Parts of heritage site to be cleared for MRT

Parts of heritage site to be cleared for MRT

Parts of a heritage site in Tanjong Pagar that dates back to Singapore's colonial era are set to make way for the future Prince Edward MRT station.

A knoll that houses the remnants of six Parsi graves will be levelled, along with , likely built in 1956, and part of the Bestway Building - the former Singapore Polytechnic.

The Singapore Heritage Society (SHS) had flagged the area as worthy of protection a decade ago, while heritage expert Johannes Widodo from the National University of Singapore described it as "one of the most important places in the history of early 19th-century Singapore".

Some in the heritage community said they were not informed or consulted about the demolition of these places before the Land Transport Authority (LTA) announced the station last October as part of the 4km Circle Line Stage 6.

International Council on Monuments and Sites Singapore president Kevin Tan believes Palmer House, which is built in the "streamline moderne" architecture style and designed to look like a giant boathouse, should not be torn down.

"Why do that when its key features are intact?" he asked.

Station to avoid 3 religious structures

In a joint reply to The Straits Times, the LTA, Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and National Heritage Board (NHB) said heritage considerations were woven into the design of Prince Edward station.

Given the space constraints of the site, many options had been studied, they said, adding that the station's location was chosen to avoid affecting structures with the most heritage value in the area.

MRT construction works will skirt around three religious structures there - the 1844 Fook Tet Soo Khek Temple, the 1902 Masjid Haji Muhammad Salleh and the 1866 Keramat Habib Noh shrine.

The authorities said Palmer House and part of the Bestway Building will be demolished to construct Prince Edward station, while Mount Palmer and a single-storey structure in the Bestway compound will make way for the new Shenton Way Bus Terminal.

Among the remnants of the former Mount Palmer are the ruins of 19th-century tombs, including a four-pillared arched Parsi mausoleum. The tombs were built using red clay bricks and lime plaster.

Some in the architectural community believe the 1958 Bestway Building, home to Singapore's first architecture school, should be kept intact to be better understood as a school compound.

Architectural historian Lai Chee Kien said the site represented a key milestone in technical education which had helped to drive the country's economic development.

The authorities said Block C - the Bestway compound's main building - will not be affected by construction. The URA previously said that the Bestway Building was being studied for conservation.

Work on Prince Edward station will begin at the end of next year.

The authorities also said the NHB has started work with the Iseas Yusof Ishak Institute to carry out an archaeological investigation and documentation of the former Parsi cemetery. The findings "will serve as archival records for future research and reference", they said.

SHS executive committee member Dr Yeo Kang Shua called for the authorities to carry out heritage impact assessments before any development plans are finalised.

He said: "This will help to address heritage and developmental issues in a transparent manner with proper documentation as well as mitigation measures to help protect heritage concerns and allow more time for documentation."

This article was first published on February 25, 2016.
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