Standing for Selective En-Bloc Redevelopment Scheme, the SERS was first launched in 1995 by HDB (Housing and Development Board). The objective is to select flats in the older housing estates, usually more than 25 years old, for redevelopment purposes. Residents of the selected flats are usually compensated at market values and given priorities in the new replacement flats nearby.
There are four main groups of public housings in Singapore, namely HDB, SIT (Singapore Improvement Trust), JTC (Jurong Town Corporation) and HUDC (Housing and Urban Development Company (HUDC) Private Limited).
When HDB was established in 1960, it gradually took over the role of SIT in providing affordable public housings for Singaporeans. JTC was started in 1969 for the industrialisation of Jurong, and the management of its flats were handed over to HDB in 1982. HUDC was kicked off in 1974 for the middle income families but was phased out by 1982. In the same year in which the SERS was launched, HDB also announced the privatisation plans for HUDC flats.
As of 2013, more than 70 sites have been announced for SERS, with hundreds of flats demolished in the past 18 years.
The Redhill Close flats, or commonly known as chek lau (seven-storey in Hokkien), were built in 1955 by SIT. Started as rental flats, they were built to accommodate the lower income families living at Bukit Merah. Designed with trapezoid roofs and curved facades, the flats retained a colonial flavour in the pre-independence days.
Many families have lived at their Redhill Close homes for decades. The 21 blocks of SIT flats are expected to be emptied by 2017, much to the displeasure of its residents.
The four low-rise flats at East Coast Road, the only public housing in this vicinity, were built by the HDB in 1962 for the resettlement of the villagers who lost their homes in a big fire at Siglap.
As East Coast was developed to be a prime area filled with landed properties and condominiums, it became obvious that the 50-year-old flats had to go sooner or later. In November 2011, the East Coast Road flats were placed under the SERS list.
Built in the 1950s by SIT, such low-rise Art Deco-styled flats had become rare in a modern Singapore; the other similar ones still existing are located at Tanglin Halt.
Henderson Road (Block 94, 96)
Teban Gardens Road (Block 2-11)
The blocks of flats at Teban Gardens Road were among the first public housings to be built by HDB in the Jurong East and West Coast vicinities. Before its construction, this area was a large mangrove swamp that extended from Sungei Pandan. It took years of land reclamation to fill up the swamp and extend the coastline.
In 1964, JTC established the small housing estate of Taman Jurong, and quickly followed were Boon Lay Gardens, Teban Gardens and Pandan Gardens in the early seventies. The Teban Gardens flats, however, were built by HDB in 1978 after development plans for a Jurong East New Town were drawn.
The ten blocks of flats at Teban Gardens were vacated by early 2013. Almost all the residents have shifted after getting their SERS notice as early as 2007.
Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1 (Block 247-252)
In the late seventies, the standard concrete slab block design of HDB flats were duplicated in new towns such as Ang Mo Kio, Clementi and Bedok.
Each housing district is usually made up of a cluster of slab blocks with two-, three- and four-room units and one or two point blocks of five-room units. The standardised aluminum door grilles, window panes and double-stepped doorways at each unit lined up along a common corridor were common features found at these flats.
Table-tennis tables, badminton courts and basketball courts were common sport facilities within the housing estates. In between the blocks, there was even a field for the elderly to play a sport similar to croquet or gateball.
The construction of the long Commonwealth Avenue West in 1977 had improved the accessibility between the housing estates of Buona Vista, Dover, Ghim Moh and Clementi greatly. By then, the Ghim Moh flats were newly completed, providing housing needs for the residents working at the western side of Singapore.
The huge curved bluish flat (Block 92) at the junction of Havelock Road and Zion Road had been an iconic landmark since its completion in 1973. It had witnessed the decline of the Great World Amusement Park in 1978 and the rise of the Great World City in 1997.
The flats at Yung Ping/Yung Kuang Road were some of the remaining JTC flats in Singapore. An unique aspect was the common lift system shared between two blocks of flats.
Upper Boon Keng Road (Block 20)
The large L-shaped Block 20 of Upper Boon Keng Road was originally one of the two blocks of flats, the other being Block 19, standing near the busy junction of Sim Avenue and Sim Way. Built in 1975, the 30-year-old block was designed with red-bricked sides and distinguished levels in its facade. In November 2005, it was announced as a SERS site, and was emptied by 2012.
Sim Drive (Block 54, 56, 57, 59, 60, 62)
The flats at Sim Drive belonged to a quiet peaceful neighbourhood for the past 30 years, sandwiched between parcels of industrial estates along Aljunied Road and Kallang Way. In November 2005, six Sim Drive blocks, numbered 54, 56, 57, 59, 60 and 62, were announced for SERS. Curiously, Block 55, standing between Block 54 and 56, was left out.
The Clementi Town Centre has been undergoing a transformation in recent years, and it is inevitable that the older buildings are to be replaced by newer ones. Block 445, one of the low-rise flats in the vicinity that were built in 1980, was selected for SERS in March 2005. By 2012, the area was cordoned off, ready for demolition.
Commonwealth Avenue (Block 27A)
Built in 1972, the block of 27A stood at an convenient location directly opposite of the Queenstown MRT Station. The eighties was arguably its golden era, as it was part of a self-sufficient Queenstown estate with cinemas, library, supermarket, schools and community centre. Like its neighbour, the Margaret Drive Block 6C, it was demolished between 2011 and 2012.
Holland Drive/Avenue (Block 14-17, 22, 23)
It took only a few weeks for the Dover Road housing estate to turn from a busy neighbourhood with crowd-filled kopitiams and hawker centre into a ghost town. By the end of 2010, the flats had became vacated. Two years after its abandonment, the estate came to life again with the units put up for rental for the foreign students.
Toa Payoh Lorong 5/6 (Block 28, 30, 32, 33)
In January 2003, four aging blocks of flats at Toa Payoh Lorong 5 and 6 were chosen for SERS. Built in 1969, the most famous block in recent years was perhaps the one with the iconic dragon playground standing in front of it.
One by one, the twelve shops and kopitiam at Block 30 ceased their operations in 2006. Two years later, residents began to move out; some of them were relocated to their new flats at Toa Payoh Lorong 2 and Jalan Tenteram.
Some of the units were then temporarily used as dormitories for the foreigners working at the Sentosa Resort World when it was first started. By mid-2013, the four blocks of mostly three-room units were finally emptied.
The iconic dragon playground, though, becomes a hot topic of debate recently, as it is the only original sand-based dragon playground left in Singapore (the other three are either smaller dragons or rubber-mat type). Many have expressed support for the preservation of the old playgrounds that had given precious childhood memories to the previous generation of Singaporeans.
Havelock Road and Taman Ho Swee (Block 29, 31, 33)
The three blocks of 29, 31 and 33 at Havelock Road and Taman Ho Swee had been listed for SERS since February 2003, but it was only a decade later before the demolition started.
Interestingly, Block 29, 31 and 33 were the only odd-numbered blocks at Havelock Road. The remaining blocks, all even-numbered, are clustered at the stretch nearer to Lower Delta Road.
The slab block of 29 of Havelock Road was perhaps the most eye-catching flat along the driveway, with its facade designed with alternative squarish blocks painted in green, yellow and white. It also stood beside Isetan Office Building, which houses the popular Havelock Road branch of Ah Hua Bak Kut Teh.
The en-bloc Taman Ho Swee blocks stood on a small hill behind Block 29. Even though the three blocks were located close to each other, Block 31 and 33 were named after Taman Ho Swee, a short road off Jalan Bukit Ho Swee.
All three blocks in the vicinity, as well as some of the nearby flats, were built in the late sixties to accommodate the residents who lost their homes in the fires that plagued Bukit Ho Swee in 1961 and 1968.
One of the designs of public flats at Bukit Ho Swee in the late sixties and early seventies include a long narrow corridor with units facing each other, creating a gloomy and suffocating surrounding. This unpopular design was discontinued in the designs of public housing years later.
Seletar West Farmway 6 (Block 1, 2, 5-7)
In the seventies, the HDB built several small housing estates, known as Rural Centres, in different rural areas of Singapore to resettle the farmers. One of them was the Jalan Kayu Rural Centre. The flats in these rural centres were generally three- to four- storey tall, and consisted of retail shops, hawker centre and wet market to provide self-sufficient means for the residents.
The region around Seletar West Farmway had witnessed rapid development in the nineties. By the new millennium, other nearby farmways were already incorporated into the new towns of Sengkang and Punggol. Likewise, the flats at Seletar West Farmway were due to be demolished, but due to changes in the redevelopment plans, they were re-used as foreign worker dormitories instead.
Like the Jalan Kayu Rural Centre, the Neo Tiew housing estate was another rural centre built by the HDB in the seventies. Also known as the Lim Chu Kang Rural Centre, there were three blocks of low-rise flats in the vicinity, completed with shops, playground, hawker centre and market.
In October 1998, the blocks were listed for SERS. By 2002, most of the residents had moved out; many of them took up their priorities to the new flats at Jurong West. The abandoned estate was later taken over by SAF for their FIBUA (Fighting in Built-Up Areas) training exercises.
Strathmore Avenue (Forfar House)
The iconic 14-storey Forfar House at Strathmore Avenue was the first public housing to be announced for SERS. Built in 1956, the SIT block was named after Royal Borough of Forfar, the hometown of Queen Elizabeth’s mother. When completed, it was the tallest building in Queenstown, and many local nicknamed it as “zhap si lau” (fourteen storey). In later times, the flat also gained a notorious reputation as a suicide block.
Today, its site is occupied by the 40-storey Forfar Heights.
For other announced SERS sites between 1995 and the current year, please refer to the official HDB InfoWEB.
Also read From Villages to Flats (Part 2): Public Housing in Singapore for a brief history of SIT, JTC and HDB flats.
Published: 04 April 2013
Updated: 12 August 2013