Seng Kang’s NIMBY incident is not what you see in the mass media [Updated]

[Updated 29 Jan 2015]

No commercial columbarium at temple site in Sengkang”  – After denying and trying to defend the bad decision in awarding a religious site to a private company for almost three weeks, the MND Minister Khaw Boon Wan finally announced a U-turn in the decision in Parliament but no apology given. “Would flaw have been exposed if not for uproar?” ask one reader. While it is a good thing and is the right decision to make a U-turn, damage has been done to the reputation of the Government and will likely to take a long time to repair. The MP Lam Pin Bin instead of speaking out for its residents, chose to side with the Government officials, definitely going to cost many lost votes as a result. Remember PM Lee only said these words recently and it is still ringing in my ears: ““We have to call a spade a spade. If we have changed position and your previous position was wrong, say so. If you hold by your position, have your guts to reaffirm it and take the consequences. But to weasel away, play with words, avoid the issue and then claim to be responsible, that is what we fear can drive Singapore’s politics into the same place where many other countries have gone.”” As one netizen has asked “who is lying HDB, URA, MP or the Minister?”.

“I… asked HDB and URA whether a commercial entity is allowed to participate in a tender process for a place of worship, and I was informed that it had been done before,” he said, referring to the Housing Board and the Urban Redevelopment Authority.” – Sengkang West MP Lam Pin Min 

“This government almost never admit their mistakes. If they could be more humble, they will find themselves more trusted and respected. We would also be more cooperative. What is wrong with admitting failure or making a mistake? If you don’t, we fear you have not learn the lesson and would repeat the mistake again and again. Why be like other governments?” –

“Not only had it ignored land use gazettes by planning to build a commercial columbarium, the private firm that caused a brouhaha earlier this month among some Sengkang residents, who complained when they learnt that such a facility was coming up near their homes, is not even affiliated to any religious organisations.” – Khaw Boon Wan

Double Standards?

When Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) was found guilty of holding a festive trade fair without a permit, it came to light that as a condition to the grant of a festive trade fair permit, the National Environment Agency (NEA) requires the organiser to obtain a letter of support from the Citizens’ Consultative Committee (CCC)[9].  Presumably, this is to ensure that holding the festive trade fair – albeit a temporary event – will not have an adverse effect on the local community.

Trade fairs run over weeks. Yet the authorities like NEA seem concerned enough with its impact on the local community to require the organiser to obtain a letter of support from a local citizen body.

Developments are permanent features having a lasting impact on the local community. Yet, the local community have no place in URA’s planning permission process as developers are not required by URA to seek local community support as a condition to being allowed to execute their development plans.”NSP


“Khaw is not speaking the entire truth because if the columbarium was not included in the original submission and the MND only came to know of it recently, then the tender award would be forfeited because there has been a breach of contract. Simple as that. But Khaw did not say that. Instead, he said “I’ll find a way to unwind this”. It is a breach of contract what is there to unwind? Unless, of course, it was in the original submission but now the residents have made a lot of complains and threatening to withdraw from buying the HDB flats under construction and he is facing fire he has to find an escape “clause”. Can Khaw be trusted for his words? Remember the National Parks bicycle fiasco when he came out to say there was nothing wrong with the tender exercise and that the contract was above board? But later, what happened? We all know the NP officer was charged in court for corruption (helping his friend get the contract).” – TheRighteousHand

More links:

Original post Jan 9, 2015

“The controversial columbarium is to be built inside a Chinese temple in Sengkang, which will sit on a plot that the Eternal Pure Land company won with a tender bid price of $5.2 million.

The winning bid was higher than the $4 million offer by a Taoist organisation and the $1.8 million price tabled by a Buddhist organisation.” – Straits Times

Why is the private company ( an Australian Public Listed company Life Corporation) is allowed to bid for a religious site to make money? What is more troubling is the mass media kept silent on this controversial point which left out one important information which mislead the readers to think that the issue lies squarely with the residents rather than the Government. That is sick !!!

“Housing Board (HDB) was not clear in its sale brochure, which indicated that the site adjacent to the project was reserved for a Chinese temple, but did not specify that it would include a columbarium.It was only in a disclaimers section that it said the proposed facilities are only indicative and subject to change or review……….Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) awarded the tender of the Chinese temple site to the highest bidder, instead of religious institutions.”NSP

Other cases of NIMBY:


“When a land is gazetted for religious use, naturally it means that it is not for commercial use. Especially in this case, when it says the land is for Chinese Temple, then in Singapore’s context, a Chinese Temple is mean to be run by a registered organization or society under Registrar of Society (ROS). A religious organization like a Chinese Temple or any Churches that receive tithes are governed by the Charity Act. According to the ruling of High Court, any organization that advance religion will have to be classified as Charity. The governing body is Commissioner of Charities.” — Source


Columbarium in Sengkang: FAQ on death-related facilities and sites in Singapore

PUBLISHED ON JAN 12, 2015 9:36 PM
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Artist’s impression of the columbarium in Fernvale Link. Some residents of Fernvale Lea, an upcoming Build-To-Order (BTO) HDB project in Sengkang, have protested against the housing of a columbarium within a Chinese temple near their flats. — PHOTO: LIFE CORPORATION LIMITED

SINGAPORE – Some residents of Fernvale Lea, an upcoming Build-To-Order (BTO) HDB project in Sengkang, have protested against the housing of a columbarium within a Chinese temple near their flats.

Some said that they did not know about the columbarium plans. Others pointed out that a mention of it was in fine print in a brochure.

Here are answers to some commonly-asked questions about the issue.

Q: What are the sort of death-related facilities and sites in Singapore?

There are basically four:

Funeral parlour: A place where the dead are prepared for burial or cremation.

Crematorium: Where a body is cremated.

Cemetery: Where the dead are buried.

Columbarium: A room or building with niches for funeral urns to be stored.

Q: Which authority is in charge of these sites/facilities?

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) decides how land can be used through its Master Plan, which takes into account the overall planning considerations in an area. Land that is zoned for death-related facilities and sites are then put up for tender by agencies that are allocated these land plots. In the case of land where BTO flats are built, the agency that does this is the Housing Board.

The National Environment Agency manages cemeteries in Singapore and also four columbaria in Mandai, Yishun, Mount Vernon and Choa Chu Kang.

Private columbaria are managed by the businesses or organisations behind them.

Q: Where can I get more information on land use?

The latest URA Master Plan 2014 shows how land is zoned.

Land uses are marked according to colour. For example, light blue denotes a “water body”, light yellow denotes a “reserve site” and red with a “H” denotes “health and medical care”.

The Master Plan is reviewed every five years.

It does not give details on actual development. For example, a site marked “place of worship” could be a mosque, church or temple.

Q: What does it mean if a parcel of land is marked “reserve site”?

URA defines it as such: “These are areas the specific use of which has yet to be determined. Interim uses that are compatible with the uses in the locality may be allowed subject to evaluation by the competent authority.”

Land parcels that are zoned “reserve site” may be put into any use in future, including for death-related facilities.

However, the future use of a reserve site will take into consideration how it can complement surrounding developments. For example, it is unlikely that a land zoned reserve site located in the middle of a housing estate will be used for a cemetery in future.

Q: What do the rules say about the development of columbaria?

According to URA guidelines in place since 1999, columbaria can be part of free-standing buildings being used as places of worship, clan associations, homes for the aged, nursing homes and religious schools.

There must be a 4.5m buffer between the sites where the columbaria are housed and other buildings.

The URA guidelines allow space of up to 20 per cent of the total gross floor area to be set aside for columbarium use.

The columbarium must be located inside the main building, out of sight from the surrounding developments and preferably in the basement.

If it has to be located above ground, it should be screened from public view.

All death-related facilities must also be well integrated with the surroundings and other boundaries.

Q: What sort of land-use information does a person applying for a BTO project normally get?

HDB Build-To-Order projects are launched on HDB’s website.

A sales brochure will be made available to the public. It will contain the project’s location map, site plan, unit distribution, typical floor plan, layout ideas and general specifications.

The location map will show future roads and facilities including MRT lines and schools.

If at the time of launch details are available on proposed buildings, they will also be shown.

Q: When was Fernvale Lea marketed?

Fernvale Lea, which will have 1,150 units in eight 26-storey high blocks, was launched under the HDB Build-To-Order exercise in January 2012. It will be ready this year.

Q: What information exactly was given out to residents?

Some residents referred to the hard-copy sales brochure, which contained information specific to Fernvale Lea and another BTO project in Sengkang. The brochure came with a map which showed the site of the Chinese temple and other facilities in the area. Residents said the possibility of the temple housing a columbarium was mentioned only in fine print at the bottom of the page.

The fine print read: “The information contained herein is subject to change at any time without notice and cannot form part of an offer or contract. The proposed facilities and their locations as shown are only estimates.”

It went on to say: “The proposed facilities may include other ancillary uses allowed under URA’s prevailing Development Control guidelines. For example, places of worship may also include columbarium as an ancillary use, while community centres may also include childcare centres.”

A HDB webpage which displayed information on four BTO projects launched in 2012, including Fernvale Lea, also had the same disclaimer in fine print.

An electronic sales brochure specific to Fernvale Lea and typically released at the start of BTO application, however, has a more general disclaimer. It stated: “The proposed facilities, their locations and surrounding land-use shown in the maps and plans are indicative only and subject to change or review. These facilities may include other ancillary uses allowed under URA’s prevailing Development Control guidelines.”

The site plan in the e-brochure showed an area marked out as “Site Reserved for Chinese Temple”.

Q: When was the tender for the Chinese temple site put up?

HDB put up the tender on May 27, 2014. The tender closed on July 8 and was awarded on July 17.

Q: Who won the Chinese Temple site bid?

Singapore company Eternal Pure Land Pte Ltd, which is wholly owned by Life Corporation. It had put up a bid for $5.2 million.

Life Corporation is an Australian company which was originally set up as a cord blood banking company named Cordlife in 2001. In 2013, it sold off Cordlife and re-established itself under its current name, with a new focus on funeral services.

It acquired Singapore Funeral Services, which provides funeral and casket services, in December 2013 for $8 million, according to its annual report last year.

Life Corporation has offices in both Australia and Singapore.

Eternal Pure Land was set up on June 12 last year, 16 days after HDB put up the site for tender.

There were two other bidders for the site: Peng Hong Association, which had a bid of $4 million, and Xing Guang Maitreya Society, which had a $1.8 million bid. Both are Buddhist societies. It is not clear what their plans were.

What has Life Corp revealed of its plans for the site?

Life Corporation intends to use the land for a Chinese temple with an integrated columbarium.

In an announcement posted to the Australia Securities Exchange on Nov 21, 2014, Life Corporation said the land was “integral to Life Corporation’s expansion plans and strategic direction to provide a full suite of premium funeral services”.

It also stated that the land will be used for the construction of a “Chinese temple with an integrated state of the art automated columbarium”.

It added that “this represents a major step forward in Life Corporation’s intention to become the leading provider of funeral and funeral-related services in Singapore”.”

Source: Straits Times, “Columbarium in Sengkang: FAQ on death-related facilities and sites in Singapore”