Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Queenstown, home, sweet home

Residents are happy that a royal visit and a $1-million resale flat have thrust the sleepy estate into the spotlight

The Straits Times - September 23, 2012

Feted by British royalty and the location of Singapore's first $1-million HDB flat. All in the same week.

Queenstown may be one of Singapore's oldest estates but it is certainly drawing some new attention.

Just yesterday, for example, the Queenstown Citizens' Consultative Committee and civic group My Community launched a year-long string of activities to mark the estate's 60th birthday.

Queenstown was named after Queen Elizabeth II to commemorate her coronation in 1953 and the estate's own diamond anniversary comes as she celebrates her diamond jubilee this year. So it was fitting that it hit the headlines two weeks ago during a visit by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

And then came what many Singaporeans might consider its crowning achievement - the record-busting $1-million HDB executive flat in Block 149 Mei Ling Street, a few minutes walk from Queenstown MRT, Queenstown Stadium and Queenstown Swimming Complex.

Yes, there are ritzier, more high-profile spots such as Marine Parade and Cantonment Road, but unassuming Queenstown dispelled any assumptions that it is just an ageing, rundown neighbourhood by blitzing them on the price front.

PropNex Realty chief executive Mohamed Ismail says Queenstown is considered a "prime district". The major factor that makes flats there attractive to buyers is its central location.

Orchard Road is only a five- to 10- minute drive away and there are four MRT stations - Queenstown, Commonwealth, Buona Vista and Holland Village.

It also boasts plenty of amenities, such as Queenstown Public Library, schools and popular shopping venues Queensway Shopping Centre and Ikea.

However, Mr Ismail, whose firm did not sell the $1-million flat, says such record- breaking deals are rare. "Even though Queenstown flats are highly sought after, such $1-million apartments are not many and even if they are transacted, they do not fully represent the market as they form just a minority of HDB resale deals," he adds.

Compared to many Queenstown flats, the 1,615 sq ft, $1-million apartment is relatively new as it is only 17 years old.

The first flats to be built in Queenstown were completed by the Singapore Improvement Trust, the precursor to the Housing and Development Board (HDB), in 1953.

Queenstown has undergone rejuvenation over the years. Old flats such as Block 39, Forfar House, for example, were torn down and replaced with 30-storey and 40-storey blocks named Forfar Heights.

The estate's rich heritage is one of its biggest draws, says Mr Kwek Li Yong, editor of Queenstown Magazine and co-founder of heritage website My Queenstown.

The 23-year-old is also the president of My Community, a registered civic society that champions the preservation of history and heritage.

Queenstown was Singapore's first satellite housing estate and many social institutions including branch libraries, technical schools and polyclinics were pioneered in Queenstown, he says.

"The market areas in Commonwealth and Tanglin Halt continue to dazzle with their old-town charm and spirit. Although many buildings have been demolished, the civic spirit is still there."

Retiree Ow Kok Eng, 73, has lived in Stirling Road for the past 45 years and is proud to be a Queenstown resident.

She says: "My husband and I had a choice of moving to Toa Payoh or Queenstown when we got married and I am glad we moved here. Everything I need is nearby. The Margaret Drive market has been torn down, but my estate has seen improvements including covered walkways."

The area used to be marked by swamps and early residents were farmers living in villages who reared pigs and poultry.

The Singapore Improvement Trust selected the area for development as a new housing estate because of its proximity to Tiong Bahru, the British body's first successful mass housing project.

Many old residents and shopkeepers who have been in Queenstown since the 1960s are still there.

Sin Palace Hairdressing Saloon in Commonwealth Drive, for example, opened in 1965 and barber Ong Chong Kwee took over the shop from his late father in 1974.

The 65-year-old, who lives a few blocks away, says he will run his business for as long as he can. "All the neighbours here know each other. And if I want to go other places like Chinatown, it's a short bus or MRT ride away," he says.

Over at Mei Ling Street, Mr Wee Kak Choo, 67, and his wife Ker Ah Kin, 65, run Long Hwee Book Store, which they opened in 1968.

"Like everyone says, the location here is very good," says Mr Wee, who lives with his wife in the flat above his store. Their four children and six grandchildren live elsewhere.

"But it's also a very safe neighbourhood. I can say that there are no bad people here, everyone is friendly," he adds.

Martin Koh | 86666 944 | R020968Z
Sherry Tang | 9844 4400 | R020241C
Senior Sales Director
Email: marshe_inc@yahoo.com.sg
DTZ Debenham Tie Leung (SEA) Pte Ltd (L3006301G)

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