. He committed that he would consider the alternative sites proposed by the residents.
But construction started on Monday, two days after his coffeetalk. It took him just two days to consider the alternative sites showed a lack of sincerity. So the residents continue to write in to various agencies and eventually did a petition. As we were pressing for time, we asked neighbours of Blk 139B (the affected block) to gather at the pavilion to sign the petition over 2 nights (8-10pm).
When we presented the petition to Hri at his MPS, he told our neighbours that it would be considered a NIMBY case if we only have one block's support. So we started to go door-to-door (for 5 blocks) with our petition. Due to a tight timeline, we only had 4 nights (8-10pm) to do our petition. We managed to approach 635 units in total of which 87% supported not having an RC centre at any void deck.
When we did up the survey, we did not insist on not having an RC completely because we thought of being inclusive and also some members joined because of the primary school priority registration. As parent, we understood so we did not wish to go that direction. And also the community does benefit from the subsidised activities and events.
When the petition was sent to HDB, PA and MP on 1 Jul 2014, only Hri replied indicating he did not ask our neighbours to approach the other blocks and that the petition should also state "not at Blk 139B" because that was the affected block. That did not go down well with the residents.
Neighbours started writing in to various agencies to stop the construction of the RC centre. A neighbour had experienced high-rise fire before so she made the effort to read up on the fire safety code and even took a video of how when the straight path of escape was blocked by the permanent structure, residents on wheelchair would have difficulty to turn right or left during a fire evacuation.
We requested from SCDF a copy of the new fire safety certificate for the entire block 139B but SCDF kept saying the fire certificate had already been issued for the RC centre. We pursued the certificate for the entire block. SCDF avoided answering directly to our questions regarding straight path of escape. We emailed to SCDF commissioner asking him to investigate this case as we did not understand the reason behind SCDF's resistance to get HDB to apply for a new fire certificate for the whole block. And stated that this gave the impression that SCDF was assisting a private company to save cost by not submitting a new fire safety application at the expense of resident's lives.
Most of the neighbours simply wanted an airy void deck space having live over a year with the developer's office blocking all the natural lighting, breeze and space. We were inconvenienced for over a year whenever we load/offload stuff from the car because the developer's office was blocking the direct path into the void deck, especially during rainy days.
RC resorts to misdirection and confusing residents
As we continued to resist the construction, RC members decided to do a survey on activities which residents needed. During the survey, some members told our neighbours that only a handful of residents were against the building at void deck. RC member stated in our facebook that they were not using the survey results to justify having an RC centre.
Also many residents were confused between the neighbours-initiated events and The Peak RC's events. Many thought the survey was The Peak Council's initiatives. To make matter worst, RC had alleged claimed that the activities organised by the neighbours as their own initiatives to justify for the building of the centres. The most recent being the BBQ sessions organised by our neighbours (reply from PA).
RC's reason for building two centres is that they needed one centre for the 2-hr playgroups in the day and enrichment classes in the night and the other centre as office for RC manager, meetings and study area. We told RC that our estate needed a half-day and full-day childcare (including after school care) centre, not 2-hr playgroups. There was no option to select childcare centre in the RC survey form.
The size of the proposed key collection area and the tight void deck space are not suitable for childcare thus approval would not be given by MSF. So we questioned the need for a 2nd centre at our void deck. FYI, there are many children in our estate and many have 3 kids. During our door-to-door petition, some neighbours told us that they were not living in our estate during weekdays as there were not enough childcare facilities in Toa Payoh and they were on long waitlist.
Everything then went quiet from June 2014 till this month when RC pasted a notice informing residents that there will be two RC centres built – one at our proposed key collection centre and a reduced centre at our void deck. This sparked off another round of fire from residents. We started to write in again to all agencies but no one hears us.
When construction started, one neighbour wrote to TRS and Emeritus. And that was how we ended up facing the press. In the midst of all these, we were told in private messages and facebook constantly that going to the press would have serious repercussions, that no agencies will support our estate anymore, etc.
And after 3 years living at The Peak, residents are still facing with all the defects and poor furnishings in our homes and estate. Most recent incidences are related to our lift issues. Lifts in all blocks break down constantly (since TOP till now), free-falling of lifts, cables snapping and lift carriages rubbing against lift shafts. RC has volunteered to address these issues since the beginning and there has been no communications nor updates on all issues they took on to-date.
There was a video circulating online about a man who refused to wear a mask on the MRT going towards Redhill. On 9 May 2021, SMRT shared in a Facebook post that they have reported the matter to the police.