Ministerial panel lays out 3 options for 38 Oxley Road, says fate of Lee Kuan Yew's house is for future govt to decide

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The ministerial committee set up to consider the future of 38 Oxley Road says the decision on which option to take will be left to a future government.
The ministerial committee set up to consider the future of 38, Oxley Road laid out three options for the house. PHOTO: ST FILE
The home of former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew at 38, Oxley Road. PHOTO: ST FILE
An aerial view of the house at 38, Oxley Road. PHOTO: ST FILE
The entrance of the house at 38, Oxley Road. PHOTO: ST FILE
The basement dining room of the house at 38, Oxley Road. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The ministerial committee set up to consider the future of 38, Oxley Road has laid out three options for the house, and says the decision on which to take will be left to a future government.

It released a 21-page report on Monday (April 2), listing the three possibilities for founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew's home:

- retain the property by gazetting it as a national monument or for conservation

- retain the basement dining room, which has the greatest historical significance, and tear down the rest of the property

- allow the property to be fully demolished for redevelopment

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who chaired the four-member panel, said it did not make any recommendations as no decision is required at this point. Mr Lee's daughter Lee Wei Ling has said she intends to continue living in the house.

Said DPM Teo: "Ultimately, in the fullness of time, a future government will have the responsibility to consider the public-interest aspects of the property, taking into account Mr Lee's wishes. They will have to decide what to do with the property and be able to carry the decision."

The committee assessed that 38, Oxley Road has architectural, heritage and historical significance.

It also concluded that Mr Lee's preference was for his house to be demolished after his death, based on evidence such as documents and statements that he had made.

However, the late Mr Lee was also prepared to accept options other than demolition, the committee said, citing documents such as his Dec 27, 2011 letter to the Cabinet saying that if the house is to be preserved, it should be refurbished and let out for people to live in.

In preparing the report, the committee, which comprised DPM Teo, Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong and Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu, invited representations from Mr Lee's three children - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee. PM Lee had earlier recused himself from all government decisions involving the house.

It set out the various options and their implications, "so that a future government can refer to these plans and make a considered and informed decision when the time came to decide on the matter".

The release of the committee's report was accompanied by a separate 31-page report by the National Heritage Board, detailing the house's historic and architectural interest.

The fate of 38, Oxley Road was thrust into the public spotlight in June 2017, when Dr Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang issued a statement accusing their brother, PM Lee, of misusing his power in a bid to preserve their late father's house, among numerous other allegations.

A day after his siblings released their statement, PM Lee made known his "grave concerns" and questioned the "troubling circumstances" surrounding the preparation of the late Mr Lee's final will in a statement issued by his lawyers.

His siblings hit back with multiple Facebook posts, disputing his account about the last will and alleging that PM Lee had used his position to influence the ministerial committee into challenging the validity of a clause to demolish the Oxley Road house in the final will.

PM Lee subsequently delivered a ministerial statement in Parliament to refute their accusations.

(From left) Mr Lee Hsien Yang, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Dr Lee Wei Ling. PHOTOS: ST FILE

On Monday, DPM Teo noted that the dispute over 38, Oxley Road had thrust the committee's work into the spotlight.

"We therefore felt we owed it to Singaporeans to release our work, what were our findings, and the options for the property that could be considered by a future government," he said.

"With this, we hope to close the chapter on this topic, and focus on other pressing national issues ahead of us."

The three options are:

1. Retaining 38, Oxley Road

The committee said the single-storey bungalow could be retained by gazetting it as a national monument.

The state will have to acquire the house within one year of the preservation order, and identify an appropriate alternative use for the site and rezone it from its current status as a residential site.

The site could become a civic and community site or an educational institute associated with Mr Lee Kuan Yew's legacy, which would be deemed compatible with the surrounding residential zoning, said the committee.

Restrictions on access to the property can also be placed, to take into account Mr Lee Kuan Yew's wish to protect the family's privacy, it added.

The Lee family relaxing with their black labrador Nikki on the verandah of their home at 38, Oxley Road, in a photo dated May 1965. PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE LEE FAMILY

Conservation is another way to retain 38, Oxley Road for its historical and heritage value, while allowing greater flexibility for modifications and refurbishment of its interior, the committee said.

If the house is gazetted for conservation, the building itself and the dining room, where the founding members of the People's Action Party (PAP) met, will be protected by law.

This would also significantly address Mr Lee Kuan Yew's concerns about privacy, the committee said, adding that this option would allow the site to still be zoned for residential use and be privately owned.

Conservation can also be an interim step before the property is subsequently gazetted as a national monument, which accords the highest level of protection.

2. Retaining the dining room and tearing down the rest of 38, Oxley Road

Preserving the dining room - assessed as the most historically significant part of the property - and allowing the rest of the house to be redeveloped is another option, the committee said.

The basement dining room of the house at 38, Oxley Road. PHOTO: ST FILE

This is one way to fulfil Mr Lee Kuan Yew's wishes and still retain the portion with the most heritage value, it said, while adding that there may be a loss of context in preserving a room alone without the rest of the house.

The committee said the retained basement dining room could be housed in a glass house or garden room for guided viewing, as part of a park, given that the late Mr Lee was a strong advocate of the greening of Singapore.

The Garden Room in Kensington, London. It is an example of a simple glass structure set in a garden of a residential property. PHOTO: IQGLASSUK.COM
The Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut. It shows how a glass structure can be integrated with the surrounding landscape. PHOTO: ARCHITECTURALDIGEST.COM

Another possibility is to incorporate the dining room into a new building, which could be used as a research or heritage centre, the committee said.

This second option allows public access to the dining room for the purposes of national education, while not revealing details about the late Mr and Mrs Lee's way of life, as the rest of the property would have been demolished, it said.

3. Allowing 38, Oxley Road to be demolished for redevelopment

Should a future government decide to allow the entire property to be demolished, it can be redeveloped either by the property owner for residential use, or the state for alternative uses.

The single-storey bungalow is currently owned by Mr Lee Hsien Yang, who earlier bought the property from PM Lee.

The committee noted that based on its current designation, the Oxley Road site can be redeveloped into two-storey landed housing.

However, the Urban Redevelopment Authority has assessed that under this third option, the sites can be rezoned to allow for five-storey residential developments.

This would mean the site at 38, Oxley Road can yield about 16 private housing units, the committee said.

Alternatively, the state can acquire the land, demolish the house completely and redevelop it for alternative uses such as a public park, heritage centre or research institution, it said.

Pointing to vacant, state-owned plots of land behind 38, Oxley Road and its adjacent properties, the committee said those plots could be amalgamated with the property to "provide more flexibility to meet the planning intention and needs of the proposed use of the site, while ensuring that it remains compatible with the overall character of the neighbourhood".

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