No offices, mall or condo on Oxley Road site

No offices, mall or condo on Oxley Road site
The veranda of 38 Oxley Road.

Even if the Government allows the demolition of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew's house, it is unlikely to let the site be developed into an office building, mall or condominium.

Responding to a commentary in The Straits Times last Friday, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and National Heritage Board (NHB) said in a joint statement yesterday that "the Government is likely to disallow the site to be redeveloped in a way that would diminish its historical significance, for example, for commercial or intensive residential development".

The site is zoned for a two-storey landed property.

Mr Lee, who died on March 23, had said in his will that he wanted his house demolished after his death. But the URA said that under the Planning Act, building owners must seek its approval before tearing down their properties.

The two agencies added that the Government "will take into consideration very seriously the wishes of the late Mr Lee regarding the future plans for the house and site at a time when a decision has to be made".

They stressed that there was no need for a decision now as Mr Lee's daughter, Dr Lee Wei Ling, is still living there.

The commentary was written by sociologist Terence Chong and architectural historian Yeo Kang Shua - the vice-president and honorary secretary, respectively, of the Singapore Heritage Society.

The duo called on the relevant government agencies to form a panel of experts to determine if Mr Lee's Oxley Road residence is worthy of preservation.

"This debate is an opportunity to, first, strengthen our state heritage institutions and due process, and, second, consider the ramifications of carrying out the wishes of the owner of a potentially important building at the expense of national heritage," they said.

The case of 38, Oxley Road would also set a precedent for future conflicts between owners of buildings with heritage value and the authorities, they added.

Experts were relieved to hear the Government rule out the possibility of a new high-rise building on the site of the house where, among other things, the People's Action Party was formed.

While opinion was still divided on whether the house should be demolished, observers said that should it be torn down, a public space of some sort that memorialises Mr Lee should take its place.

Mr Hsu Hsia Pin, an architect and partner at EHKA Studio, wants a public park: "Trees last a long time and signify history as well. A park would also continue his legacy of loving greenery."

The principal architect of CHANG Architects, Mr Chang Yong Ter, said the space should be kept separate from the proposed plan to build a Founders' Memorial, for the sake of the privacy of nearby residents.

The duo who wrote the commentary said yesterday, in response to the URA and NHB statement, that as heritage advocates, they want to see greater public consultation and transparency in the decision-making process.

They added: "It would also benefit us as a nation if this issue leads to a broader discussion on the demolishing of buildings that have national significance such as the old National Library."

ziliang@sph.com.sg

rchang@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on April 30, 2015.
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