SINGAPORE: There are four possible options for the house of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew at 38 Oxley Road – demolition, preservation, conservation and compulsory acquisition – said Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah on Monday (Jun 26).
Listing the options and their consequences in a Facebook post, Ms Indranee said: “From the Government's perspective, the question is whether there is an intermediate option which will allow us to respect the wishes of Mr Lee Kuan Yew and still preserve the heritage and history of 38 Oxley Road for Singapore and Singaporeans.”
The house has been at the centre of a bitter dispute between the late Mr Lee’s children, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling.
If the house is demolished, Ms Indranee said it would clear the way for the owner, in this case Mr Lee Hsien Yang, to appeal for the land to be re-zoned, since the original rationale for the 2-storey zoning in the area for security reasons is also gone with the passing of Mr Lee.
“If re-zoning or increased plot ratio is granted, the land value will increase well beyond the market value for a two-storey property. In that event, one can expect many developers to line up to buy the property,” said Ms Indranee in a post titled “4 financial things you should know about the Oxley dispute”.
The land is freehold, she noted, and the 12,060 square foot house is worth about S$24 million, according to analysts.
If the house is preserved and designated a national monument, the property would be subject to compulsory acquisition within one year of the preservation order, and no works can be done to it without the approval of the National Heritage Board.
Conservation, on the other hand, is less restrictive as works can be done to the building within certain guidelines, but like preservation, the land cannot be redeveloped.
In the final option Ms Indranee listed – compulsory acquisition – Mr Lee Hsien Yang would get compensation under the Land Acquisition Act at market value at the time of acquisition. The Government could then demolish the house and “build a tasteful memorial or symbolic marker in a park setting,” she explained.
The late founding prime minister had in his last will stated his wishes to have the family home demolished immediately after his death, or when his daughter Dr Lee moved out. But there have been questions over whether he knew that the demolition clause was re-inserted into the will, and whether that was the only option he considered.
“WHAT IS THE URGENCY?”
The matter, however, may not need to be decided for another 20 to 30 years, since Dr Lee is still living in the house, said Ms Indranee.
“The Government has publicly stated that it will respect those wishes and does not intend to do anything until Dr Lee leaves,” she wrote, pointing out that letting the property stand, for now, does not go against the wishes of the late Mr Lee.
“So there is nothing for the government to decide now. The real question therefore is why Mr Lee Hsien Yang is asking for an immediate commitment on demolition now? What is the urgency?"
Ms Indranee also pointed out that while Mr Lee Hsien Yang has said he has not thought about what lies beyond demolition,"it would appear he has not ruled out redevelopment."
Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean had said on Jun 17 that the Government has a responsibility to consider public interest aspects of any property with heritage and historical significance, including the 38 Oxley Road house where many critical decisions on the future of Singapore were made by the late Mr Lee and other pioneer leaders.
Mr Teo, as chair of the ministerial committee set up to consider the future of the house, said he had shared options with Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling.
He said he told them that he would personally not support options at “either end of the range” – that is to preserve the house for visitors to enter or to demolish it and put it on the market for new private residences.
Instead, the committee has been studying “intermediate options” like demolishing the house but keeping the basement dining room where many important historical meetings took place, with an appropriate heritage centre attached, Mr Teo revealed.
“This would substantially fulfill Mr Lee's wish,” said Ms Indranee. “His and Mrs Lee's privacy would be respected. Pictures of the basement were already made public during Mr Lee's time and are widely available. Nothing of the private spaces would be seen.
“At the same time, the history and heritage would not be lost and the crucible where the hopes and dreams of a nation were forged can be kept to inspire many more generations to come.”