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Pearl Bank Apartments: What sort of consent was needed

URA's reply, 15 Mar 2018

IN his letter "Conservation vs en bloc sale: Money talks louder?" (BT, Feb 23, 2018), Ho Swee Huat asked why 100 per cent of owners' consent is needed for voluntary conservation of strata-titled developments like Pearl Bank Apartments, compared to a lower threshold of 80 per cent consent for en bloc sales. He suggested that URA might be motivated by monetary incentives from a lease top-up by the new owner.

Mr Ho is mistaken. Under the Voluntary Conservation Scheme, the Urban Redevelopment Authority does not stipulate a threshold of support from the owner(s) in the conservation of a building. Instead, URA considers each proposal based on its conservation merits, taking into account the longer-term development plans for the area.

In the case of Pearl Bank Apartments, the Management Corporation Strata Title (MCST) Council put up a proposal in 2014 not just to conserve the Pearl Bank Tower Block, but also to construct a new block within the development. This new block would have added new subsidiary proprietors (SPs) to the development and changed the aggregate share value of all the lots. This would have resulted in a significant dilution of the rights of existing owners.

Under the Building Maintenance & Strata Management Act, the aggregate share value of all the lots in a MCST cannot be altered after an MCST is constituted. Instead, the MCST has to terminate the strata scheme and allow for the reconstitution of a new MCST with an equitable share allocation for all SPs. It is this termination of a strata scheme that requires a resolution by consensus (ie 100 per cent consent from the SPs).

Chou Mei (Ms)
Group Director,
Conservation and Urban Design
Urban Redevelopment Authority

Letter, 23 Feb 2018, Business Times

Conservation vs en bloc sale: Money talks louder?

Pearl Bank Apartments will likely be demolished unless CapitaLand decides to preserve it, which is regretful.

In 2015, the Urban Redevelopment Authority supported owners' conservation efforts. In a reply to a letter from a reader of The Straits Times, URA's group director for Conservation and Development Services Ler Seng Ann wrote: "In studying whether to conserve, we assess the architectural and historical merits of buildings and structures, and consider feedback from the Conservation Advisory Panel as well as owners ... Given the building's merits and the council of the corporation's interest, we are prepared to facilitate the proposal if there is support from individual owners."

It transpired that "support from individual owners" to the URA meant support of 100 per cent of owners. On the other hand, the building can be demolished with only 80 per cent of owners' votes, in an en bloc sale.

The Pearl Bank owners were forced to abandon their conservation attempt when they secured over 90 per cent of votes, not 100 per cent. Now Pearl Bank, with its "architectural and historical merits", is likely to be demolished with a smaller percentage of owners' votes than those who are for conservation. It is puzzling why the URA imposes far more stringent requirements for voluntary conservation than demolition. Or is it simply motivated by the windfall from a lease top-up by the new owner?

In the 1980s, many old buildings in Singapore which should have been conserved were demolished and lost forever. Regretfully, it looks like we are repeating history.

Ho Swee Huat