HEARTLAND shops are calling for a scheme that co-funds the promotion and upgrading of shopping areas to relax its rules.
The Revitalisation of Shops (ROS) scheme can be tapped only if all shopowners in a Housing Board neighbourhood agree.
But merchants' associations say such unanimity is hard to reach, and hope the rule can be relaxed in an upcoming review.
Since 2007, the scheme has spent $8.4 million to help half of all HDB shops.
A "revitalise heartland shops" committee will be formed to review it for its next phase, as announced during the Budget debate.
Besides improving the scheme, the committee will look at how to enhance the living and shopping environment, the HDB told The Straits Times.
It will likely comprise representatives from the Federation of Merchants' Association Singapore (FMAS), business people, grassroots organisations and town councils.
Shop associations hope one improvement will be to make it less onerous to apply.
Getting all shopowners to agree can "drag out over a few years" while upgrading costs rise in the meantime, said FMAS president Yeo Hiang Meng.
"It's hard to reach certain owners, like those who are just investors, who reside overseas, or just cannot be contacted."
Jurong GRC MP Ang Wei Neng, who raised the issue during the Budget debate, said the unanimity requirement has prevented some neighbourhood centres from tapping the scheme.
"Some precincts resort to having the merchants' association pay on behalf of shop owners who refused to join the ROS scheme. This is not sustainable or fair," he told The Straits Times.
Drawing a parallel with HDB upgrading, Mr Ang suggested allowing only Singaporean shop owners to vote, and requiring only 75 per cent of votes in favour.
Bukit Batok West Merchants' Association president Ong Gee Hong agreed that such a change would make it easier to take part.
The HDB could also provide support staff to help with the application process, he added. "Merchants are busy with their own business. They cannot do everything on their own."
The HDB's expertise could help in planning promotional events, said Tampines N2 Merchants' Association president Kwek Hong Lim. "Maybe we could run a bigger programme if we collaborate with HDB."
And town councils could help by shouldering more of the cost, said Chua Chu Kang Merchants' Association president Chong Wee Cheong.
Under the scheme, shop owners pay half the cost of upgrading common areas, and the HDB and town council pay the rest.
But such upgrading benefits the community in general, noted Mr Chong. "The town council is in charge of maintaining the surroundings anyway, so we hope that it can play a more active role in this too." BACKGROUND STORY
SINCE the Revitalisation of Shops scheme began in November 2007, $8.4 million has been spent to help 4,864 shops at 54 sites.
This represents over half of all town and neighbourhood centres.
Of the participating sites, 24 applied for co-funding for both physical upgrading and promotional events.
A further 23 tapped the scheme only for events, and seven for just upgrading. Upgrading has been completed at 13 sites, and is in progress at 11.
Retailers reported a 10-30 per cent boost in sales and "greater vibrancy with the promotional events and upgrading works", said the Housing Board.
Straits Times / Singapore Published on Monday, 23 March 2015