Bid to save 2 historical areas in Queenstown

Bid to save 2 historical areas in Queenstown
(from left) Mr Robin Koh, Ms Alice Lee Soh Lui and Mr Teng Kiong Seng.

Backed by 2,000 past and present Queenstown residents, civic group My Community has launched an ambitious bid to save two historical areas in Singapore's first satellite estate.

The group hopes the authorities will conserve the Tanglin Halt Neighbourhood Centre and the Margaret Drive and Stirling Road area. It sent in an updated conservation paper to the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), Housing Board and National Heritage Board (NHB) last month.

The paper's first version, submitted in July last year, had lobbied for 18 Queenstown structures to be saved, with some success.

About a year later, URA conserved three buildings - Queenstown library, the former Commonwealth Avenue Wet Market and Alexandra Hospital - bringing the total number of conserved buildings in the estate to six.

My Community founder Kwek Li Yong described the two proposed areas as the "last vestiges" of 1960s Queenstown. "Instead of protecting just isolated buildings, we hope they can conserve these areas, which tell a fuller story of Singapore's early public housing programme," he said.

For instance, the Stirling Road and Margaret Drive area is home to Singapore's first few public housing properties such as 13 terrace houses which were designed by the Singapore Improvement Trust and completed by HDB between 1959 and 1961. It is also where three of Singapore's first HDB blocks stand.

Meanwhile, Tanglin Halt's neighbourhood centre, which has been earmarked for redevelopment by HDB, is known among residents for its market square - a feature of old European towns. It is also where six shophouses, a well-loved coffee shop and a popular wet market stand, said My Community.

But HDB said some of these will have to make way for a new market, food centre and park.

Former Queenstown resident Yeo Hock Yew, a 66-year-old retiree, agrees with the proposal. Tiong Bahru, an estate with pre- war public housing flats and art deco-style shophouses, was conserved by URA in 2003, he said.

The president of the International Council on Monuments and Sites Singapore, Dr Kevin Tan, said: "The main challenge will be that URA will want to tear down these buildings to intensify the usage of land around the area, especially those parts abutting MRT stations."

Dr Yeo Kang Shua, honorary secretary of the Singapore Heritage Society, said that targeted conservation and guided intensification of land use, based on heritage impact assessment reports, at certain spots could be a better solution.

Responding to queries from The Straits Times, HDB said its estate renewal efforts "seek to bring the physical environment of older estates closer to those of newer towns". This allows residents in older towns to enjoy a better living environment and amenities, and attracts younger families to live in and add vibrancy to the older towns, said its spokesman.

Both URA and NHB said they are reviewing My Community's suggestions. A URA spokesman said it welcomes the interest in researching and putting forward proposals to celebrate the estates' heritage.

HISTORICAL VALUE

Instead of protecting just isolated buildings, we hope they can conserve these areas, which tell a fuller story of Singapore's early public housing programme.

- Mr Kwek Li Yong, founder of My Community, which has launched a bid to save the two historical area

melodyz@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Nov 10, 2014.
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