SINGAPORE: The ministerial committee tasked with considering options for 38 Oxley Road, the family home of Singapore’s first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, laid out several options for the house in a report released on Monday (Apr 2).
This ranged from preserving it by way of gazetting it as a national monument on one end, to demolishing the property and allowing the owner to redevelop it for residential use.
There were also “intermediate” options laid out by the committee, such as retaining the dining room – which is considered the most historically significant part of the property - and demolishing the rest of the house.
Chair of the ministerial committee, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, made clear that the committee did not make any recommendation on what to do with the house because no decision is required at this point in time. This is because the late Mr Lee’s daughter, Dr Lee Wei Ling, is still living there.
“The various options outlined in this report are drawer plans to help a future government make an informed and considered decision about the property when it becomes necessary,” said the committee, which was set up in June 2016.
A dispute over the house was brought into the public eye last year, after claims and counter-claims made by the late Mr Lee’s younger son Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee on the one hand, and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on the other.
Among the issues were whether the family home should be demolished as stated in Mr Lee’s final will, and whether tearing down the house was the only option he was prepared to accept.
THREE BROAD OPTIONS
In its report, the committee said that the options for 38 Oxley Road can be categorised into three. These are:
- Retain the property either by gazetting it as a national monument to be acquired by the state with an alternative use for the site, or gazetting it for conservation and allowing the owner to retain the property for residential use;
- Retain only the dining room and integrating it with an alternative use for the site;
- Demolish the house fully for redevelopment, carried out either by the owner for residential use, or by the state for alternative uses, e.g. as a park or heritage centre.
The options that involve acquisition by the state are - gazetting it as a national monument, retaining the dining room and demolishing the house for alternative uses by the government of the day.
If the house is allowed to be demolished and redeveloped by the owner, the committee said the site allows for a five-storey residential development according to estimates by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). The committee noted, however, that doing so “could result in the loss of a historically significant property, and the potential of that history being leveraged for commercial profit".
In drawing up its report, Mr Teo said that the committee, which included Cabinet members responsible for heritage, land issues and urban planning, has “carefully studied” the representations from the late Mr Lee’s children.
“We relied particularly on the objective evidence placed before us and the key concrete steps that Mr Lee himself took in his lifetime to put his wishes into effect,” Mr Teo added.
“This included the demolition clause in Mr Lee’s last will, his letter to Cabinet dated Dec 27, 2011 as well as the renovation/redevelopment plans for 38 Oxley Road which he submitted to the URA in March 2012, and obtained approval for.”
Based on these evidence, the committee said that while the late Mr Lee's preference was for demolition, he was prepared to accept other options, "provided that suitable arrangements were made to ensure that the property was refurbished and kept in a habitable state and the family's privacy was protected".
With the release of the committee’s findings, Mr Teo said: “We hope to close the chapter on this topic, focus on other pressing national issues ahead of us.”
Apart from Mr Teo, the committee included Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu, Minister for Law and Home Affairs K Shanmugam and Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong.
READ: Dispute over 38 Oxley Road: A timeline of events