38, OXLEY ROAD DEBATE

DPM: Keeping historic basement room a good intermediate option

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean defended the setting up of the Ministerial Committee, saying that it is the "normal process of Government doing its work".

Demolishing the 38, Oxley Road house, but keeping its historic basement dining room with a heritage centre, is an intermediate option that could "provide a good solution" for what to do with the home of founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said this in Parliament yesterday, pointing out that the ministerial committee considering options for the house has been studying various intermediate options. He was delivering a ministerial statement concerning this committee, which he set up and chairs. "I personally think there are merits in these intermediate options which could provide a good solution," he said, adding that studies are ongoing.

He said the committee does not take a binary approach when considering options - meaning the house must either be kept as is, or demolished. "Instead, the committee's approach is to study and prepare a range of options for the property and the neighbourhood so that a future government can make an informed and considered decision when it becomes necessary."

In saying this, he also outlined the next steps for the committee, pointing out that the Government was not required to make a decision on the house now as Dr Lee Wei Ling is still living there. No decision is required until she moves out. This position is also recognised by Mr Lee Hsien Yang, said DPM Teo. But even though no decision is required now, the Government has a "duty to go through due process" and develop what he termed "drawer plans" for when it had to take a decision on the house. At the moment, the house is owned by Mr Lee Hsien Yang.

And despite the fact that there was no urgency for the committee to complete its studies "within a timeframe", DPM Teo said he would "consult my colleagues to see if it is useful to put out a range of possibilities, to let the public ponder on the matter without having to arrive at any decision".

DPM Teo also revealed that he had met Mr Lee Hsien Yang five times between April 14 and July in 2015, and another time in April 2016, for a range of issues, before the ministerial committee was formed in June 2016.

 

At their April 27, 2015 meeting, DPM Teo said various possibilities for the property were discussed.

"I informed Mr Lee Hsien Yang that I would personally not support the options at either end of the range. At one end, preserving the house as it is for visitors to enter and see the private spaces, would be totally against the wishes of Mr and Mrs Lee Kuan Yew," he said. "And at the other end, demolishing the house and putting the property on the market to develop new private residences such as luxury apartments. This remains my view."

He said it was his hope that a "wise decision" would be made on the matter "in an informed and considered way that takes into account the significant public interest to preserve the heritage of our young nation, while respecting Mr Lee's personal wishes for the house".

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2017, with the headline 'DPM: Keeping historic basement room a good intermediate option'. Print Edition | Subscribe