Columbarium builder committed to run temple at Fernvale Link

Artist's impression of the columbarium in Fernvale Link. The company that is planning to build the columbarium has affirmed its commitment to running a Chinese temple at the site. -- PHOTO: LIFE CORPORATION LIMITED
Artist's impression of the columbarium in Fernvale Link. The company that is planning to build the columbarium has affirmed its commitment to running a Chinese temple at the site. -- PHOTO: LIFE CORPORATION LIMITED

But faith groups say land bid from commercial entity was 'surprising'

The company that is planning to build a columbarium in Fernvale Link has affirmed its commitment to running a Chinese temple at the site to serve the community, the authorities said yesterday.

In a statement yesterday, the Housing Board and Urban Redevelopment Authority said that the company must adhere strictly to the tender conditions and preserve the intent of the site as a Chinese temple.

The site has been zoned a "Place of Worship" since 2003. Guidelines allow space of up to 20 per cent of gross floor area at such places to be set aside for ancillary columbarium use. This must be located inside the main building, out of sight from the surrounding developments, the statement said.

Last July, Eternal Pure Land, which is owned by Life Corp, won a tender for the 2,000 sq m site for $5.2 million.

News that a columbarium will be built as part of the temple sparked an outcry from some nearby flat owners.

Faith associations and property experts said it is surprising that a commercial organisation was allowed to bid for land earmarked for religious use.

But they added that could become more common in the future as land gets more expensive.

Describing the practice as rare the Singapore Buddhist Fede-ration's Venerable Shi Chuan Guan, the chairman of its dharma propagation committee, said religious groups usually bid for land to serve the needs of their devotees and are "never commercial endeavours".

Singapore Taoist Federation's administrator, Master Wei Yi, said that temples usually run their own columbaria.

"We take it as a service to the community... It's not about making money," he said.

There are more than 60 columbaria in Singapore.

The Government runs four of them. They are in Mandai, Yishun, Choa Chu Kang and Upper Aljunied Road. The rest are mostly run by churches and temples.

Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery houses a columbarium with more than 200,000 niches at Bright Hill Road. Prices range from $1,600 to $9,880 for a niche.

A niche at a Christian columbarium, the Garden of Remembrance in Choa Chu Kang, starts at $3,500 for a 60-year lease, while those at the privately owned Nirvana Memorial Garden next door average $6,000.

But real estate firms said corporate and religious partnerships could be the way forward as land and construction costs are steep.

R'ST Research director Ong Kah Seng said it could work for small and cash-strapped religious organisations.

"The commercial entity has the means to execute the end product. It can otherwise be a costly affair for a religious group with little expertise in the area," he said.

Amitabha Buddhist Society's secretary Ben Lee, 50, however, believes business should not be mixed with religion.

He said: "The needs of worshippers should be at the heart of any expansion effort. I don't think it is right for a company to profit from religious groups."

melodyz@sph.com.sg