Indranee asks Lee Hsien Yang: Why the urgency to demolish Oxley Road house?

Senior Minister of State for Finance Indranee Rajah.
Senior Minister of State for Finance Indranee Rajah. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Senior Minister of State for Law and Finance Indranee Rajah has questioned why Mr Lee Hsien Yang, the younger brother of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, wants an "immediate commitment" from the Government to demolish the 38, Oxley Road house.

In a Facebook post yesterday, she reiterated that the Government does not have to make any decision about the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew's house now, as his daughter, Dr Lee Wei Ling, is still living there as per his wishes.

"Letting the house stand for now does not go against those wishes… The matter may well not need to be decided for another 20 to 30 years. It can be decided by a future government," she said.

She added: "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 listed four options for the Oxley Road house - demolition, preservation, conservation and compulsory acquisition - in her third post on the feud between the Lee siblings over whether to demolish the house.

Her first post centred on issues surrounding the dispute, including a demolition clause in the late Mr Lee's will, while the second post focused on that final will.

Yesterday, she noted that demolishing the house would pave the way for the owner to appeal for rezoning or to increase the plot ratio.

THE REAL QUESTION

Letting the house stand for now does not go against those wishes… The matter may well not need to be decided for another 20 to 30 years. It can be decided by a future government... The real question therefore is why Mr Lee Hsien Yang is asking for an immediate commitment on demolition now. What is the urgency?

SENIOR MINISTER OF STATE FOR LAW AND FINANCE INDRANEE RAJAH

38, Oxley Road is currently a freehold site zoned for a two-storey landed property, with a land area of 1,120.5 sq m. Media reports have estimated its market value at $24 million.

Ms Indranee said the land value will increase significantly if rezoning or increased plot ratio is granted, and one can expect interest from many developers.

"For example, if a 20-storey luxury condominium can be built on the site, with one condo unit per floor, all with the address of 38, Oxley Road, it could be marketed as a unique trophy address," she noted.

She said that a second option is for the house to be conserved, which means it cannot be developed, but works can be done to the building if they comply with conservation guidelines.

A third option is for the house to be designated a national monument, which means it cannot be redeveloped and will be subject to stringent preservation guidelines.

Since the house is used as a residence, it will be subject to compulsory acquisition - the fourth option - within one year of the preservation order.

Compulsory acquisition will be done under the Land Acquisition Act, and Mr Lee Hsien Yang, who owns the house, will be compensated at market value.

Ms Indranee said the Government has several further options, such as demolishing the house and building a tasteful memorial or symbolic marker in a park setting.

She cited Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who chairs a ministerial committee to consider options for the house and who previously said that he would not personally support options at the extreme ends of the range - preserving the house for visitors against Mr and Mrs Lee Kuan Yew's wishes or demolishing the house and putting it on the market for private new residences.

Said Ms Indranee: "One can understand DPM Teo's feelings. A luxury condo with that address would confer bragging rights on a select few to say: 'I'm living where Lee Kuan Yew lived.' The history and heritage of the site would be forever lost to ordinary Singaporeans, including future generations. That is probably not the way Singaporeans will want to remember 38, Oxley Road."

She 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".

Mr Lee Hsien Yang travelled to Hong Kong on Sunday, and told Hong Kong media he was visiting friends. He declined to say when he was returning to Singapore.

In her post, Ms Indranee also reiterated that PM Lee has no financial interest in the house, having sold it to his brother.

For the Government, the question is whether there is an intermediate option that will respect the late Mr Lee's wishes and still preserve the heritage and history of 38, Oxley Road for Singapore and Singaporeans, she said.

One option that was raised by DPM Teo was to demolish the house but keep the basement dining room, where many historical meetings took place, with a heritage centre attached.

This, Ms Indranee said, would "substantially fulfil Mr Lee's wish" as his and his wife's privacy would be respected.

"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," she said.

"These options need to be thought through deeply and carefully."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2017, with the headline 'Indranee asks Lee Hsien Yang: Why the urgency to demolish Oxley Road house?'. Print Edition | Subscribe