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10 Jul 2024

10th Jul 2024

1. The recent mural of a Samsui woman holding a cigarette has generated much public discussion. Several expressed their concerns that the mural normalises smoking. Others commented that this is an art piece and should be left as it is. Most members of the public do not see this as an advertisement for cigarettes.  

2. In general, it has been a constructive discussion, conducted in a tone that was calm and respectful. We thank members of the public for sharing their views. 

3. However, the building owner did not comply with the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA)’s requirements on the conservation and protection of Singapore’s built heritage. 

4. As murals on conserved buildings are prominent visual markers that enhance the character of our conservation districts, URA requires all owners of conserved buildings to submit their mural proposals for approval. 

5. The mural proposal may be reviewed in consultation with community stakeholders and relevant government agencies, to ensure that the artwork relates well to their locale, considers cultural sensitivities and values, enhances the public space, and is welcomed by the local community. If necessary, we will work closely with the building owner on any required modifications. All proposals must be approved by URA before works commence.

6. In this case, the building owner began work on the mural on the conserved building at 297 South Bridge Road, without approval from URA. On 22 March 2024, URA informed the building owner’s representatives that approval had not yet been obtained for the mural, and requested that a submission be made immediately. On 25 March 2024, URA reminded the building owner’s representatives of the need to obtain URA’s approval before continuing with the mural works. Despite this, mural works continued. An application for conservation permission was only submitted on 11 April 2024, after the mural was completed. 

7. The building owner had carried out unauthorised works on a conserved building, and continued with the works despite reminders to obtain approval. URA has therefore issued the owner a composition fine of $2,000 today, 10 July 2024, for the failure to obtain conservation permission prior to the commencement of works, which is a contravention of Section 12 of the Planning Act 1998.  

8. After listening to the diverse views from many members of the public related to the depiction of smoking, URA and the Ministry of Health (MOH) undertook a further review of the matter and have agreed to retain the mural, without any modifications to it. This is in view of the fact that the mural is not an advertisement for tobacco, which is against the law, and is largely perceived as an art piece. 

9. That said, the mural does normalise smoking, which is against MOH’s policy. Had prior approval been sought, MOH would have raised concerns about the depiction of smoking to be featured in a prominent mural like this, and requested modification. We will therefore work with the building owner to find appropriate ways to mitigate any impact that the mural may have in promoting smoking, without modifying the mural itself.

10. URA will continue to work closely with relevant agencies and stakeholders to ensure that our guidelines and processes for murals on conserved buildings not only provide space for creative expression, but also safeguard the character of our conserved buildings and address the larger public interest.  

11. Owners of conserved buildings are reminded to obtain the relevant approvals before commencing any works. Failure to do so will result in enforcement against offenders, including prosecution for egregious cases.