Bid to save 18 grand old ladies

This story was first published in The Straits Times on July 10, 2013

A LIST of 18 sites in Queenstown - Singapore's oldest satellite town - has been submitted to the authorities in a conservation paper backed by around 1,000 signatures from its residents.

Civic group My Community and the estate's Citizens' Consultative Committee have launched a bid to preserve the buildings, which include several Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) and Housing Board blocks built in the 1950s and 1960s - said to show the evolution of public housing.

Other sites include the Masjid Mujahidin - the first mosque constructed by the HDB - and the former Queenstown Polyclinic.

They hope the buildings will be considered for protection by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) for Singapore's Master Plan 2013 - a statutory plan on land use for the next 10 to 15 years.

"There are many historic places in Queenstown that are not important only to the estate but important to Singapore," said Mr Kwek Li Yong, 24, president of My Community.

Mr Kwek said the paper had been four years in the making and is hoping that it will lead to public consultations before any important buildings are torn down.

Queenstown estate, named after Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, was developed in an SIT project in 1952 to tackle overcrowding in Chinatown, and had more than 19,300 dwellings by 1968.

But since the 1990s, landmarks such as the Queenstown Remand Prison and Margaret Drive hawker centre have been demolished.

Property consultants SLP International's head of research and consultancy Nicholas Mak said as pressure on land use intensifies, it is only a matter of time before the estate is redeveloped - considering its proximity to the city.

The URA and other government agencies are reviewing the paper, a URA spokesman said.

Buildings are selected for conservation based on historical and architectural significance and their contribution to the overall environment.

Signatures on the document include that of Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Chia Shi-Lu. He said while the estate may not have "spectacular" sites such as the graves in Bukit Brown or Peranakan houses in Joo Chiat, it tells the story of Singapore's housing history.

The National Heritage Board said it is "heartened" by the efforts of Queenstown residents.

They were also commended by the Singapore Heritage Society, which is conducting its own list of potential conservation sites.

"There should be more voices promoting dialogue with policymakers to help decide what it is that people think are important in Singapore," said its honorary secretary Yeo Kang Shua, 38.

Resident Koh Wee Ming, 47, who is unemployed, named the library and sports complex as sites which are "part of the community" and worthy of conservation.

This story was first published in The Straits Times on July 10, 2013

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