Pearl Bank owners appeal for change in conservation criterion

A committee at Pearl Bank Apartments wants the Government to amend its requirement that all owners must agree before a building can be declared a conservation site.

About 90 per cent of the 288-unit building's owners back the conservation move but that still falls short of the 100 per cent demanded by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).

The distinctive horseshoe-shaped block was completed in 1976. At that time, it was the tallest residential building in Singapore.

The liaison committee has appealed to the National Development Ministry through local MP Lily Neo, asking it to amend the rule so that only 80 per cent backing is needed - the same as a collective sale.

Committee chairman Lee Seng Teik told a briefing yesterday: "After all, we are preserving the building for posterity, not tearing it down as in an en bloc sale."

Dr Lee said that "no matter how hard we try, in any project, it is not possible to get 100 per cent approval". He noted that some of the owners are very old and not in a capacity to give consent. One owner in this situation also did not make a lasting power of attorney.

The owners want to volunteer the building for conservation while applying to the URA for additional allowable gross floor area.

They will then sell this extra space to a developer, with proceeds to be partly used for restoring the original building.

The URA has said it is prepared to consider an increase of up to 15 per cent in floor area. This could be in the form of a new block built on the area now occupied by a carpark.

The committee also said yesterday that it has been granted a six-month extension to get approval from the owners and submit its conservation and redevelopment plans. This gives it until April 30 next year, instead of the end of next week. If the application for conservation is granted, the committee will apply to the Singapore Land Authority to top up its lease to a fresh 99 years, from its balance of 54 years.

Owners will be given updates by the liaison committee at the building's annual general meeting on Sunday.

Mr Tan Cheng Siong, principal partner of Archurban Architects Planners, who designed the original building and has plans for its redevelopment, said that even with the additional costs of restoration and the lease top-up, a developer would stand to gain.

After conservation and redevelopment, units could be worth at least $1,800 per sq ft (psf), far more than the $800 to $900 psf they are selling for now.

"The building is important from a historical standpoint. It comes from a time when Singapore was struggling to show it could be independent," Mr Tan said.

Madam L.S. Ling, a unit owner, said yesterday she hoped the bid would be successful.

"Pearl Bank's design is unique and unlike anything else in the world. It's worth showing off as part of Singapore's beauty," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 23, 2015, with the headline 'Pearl Bank owners appeal for change in conservation criterion'. Print Edition | Subscribe