Death knell for Mount Vernon Columbarium Complex's funeral parlours?

The Mount Vernon Columbarium Complex houses Mount Vernon Sanctuary's Grace Hall, and is also home to more than 20,000 niches (above). -- ST PHOTOS: DESMOND LIM
The Mount Vernon Columbarium Complex houses Mount Vernon Sanctuary's Grace Hall, and is also home to more than 20,000 niches (above). -- ST PHOTOS: DESMOND LIM
The Mount Vernon Columbarium Complex houses Mount Vernon Sanctuary's Grace Hall (above), and is also home to more than 20,000 niches. -- ST PHOTOS: DESMOND LIM
The Mount Vernon Columbarium Complex houses Mount Vernon Sanctuary's Grace Hall (above), and is also home to more than 20,000 niches. -- ST PHOTOS: DESMOND LIM
The funeral parlours at the Mount Vernon Columbarium Complex in Upper Aljunied Road will eventually be cleared to make way for Bidadari's development. -- ST PHOTOS: DESMOND LIM
The funeral parlours at the Mount Vernon Columbarium Complex in Upper Aljunied Road will eventually be cleared to make way for Bidadari's development. -- ST PHOTOS: DESMOND LIM
Managing director Ang Zi Qian invested about $700,000 in renovations to make Mount Vernon Sanctuary an award-winning funeral parlour. -- ST PHOTOS: DESMOND LIM
Managing director Ang Zi Qian invested about $700,000 in renovations to make Mount Vernon Sanctuary an award-winning funeral parlour. -- ST PHOTOS: DESMOND LIM

Their leases will expire soon with no news yet of an extension

A pall of uncertainty hangs over the funeral parlours at the Mount Vernon Columbarium Complex in Upper Aljunied Road, as their leases are ending soon and it is unclear if the two private operators can stay on.

Singapore Casket runs two parlours, Mount Vernon Parlour 1 and 2, whose leases are ending on Dec 20.

Mount Vernon Sanctuary has six halls to hold wakes, and its lease ends on March 14 next year.

The complex - which used to house the government-managed crematorium until it moved to Mandai in 2004 - is also home to more than 20,000 niches stored in the columbarium blocks.

The authorities told The Sunday Times that the funeral parlours will continue to be leased out, after the current leases end.

However, The Sunday Times understands that the authorities have not finalised whether to allow the current operators to extend their leases or call for a new tender.

The news eased concerns among funeral directors that the parlours would be torn down soon to make way for the upcoming Bidadari housing estate, resulting in a serious shortage of such facilities.

The area is earmarked for the new Bidadari estate, which will have about 10,000 Housing Board flats and 1,000 private homes, located on the former cemetery grounds.

However, the authorities said the complex will eventually be cleared to make way for Bidadari's development.

This will take place after the niches there have been moved to two other government-managed columbariums in Choa Chu Kang and Mandai.

However, a joint response from the National Environment Agency (NEA), Housing Board and Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) did not say when this will happen.

The Sunday Times understands this may take some time, as the relocation of niches has not started yet. The NEA has also not made public announcements for families to claim the niches, and it will do so only two years before the niches are to be moved.

There are also plans for a new funeral parlour to be built at the current Mount Vernon Columbarium Complex site, although no details are available.

The authorities say that the development and operational details of the new Mount Vernon Funeral Parlour will be "determined at a later date".

Both Singapore Casket and Mount Vernon Sanctuary hope to extend their leases, if that option is open to them.

Mr Ang Zi Qian, managing director of Mount Vernon Sanctuary, invested about $700,000 in renovations to transform the rundown former crematorium into an award-winning funeral parlour in 2010.

He said: "For the first few years, we were in the red. It was only this year that we are in the black. But what makes me happier is that bereaved families find this a nice place (to hold wakes)."

Singapore Casket started running Mount Vernon Parlour 1 and 2 in 2009, and its premises are occupied three-quarters of the time on average each month, said its chief executive Goh Wee Leng.

There are 23 licensed funeral parlours offering embalming services located in Geylang Bahru, Toa Payoh Industrial Park, Sin Ming and Lavender Street.

Mount Vernon Sanctuary is among the largest parlours here, as its six halls can accommodate up to 600 people.

Singapore Casket also has 10 halls in its Lavender Street building, besides its two parlours at Mount Vernon.

Funeral directors interviewed say that the Mount Vernon complex is popular, as it is centrally located, well-furbished and has a peaceful environment.

They also say that demand for funeral parlours has risen over the years. One reason is that more people now live in private apartments, and they cannot hold a wake within the premises of condominiums.

Mr Venban Govindasamy, assistant operations manager at Trinity Casket, said: "Families are getting smaller, and people now don't have many children to take turns (to watch over the body) if you hold the wake at a void deck.

"But if you hold it at a parlour, the parlour will lock up the place at night and the family can go home to rest."

theresat@sph.com.sg