Motion to conserve key areas of Dakota Crescent

The Singapore Chinese Orchestra performing in a field beside Block 10 in Dakota Crescent in May. The estate in Mountbatten was built by the Singapore Improvement Trust in 1958.
The Singapore Chinese Orchestra performing in a field beside Block 10 in Dakota Crescent in May. The estate in Mountbatten was built by the Singapore Improvement Trust in 1958.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Redevelopment plans for Dakota Crescent should be reconsidered because the estate has architectural, historical and social significance, Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten) said yesterday.

That the estate is older than independent Singapore is "cause for celebration and should be an important consideration for conservation", he told Parliament.

The estate in Mountbatten was built by the Singapore Improvement Trust in 1958 before it was handed over to HDB in 1960. But it will be making way as part of renewal plans for older public housing estates first announced in 2014.

Residents have to leave by the end of this year. The vacated site will be reserved for future residential development.

Mr Lim filed an adjournment motion, which allows an MP to speak on an issue for up to 20 minutes before Parliament adjourns for the day. In his speech, he highlighted efforts of a group of residents who pieced together a conservation report to save several blocks there.

 
 

He said the group suggested that the estate be used by arts groups, social enterprises or as rental flats for couples waiting for their Build- To-Order flats.

The Straits Times previously reported on the group, led by architect Jonathan Poh, who is also behind the Save Dakota Crescent campaign. Their proposal aims to save 12 blocks and turn the area into a mixed-use complex.

Mr Lim, in arguing for key sections of the neighbourhood to be retained, noted that Dakota Crescent is one of the first public housing projects developed "to provide mass housing before the role of mass building for the public was passed on to the HDB".

The unique structures include Blocks 10 and 20 which are similar to the now-razed British-built blocks at St Michael's estate in Whampoa and the Princess and Duchess estates in Queenstown.

"Many of these suggestions warrant serious consideration by the town planners. I hope that by speaking at this motion, I can persuade the Government to rethink its redevelopment plans for Dakota Crescent," he said.

Nominated MP Kok Heng Leun, who backed the motion, said the proposal is an extraordinary community effort and "ground-up initiative with bold vision" that should be taken seriously.

Said Mr Kok: "What we have is a potentially pioneering project that could become a milestone in our approach towards urban and community development... one where the people take ownership and proactively negotiate among themselves to put forward viable sustainable plans for the future."

He added that as Singapore progresses, it should have an "acute appreciation" of its cultural assets, and these assets should be incorporated into urban planning.

Responding to the motion, Mr Desmond Lee, Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development, listed several National Heritage Board initiatives in the estate, including a research project commissioned last April to document Dakota Crescent's history.

Mr Lee said the authorities' planners "are open to looking at the different ways in which the area can be redeveloped and rejuvenated, while retaining its distinctive identity and character".

"We look forward to receiving these suggestions, and will engage Mr Lim and the rest of the heritage community, and the various groups who have worked on this project to come up with a plan that is sensitive to the character and heritage of Dakota, while keeping our eye to the future," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 11, 2016, with the headline 'Motion to conserve key areas of Dakota Crescent'. Print Edition | Subscribe