‘Rule of law’ followed on heritage decisions: Desmond Lee

Mr Desmond Lee, Minister in Prime Minister's Office & Second Minister for Home Affairs & Second Minister for National Development, in an interview at on June 22, 2017.
Mr Desmond Lee, Minister in Prime Minister's Office & Second Minister for Home Affairs & Second Minister for National Development, in an interview at on June 22, 2017. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

The due process has been put in place by nation's founding fathers, says Desmond Lee

When it comes to deciding whether heritage buildings should be preserved, Singapore must follow the due process put in place by its founding fathers, said Second Minister for National Development and Home Affairs Desmond Lee.

To do so, there is a need to strike a careful balance between the private wishes of the property owner and the Government's need to conserve heritage buildings, he added.

Asked what if the private wishes belonged to a founding father, Mr Lee said: "The rule of law is something we cherish because we are fortunate to have it. It is about private rights versus the interest of the public. This process is how (more than) 7,100 buildings are conserved."

He did not refer to the dispute between the children of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew over whether the family home at 38, Oxley Road should be demolished according to their father's last wishes. The interview took place after the dispute had gone public.

Instead, Mr Lee raised the example of the former National Aerated Water Company building.

In that instance, the freehold land underneath the defunct bottling factory in Serangoon had been sold to a private developer, who wished to demolish the building to make way for a private condominium.

This led to a public outcry from the heritage community. The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) said last December that it would engage the new owner to explore the possibility of conserving the building in the light of its architectural and heritage values as a landmark in the area.

Even though the factory sat on private land, Mr Lee said the Government took a stand as it has to represent Singaporeans' heritage concerns. Said Mr Lee: "If the company that owns the building says something like they want to knock it down and do something else there, then there is a process."

This process involves the URA's Conservation Advisory Panel and the National Heritage Board's Preservation of Sites and Monuments division.

Mr Lee described them as a passionate team that cares about our built environment history and go around quietly gazetting and conserving buildings, though "things will come to a boil from time to time". Said Mr Lee: "The building can be memorable for various reasons - because important things happened there, because it's historical. But after your generation, what's next? Do future Singaporeans care about what went on there?

"It's not about the building, but the way in which we curate our conservation strategies and need to allow ordinary Singaporeans to connect with their past."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 26, 2017, with the headline ''Rule of law' followed on heritage decisions'. Print Edition | Subscribe