URA plan to retain Farrer Park's sports heritage cheered

An artist's impression of the future Farrer Park, which will preserve the area's sporting heritage. The now defunct Farrer Park boxing gym, where former Olympic boxer Syed Abdul Kadir trained, will be retained.
The now defunct Farrer Park boxing gym, where former Olympic boxer Syed Abdul Kadir trained, will be retained.ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

Iconic swimming pool, former boxing gym among features to stay as area is redeveloped

Lawyer Nicholas Narayanan became "emotional" when he learnt about the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) draft Master Plan, which was unveiled last Wednesday.

The 46-year-old is part of the "Friends of Farrer Park" group that set up an online petition to retain the area's sporting heritage, and was pleased to hear that the Government plans to do just that, as part of its redevelopment blueprint.

Among other updates, Farrer Park was featured, with its iconic swimming pool and former boxing gym to be retained to "preserve the sporting heritage of the area and inspire future generations of sportsmen".

"While we understand it is still very much in the planning stage, it is still a positive step forward," said Mr Narayanan, who still lives in Farrer Park, off Dorset Road, and learnt to swim at the Farrer Park Swimming Complex.

The area, which groomed many of Singapore's sports stars from the 1960s to the 1990s, came under the spotlight when The Straits Times reported in March last year that the 9ha plot of land between Dorset Road and Northumberland Road, where the Farrer Park fields sit, was slated for housing redevelopment.

The area includes the currently vacant boxing gym - the Singapore Amateur Boxing Association moved out last April - and swimming complex, which is currently leased to former national swimmer Ang Peng Siong's eponymous swim school. The area also includes eight tennis courts which are managed by national sports agency Sport Singapore (SportSG).

In response to queries from The Straits Times, the URA replied in a joint media statement with SportSG that government agencies "are mindful of Farrer Park's sporting history", and held workshops with stakeholders, including Friends of Farrer Park and athletes, to "understand what is important to the community, and to co-create ideas on how the precinct can be rejuvenated sensitively".

An artist's impression of the future Farrer Park, which will preserve the area's sporting heritage. The now defunct Farrer Park boxing gym, where former Olympic boxer Syed Abdul Kadir trained, will be retained.
An artist’s impression of the future Farrer Park, which will preserve the area’s sporting heritage. PHOTO: URBAN REDEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY

The statement added that it received feedback that sports facilities in the area should be incorporated as part of the future precinct, and that "the pool should continue to be for public use, and the former boxing gym could be adapted for other suitable sports or community usage".

"These ideas will be incorporated in the future plans for the housing precinct, alongside a sports field and park to better serve the community," the statement said.

More details, such as development timelines, will be announced when ready, it added.

Local swimming icon Mr Ang, 56, was one of many former athletes who voiced the need for the Government to retain Farrer Park's sporting history when the news broke last year.

He told ST that he was pleased to learn about URA's plans, saying: "The Farrer Park spirit is that anybody can go there and play any game they want.

"It seems there will be options and facilities for people to do sports and stay healthy, and that is the key thing to keeping the sporting heritage of the place alive."

 
 
 
 

While mindful that he might have to vacate the 62-year-old pool for redevelopment, Mr Ang hopes he can continue to lease the premises to train swimmers, such as Asian Para Games champion Toh Wei Soong, until the Aug 25 to Sept 6 Paralympics next year.

"Wei Soong is preparing for Tokyo, and that continuity is im-portant," said Mr Ang, who added that this was one of the considerations raised to the Government.

Others who hold a connection to Farrer Park also lauded the Government's plans.

Former Olympic boxer Syed Abdul Kadir, who trained at the boxing gym when it opened in 1968, noted that the area was a "second home" for many national athletes in the past.

Former national football captain Terry Pathmanathan was one of those consulted at the workshops. He was born and raised in Buffalo Road near Farrer Park.

"I understand the challenges where development is concerned, but it is nice that certain parts of it will be preserved for everybody to remember," said the 63-year-old Mr Pathmanathan, who had been talent-scouted at Farrer Park by the late former national football coach Choo Seng Quee.

"It is a special place to many Singaporeans from my era, and our emotional connection to the area goes beyond any monetary value."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 01, 2019, with the headline 'URA plan to retain Farrer Park's sports heritage cheered'. Print Edition | Subscribe