URA announces its Conservation Master Plan



In 1986, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) announced its Conservation Master Plan, which identified six historical areas for conservation, namely Chinatown, Kampong Glam, Little India, Singapore River, Emerald Hill and the Heritage Link – a civic and cultural belt linking Empress Place, Fort Canning Park and Bras Basah Road.[1] This master plan is the first conservation blueprint of Singapore’s built heritage.[2]

Before these areas were earmarked for conservation and protection, conservation efforts were limited to the preservation of single buildings or sites identified by the Preservation of Monuments Board, as well as the rehabilitation of distinctive architecture such as the shophouses along Murray Terrace and Tudor Court in the 1970s and the terrace houses in Emerald Hill in the early 1980s.[3]

The call to preserve Singapore’s unique architecture was made as early as 1963 when experts from the United Nations were appointed (and also in 1967) to advise Singapore on its urban renewal programme. These experts cautioned against the mass demolition of shophouses and tenement blocks. Instead, recommendations were made to conserve the historically significant parts of the city core that would preserve the colour and character of the city. These include the traditional ethnic quarters of Chinatown and Arab Town (Kampong Glam) and the colonial civic district. However, the government’s pressing need at the time to address the acute housing shortage, squalid living conditions and an expanding population meant that these considerations were deferred until Singapore’s housing situation had stabilised.[4]

In 1982, the URA took the first steps to incorporate the conservation of historic districts during its review of the urban design structure plan of the city centre.[5] The plan was completed in April 1985[6] and unveiled to the public on 26 December the following year.[7] The plan, which covered more than 100 hectares or 4 percent of the city core, aimed to preserve the architecture and ambience of these areas; provide conservation guidelines that would facilitate the private sector’s involvement in conservation; improve pedestrian walkways and signage; as well as organise activities that would bring out the character of the places and encourage tourism. The private sector undertook most of the conservation projects, while the government assumed the responsibility of restoring state-owned properties that made up 25 percent of the total area.[8] In conjunction with the unveiling of the master plan, an exhibition on the Central Area Structure Plan was also held.[9]

The impetus for urban conservation gained momentum together with the Tourism Product Development Plan that was released by the then Singapore Tourist Promotion Board in the same year.[10] In the ensuing years, the master plan was implemented through the finalisation of a comprehensive master plan  in 1989, revision of laws, gazetting of land and availability of public funds for restoration projects.[11]

1. Aleshire, I. (1986, December 27). 6 areas to be preserved. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Urban Redevelopment Authority. (1987). Annual report 198687 (pp. 11–13). Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority. Call no. RCLOS 354.5957091 URASAR-[AR]; Ministry of National Development. (1988). Annual report 1987. Singapore: Ministry of National Development. Call no.: RCLOS 354.59570686 SMNDAR-[AR]; Urban Redevelopment Authority. (1986). Conserving our remarkable past. Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority. Call no.: RCLOS 959.57 CON.
2. The Straits Times, 27 Dec 1986, p. 1; Urban Redevelopment Authority. (2014). A brief history of conservation. Retrieved August 4, 2014, from URA website: http://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/conservation/vision-and-principles/brief-history.aspx; Urban Redevelopment Authority. (2006). Key milestones in Singapore’s conservation programme. Retrieved August 4, 2014, from URA website: http://www.ura.gov.sg/skyline/skyline06/skyline06-04/text/pg4.html
3. Urban Redevelopment Authority, 2014; Kong, L. (2011). Conserving the past, creating the future: Urban heritage in Singapore (pp. 30–34). Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority. Call no.: RSING 363.69095957 KON.
4. Kong, 2011, pp. 24–35.
5. Kong, 2011, pp. 38–39.
6. Cheok, Y. A. (1986, December 24). City plans drawn up by URA and not Pata task force. The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. The Straits Times, 27 Dec 1986, p. 1.
8. Urban Redevelopment Authority, 1986; The Straits Times, 27 Dec 1986, p. 1.
9. Kong, 2011, pp. 39–41.
10. Kong, 2011, pp. 41–44; Singapore. Ministry of Trade and Industry and Singapore Tourist Promotion Board. (1986). Tourism product development plan. Singapore: Singapore. Ministry of Trade and Industry and Singapore Tourist Promotion Board. Call no.: RSING q338.47915957 TOU.
11. Kong, 2011, pp. 44–67, 254.

Rights Statement

The information in this article is valid as at 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.