Remarks by Minister Desmond Lee at the Media Briefing on Plans for a New Housing Estate at the Former Police Academy in the Mount Pleasant Area

Nov 23, 2021

Good morning. Thank you for joining us for this media briefing.

Today, we’d like to share with you about our plans for a new housing estate. This will be on a brownfield site, largely comprised of the former Police Academy or “Old PA (OPA)”, in the Mount Pleasant area. Allow me to give you some context about the new housing estate and explain how we’ve gone about planning it. Because it exemplifies our evolving approach towards land planning – how we’re involving the community and stakeholders more, to balance different needs sensitively, and further strengthening how we plan for the long term.

The site for the new housing estate at the former Police Academy has been earmarked for housing in the Master Plan since 1998. It is a large site – approximately 33 hectares, and can provide about 5,000 flats in total. And as we’ve shared before, demand for public housing remains high. So we will be activating this site for a new HDB housing estate, to meet the needs of Singaporeans, and we’ll do so within the next five years.
As with every development proposal, we went through an in-depth planning and evaluation process for this new housing estate, taking into account the specific features of the site and its surroundings. Most importantly, the new housing estate will require the development of the OPA, which is rich in heritage and historical significance. The site is also close to Bukit Brown and the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

We first considered how best to preserve and celebrate the heritage significance of the OPA, in the design of this new housing estate. The OPA has a vibrant history, having played an important part in the history of Singapore. It was the site of Singapore’s first permanent police training facility, established back in 1929. It symbolises the transformation of our police training and education – marking the shift from a wooden and attap temporary site to an institution which has enabled our Police to grow and to evolve, from keeping order in a British settlement to preserving the peace and prosperity of an independent nation. The Academy served as a training ground to generations of SPF personnel, both regular as well as National Servicemen and the National Police Cadet Corps.

When I spoke to these Singaporeans at a special reunion in 2017 which we organised when I was in the Ministry of Home Affairs, many of them, past and present, shared with me their fond memories of their time at the Academy and spoke movingly about how their experiences then had shaped them into who they are today. Regardless of generation, it is the same story, the same experience they went through and that wove an invisible bond of camaraderie through these batches of regular, retired and NS personnel.
This history, and these shared memories and experiences, are important for us to remember and commemorate, as a nation.

So we first engaged the stakeholders extensively – representatives from our heritage groups and members of the larger police fraternity including serving officers and retired officers and NSmen – to get their views on how we can best document, preserve, and incorporate this rich heritage of the site within our design.

We then went one step further, to commission an independent detailed heritage study for the new housing estate, which was led by NUS. This was the first time we’ve done an in-depth heritage study of this scale, which is apt considering the scale of new housing estate and the significance of the OPA. The study compared the significance of the various buildings and spaces in the OPA, assessed how the new housing estate could affect the overall heritage significance of the site, and the measures which could be adopted to minimise impact.

Taking into consideration the findings from this study and our engagements with the community, the agencies plan to retain four buildings within the new HDB estate – these are assessed to be the most significant and will be meaningfully adapted for contemporary uses while its physical features are retained and protected. For buildings and spaces that cannot be retained in their entirety, HDB will explore various strategies to retain and showcase their heritage significance in our design of the new housing estate. Outside of the new HDB estate, URA has also identified two buildings of heritage significance, which agencies will retain in our future plans. My colleagues from URA will be providing more details on this shortly.

Although the new housing estate is on a brownfield site – which is the former Police Academy and its surroundings – to mitigate possible environmental impacts, we also conducted an Environmental Impact Study (EIS). The scope of the EIS exceeded the site boundaries of the proposed new housing estate – we did not just conduct the EIS on the site itself, but also expanded the EIS to its surroundings – so we understand the impact, and covered a total area of approximately 71.6 hectares. So, 71.6 hectares was the site of the EIS, and roughly 33 hectares was the site of the proposed HDB estate.

We also engaged our friends from the nature community, who helped us to ensure that the new HDB estate would be sensitively integrated into its environment. As such, we have minimised impact to biodiversity in the adjacent Bukit Brown, and there will be no impact to Kopi Sua Cemetery. HDB colleagues will share more on the adjustments that had been made to the plans.

We have published the reports for both studies -- the reports will be open for feedback for a period of one month. We welcome feedback on our plans.

In addition, our engagement plans will not stop here. We will also set up a Workgroup comprising partners from the police fraternity, the heritage community as well as Government agencies. The Workgroup will collaborate to develop plans to retain and to showcase the unique heritage identity of the area, within the design of the new HDB estate. For example, on the theme and design of the new public spaces. This Workgroup will be chaired by my colleague, Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development Dr Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim.

Our approach to the planning of this new HDB estate is therefore another example of how we continue to partner the community to strengthen the way we plan and develop our city.

Earlier in the year, you may recall that we sought to strike a balance between nature conservation and housing development at Ulu Pandan, based on our public engagements, our studies as well as the feedback received. We had also said that we’re working with a panel of academics and nature experts on an Ecological Profiling Exercise (EPE), to better understand how we can enhance ecological connectivity island-wide. Which means to say, we do not just look at green sites in isolation, but look at them in the context of the potential role they play to provide ecological connectivity between our core biodiverse areas.

These are some of our efforts to partner the community, partner stakeholders, in improving how we protect and enhance our natural environment, even as our city develops, matures and rejuvenates to meet the growing needs and changing aspirations of Singaporeans.

Similarly, our approach to the planning of this new HDB estate in particular, is an effort to work with Singaporeans to recognise, protect, enhance and celebrate our heritage and history in our built environment. It has given us an opportunity to pilot how a large-scale, independent, heritage impact study can be conducted and incorporated, where relevant, into our planning evaluation process.

We will take the lessons learned from this pilot to guide us in our future studies, and in our ongoing work to develop a heritage impact assessment framework. Such a framework will, among other things, guide us on when and how we should conduct detailed heritage studies and how the findings of such studies can inform our planning and design elements. We will give a further update on the framework when we’re ready.

So this is a journey that we’re on, as we continue to partner Singaporeans more deeply, more upstream, to balance different considerations in our land planning – whether it’s nature, heritage, or other priorities. As our available land becomes more scarce and our needs grow and evolve, the challenge of balancing our many different land-use needs will become increasingly complex.

On the Government’s part, we will put out more information on our planning process and decisions, and involve more Singaporeans. We hope this will help Singaporeans to better understand the trade-offs involved, work with us to strike the right balance, give us ideas, and journey with us to develop strategies and measures to strike a balance on many competing needs.