Parliament: Engineering studies done to reduce North-South Corridor's impact on heritage buildings

The 1924 Ellison Building. ST PHOTO: NIVASH JOYVIN

SINGAPORE - The original alignment of the North-South Corridor would have impacted even more buildings such as the iconic Rex Cinema, and more shophouse units of the 1924 Ellison Building.

But because the authorities recognised the heritage value of these structures, detailed engineering studies were conducted "over many years" to minimise the impact on these buildings, said Mr Desmond Lee, Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development.

Mr Lee said in Parliament on Tuesday (Nov 8) that on that basis, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) gazetted the two buildings for conservation in 2008 knowing that there would be minimal impact, with a commitment to ensure that any potential impact would be mitigated.

In August, the URA and Land Transport Authority (LTA) had said that one of the Ellison Building's nine units would be torn down and later rebuilt, to make way for the construction of the corridor, leading to widespread concern and appeals from the heritage community.

The 1924 landmark was constructed by Romanian Jew Isaac Ellison and is known for its cupolas, as well as the Star of David on its facade.

In Parliament, Nominated Member of Parliament Kok Heng Leun asked if the corridor, a 21.5km expressway connecting estates in the north to the city centre, could be realigned without affecting the conserved Ellison Building; if stakeholders had been consulted; and if studies had been conducted on the best option for the building which lies at the junction of Selegie Road and Rochor Canal Road.

Mr Lee said it was not possible to avoid the Ellison Building since public infrastructure criss-crosses underneath the area.

He said that on one side of Bukit Timah Road lies the underground Rochor Canal - a drainage facility that ensures that low-lying areas in the city can cope with intense periods of rainfall. He also noted that the North-East MRT Line (NEL) cuts across Bukit Timah Road, while the Downtown MRT Line (DTL) runs beneath Bukit Timah Road.

He said: "This means that the North-South Corridor's tunnels must run in between the foundations of existing buildings along both sides of Bukit Timah Road, the underground Rochor Canal as well as the NEL and DTL stations and tunnels."

He said the tunnel cannot be lowered further into the ground to avoid the underground infrastructure as doing so will require extensive ramps and portal structures to connect its carriageway with surface streets which will affect the nearby MRT stations and impact even more buildings.

Mr Lee noted that the LTA will be engaging a conservation specialist to advise on how best to minimise the impact of upcoming tunnel works on the historical building. He added that it had been the agency's intention to hire a conservation consultant after it had issued the design and build pre-qualification tender for the corridor.

He said that the authorities have also met representatives from the heritage community twice.

The Straits Times understands that the experts had suggested other possible ways to avoid the demolition and reconstruction option. These included propping the structure up and strengthening the foundation while the corridor is built; providing underpinning support for the building while works are being done; and gutting out the first floor of Ellison Building, while propping up, reinforcing and retaining the second floor.

Mr Lee said that LTA and URA will continue to work with these groups and that the Government will finalise its implementation plans after these discussions.

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