Oxley Road: Demolish, redevelop or preserve 38 Oxley Road? The options that were discussed

The house at 38, Oxley Road.
The house at 38, Oxley Road.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The debate over whether to demolish, develop or preserve 38, Oxley Road, has been the subject of intense public scrutiny since a dispute between Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his younger siblings was brought into the public eye last month.

PM Lee, in his ministerial statement to Parliament on Monday (July 3), said a possible factor for the dispute may be a difference in views.

Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling's view is that Mr Lee Kuan Yew absolutely wanted to demolish the house, with no compromise.

PM Lee's view is that while their father wanted it demolished, he was prepared to consider alternatives should the Government decide otherwise.

Here are some options that PM Lee said were proposed and discussed.

1. Preserve the house

After Mr Lee Kuan Yew reiterated his view in his 2011 book Hard Truths To Keep Singaporeans Going, there was strong public pushback over his declaration that "I've told the Cabinet, when I'm dead, demolish it".

 
 
 

He had not wanted the house to become a shambles, arguing that the cost of preservation would be high and if the house was demolished, the value of the land, as well as the surrounding plots, would go up.

Many Singaporeans, however, did not agree and wanted the house preserved.

"This was after all the house of Singapore's founding Prime Minister, where important political decisions were made that shaped the future of Singapore," said PM Lee.

2. Conserve the house

Mr Lee Kuan Yew wrote to some newspaper editors for their views in March 2011, and all replied they would like it to be kept, given its historical importance and heritage value.

Mr Lim Jim Koon, then editor of Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao, suggested turning the house into a museum, like the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall.

3. Gift the property to Singapore

Over the course of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's discussions with his family about how to deal with the house, Mr Lee Hsien Yang at one point suggested that his father gift the property to Singapore.

This was subject to the condition that the house be demolished and a small public park be built in its place.

PM Lee said then that he thought this was worth considering.

4. Redevelop property

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

He asked Mr Lee Kuan Yew which option he preferred, and he replied the latter.

"He was a practical-minded man," said PM Lee.

5. Renovate the house

In August 2011, Mr Lee Kuan Yew told his family that he would will the house to PM Lee as part of his share of the estate.

PM Lee and his wife, Madam Ho Ching, started to discuss alternatives with Mr Lee Kuan Yew on how best they could fulfil his wishes, in the event that the house could not be demolished.

They proposed demolishing the private living spaces to preserve the privacy of the family but to keep the house's basement dining room, which was of historical significance.

The building's decaying structure would also be strengthened, with a new and separate living area to be created, area, so the house could be lived in.

PM Lee said Mr Lee Kuan Yew accepted the proposal.

"In December 2011, he told the family that it was 'best to redevelop 38, Oxley Road, straightaway', after he died, and do what we proposed - remove the private spaces and renovate the house without knocking it down," said PM Lee.

PM Lee said he and his wife then proceeded along these lines and kept the family fully informed of their considerations and intentions.

No one raised any objections to the plan, he said.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew met the architect, went through the proposal and approved the scheme to reinforce the foundations and renovate the house. He also signed the authorisation to submit the development application to Urban Redevelopment Authority on March 28, 2012, which URA approved on April 17, 2012.