Botanic Gardens to take over Cluny cluster

The National Parks Board will not be renewing the leases of the Institute of Policy Studies, the Bukit Timah Guild House, and Blue Bali restaurant (above) occupying the houses on the fringe of the Botanic Gardens. The latter has spent $2 million on i
The National Parks Board will not be renewing the leases of the Institute of Policy Studies, the Bukit Timah Guild House, and Blue Bali restaurant (above) occupying the houses on the fringe of the Botanic Gardens. The latter has spent $2 million on its space since moving in five years ago.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

Historic houses on Gardens' fringe to be used for research and education; 3 tenants to leave

The historic cluster of five houses on the fringe of the Botanic Gardens could soon be home to a research and education hub for the Unesco World Heritage site when the leases for academic, dining and entertainment facilities there expire next year.

The National University of Singapore Society's (NUSS) Bukit Timah Guild House, whose lease expires in March, is among those affected.

Speaking to The Straits Times, Singapore Botanic Gardens' director Nigel Taylor said the Gardens will take over the Cluny Road buildings in phases, and use them for "research and educational outreach purposes".

Heritage experts said this could mean a new avenue for the public to learn more about the 156-year-old Gardens, which is home to more than 10,000 plant species.

The Gardens was inscribed as a Unesco World Heritage site last year, joining a league of more than 1,000 global treasures.

The National Parks Board (NParks) will not be renewing the leases of the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), restaurant Blue Bali, and the Bukit Timah Guild House. NParks took over management of the houses, which fall under the Gardens' 49ha Unesco boundary, in 2005.

The Gardens' Centre for Urban Greenery and Ecology presently occupies Houses 1 and 3. Restaurant Blue Bali is in House 4, and the Guild House in House 2.

IPS has been renting House 5 and an annexe building in 1C Cluny Road since 2008, following its merger with the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy nearby in 469C Bukit Timah Road.

An IPS spokesman said the institution has not made any plans to move.

Managing director Robin Greatbatch of Blue Bali, which has been at the cluster for five years, said:

"We expected that NParks would re-tender the house to us, and haven't heard anything officially.

"We spent $2 million putting the place together and building an extensive outdoor restaurant with greenery. We're seeking dialogue as we feel we can contribute educationally while providing a unique outdoor dining space."

NParks said Blue Bali's tenancy will expire towards the end of next year. "We will therefore be contacting them early next year on their lease matters," added Dr Taylor.

Some older members of NUSS had lamented the loss of the Bukit Timah location where they had studied at the then University of Singapore.

Responding to queries, the Guild House said it set up a task force in July to explore other options.

The Cluny Road cluster was built in the 1920s to house academics of Raffles College, Singapore's first tertiary college. It then housed the Economics Department of the University of Malaya, later renamed the University of Singapore, and then NUS.

Dr Kevin Tan, president of the International Council on Monuments and Sites, said the Gardens' move towards developing a research-focused cluster is strategic, and "makes sense" since it is sited within an education and research hub.

Dr Taylor said plans for the cluster are in line with the Gardens' responsibility as a Unesco World Heritage site "to be a leader in botanical research, and to inform and educate the general public in respect of its rich historical, cultural and scientific significance and outstanding universal values". He added that more details will be shared when ready.

The Gardens currently houses a heritage museum at Holttum Hall in the Tanglin Core of the Gardens, and by 2018 will also have a new forest conservation interpretive centre and natural art history gallery at two restored bungalows in Gallop Road.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 19, 2016, with the headline 'Botanic Gardens to take over Cluny cluster'. Print Edition | Subscribe