Members of the public who hear sounds of firing around the vacant Housing Board blocks at Rochor Centre from today should not be unduly alarmed.

The flats are being used for a military training exercise by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) until July 21, during which training ammunition and pyrotechnics will be used, said the Ministry of Defence yesterday.

Mindef said residents and other stakeholders in the immediate vicinity have been informed and advised to stay clear of the area.

These include the Auston Institute of Management located in Ophir Road in the compound of the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes. Ms Phoebey Lei, 37, a student service officer at Auston, said the school has sent out e-mails notifying students and lecturers of the SAF exercise, as well as put up a notice at its entrance.

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“We have both day and night classes, and we don’t know when the exercises are going to be held,” said Ms Lei, who added that the school has about 190 students.

The cluster of multicoloured blocks of flats located in Rochor Road in Bugis was a popular spot among photographers and Instagram users after it was slated for demolition.

Residents in the 567 flats and owners of the 187 shops and eateries in the centre were given until the end of last year to move out.

The blocks are set to be demolished to make way for the southern stretch of the North-South Expressway, which is scheduled to be completed in 2020.

Former residents were surprised to hear of the new use their old homes would be put to.

“It is unusual to hear of a military exercise in the city,” said housewife Gie Koh, who moved out in March. “We still have a feeling for the place as we lived there for two decades, but it is good if the training helps our soldiers.”

Mr Daniel Lee, 63, who ran a shop there selling religious items for 26 years, said: “If there were no immediate plans to use the place, the authorities could have let the businesses extend their leases for a bit longer, especially since the area is a prime one for businesses.”

Mr Lee relocated his shop to Middle Road last year.

Mindef said the exercise will strengthen SAF’s capabilities.

“Where opportune, disused places like Rochor Centre are used for homeland security training as they provide realistic urban training opportunities for our forces,” it said in a statement.

“The SAF will continue to work closely with the Home Team to strengthen its capabilities and ability to respond effectively to the terrorism threat.”

In March, Mindef said it will spend $900 million to build a sprawling training ground where soldiers can get a taste of combat in high-rise buildings, warehouses and even an MRT station with multiple exits.

This 88ha area, dubbed Safti City, will allow soldiers to train in a dense concrete jungle that closely resembles Singapore’s landscape.

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