Oxley Road: Lee Kuan Yew signed off on plans to develop the house without demolishing it, says PM Lee

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in Parliament on July 3, that his father Lee Kuan Yew's wish to demolish the house is well-known to all Singaporeans.
The exterior of 38, Oxley Road.
The exterior of 38, Oxley Road. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Singapore's founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew had accepted a proposal to redevelop his house at 38, Oxley Road instead of demolishing it after his death, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday (July 3).

The proposal was to remove the private living spaces and renovate the house without knocking it down, said PM Lee.

He was responding in Parliament to allegations by his younger siblings Wei Ling and Hsien Yang that he has misused his power and dishonoured his father's wish to demolish the family home.

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PM Lee recounted discussions over the family home with his father when he was still alive, and what led his father to change his mind.

Opposition from the public, newspaper editors, and the Cabinet

Although the late Mr Lee wanted the house to be demolished after his death, the public, newspaper editors, and Cabinet ministers disagreed with his view on the matter.

 
 

His position was set out in his book "Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going", published in January 2011, but there was a "strong public pushback" to it, said PM Lee.

Many Singaporeans wanted the house to be preserved as it was a place where important political decisions were made that shaped Singapore's future, he added.

Similarly, newspaper editors told the late Mr Lee at a meeting in March 2011 that they would like the house to be kept, given its historical importance and heritage value.

And in July 2011, after he stepped down from the Cabinet following the General Election two months earlier, he met with the new Cabinet to express his view on the matter.

But the ministers were unanimous in saying that they were opposed to knocking the house down, said PM Lee. He added that he was the only one to not give his opinion at the meeting because he was "both a son and the PM, and hence conflicted".

A new proposal

Even before the Cabinet meeting, Mr Lee had been exploring all kinds of permutations for the house with the whole family, said PM Lee.

Questions included: who to inherit the property, whether to demolish the house before or after he died, and whether to donate the proceeds to charity after the site was redeveloped.

PM Lee said that at one point, his brother Hsien Yang suggested that their father gift the property to Singapore, subject to the condition that the house be demolished and a small public park be built in its place.

PM Lee offered another option:  to demolish the house and redevelop the site, and then to sell off the property and donate the proceeds to charity.. Mr Lee Kuan Yew chose this option. 

The late Mr Lee did not want the house to be run down, dilapidated and expensive to maintain, while his wife, the late Madam Kwa Geok Choo,  did not want people tramping through the family's private living spaces to gawk at how the family lived, said PM Lee.

Knowing his parents' wishes, the prime minister and his wife Ho Ching began discussing alternatives with his father after the July Cabinet meeting, in the event that the Government would not allow the house to be demolished.

PM Lee and his wife proposed to renovate the house to change the inside completely - to demolish the private living spaces to preserve the privacy of the family.

The basement dining room, which was of historical significance, would be kept, and the decaying structure of the house would be strengthened.

A new and separate living area would also be created so the house could be lived in.

"My father accepted this proposal," said PM Lee.

In December 2011, Mr Lee Kuan Yew told the family that it was "best to redevelop 38 Oxley Road straightaway", after he died, and do what PM Lee and Ms Ho Ching proposed.

He also wrote to the Cabinet on Dec 27, 2011, expressing the same view, said PM Lee.

Family kept fully informed

PM Lee said that he and his wife kept the family fully informed of their considerations and intentions.

"We e-mailed everyone, including my father, my sister, my brother and his wife. No one raised any objections to the plan," he said.

The late Mr Lee met the architect, went through the proposal, and approved the scheme to reinforce the foundations and renovate the house, PM Lee added.

In March 2012, his father signed the plans and applications to the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and the URA later approved the plan. .

PM Lee said that as far as he knew, that was how the family had settled the matter, and he heard nothing to the the contrary until after his father died on March 23, 2015 and his will was read in April that year.

The will contained a clause that stated Mr and Mrs Lee's wish to have the house demolished, or to keep it closed off to the public if it could not be torn down due to any changes to the laws.

 

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