Multi-user places of worship get the OK

MND will lease land for facilities to house multiple groups of same religion together

Churches and Chinese temples pressed for worshipping space are to be given more help to find a home.

The Ministry of National Development (MND) has said it will lease land for "multi-user places of worship" for the first time. This means that multiple groups of the same religion can be housed in the same multi-storey building.

The MND is also studying suitable sites for the development of such a facility. The ministry held a Request for Information (RFI) exercise on the idea between December 2014 and February last year to seek views and proposals from churches and Chinese temples.

These groups had indicated to the authorities that such hubs would be useful for their needs.

Religious bodies such as the National Council of Churches of Singapore and the Taoist Federation have been meeting the authorities over the past three years to explore solutions to a space crunch brought about by soaring property prices and rentals.

An MND spokesman told The Straits Times yesterday that the multi-storey developments will cater to the needs of smaller religious groups that "find the Government Land Sales sites too big for their needs".

While the Government has been periodically releasing land parcels for places of worship, many small groups cannot afford them. Some churches have to rent venues such as hotel function rooms or industrial units. An estimated 2,000 Taoist temples are run out of homes.

The MND is using data gleaned from the RFI to "refine the planning parameters for the new type of development". This includes the land-bidding process, as well as the total gross floor area and number of levels allowed.

The MND previously said the hubs are likely to be within or at the fringe of industrial areas. They will have a master lessee, who will develop as well as rent or lease out the space. Religious groups will share facilities like carparks and classrooms.

Religious leaders welcomed the move. The Singapore Buddhist Federation's Venerable Kwang Phing said it will "lighten the financial burden of smaller temples".

Taoist Federation chairman Tan Thiam Lye agreed, saying these hubs provide a legal alternative for religious groups as the law does not allow places of worship to be operated from industrial buildings and residential homes. He hopes that at least four Taoist hubs will be spread across the island.

Tabernacle of Holiness Church's senior pastor Xavier Dawes said the hub concept has worked for small faith organisations like his. The church is housed in the Citiraya Centre in Geylang Lorong 27 with another church, three Buddhist groups and a Taoist centre.

It found a permanent home only after buying two units at the centre for about $2.1 million in 2000. The church is still paying off a bank loan. Senior pastor Dawes said: "Many churches have been moving from place to place in search of permanent homes. Such hubs provide a feasible solution for a long-running problem."

Assemblies of God of Singapore's Reverend Dominic Yeo said the endeavour should be "financially viable". For instance, the land price should not be based on the highest tendered price, he said.

For cost effectiveness, the land tenure, land size and plot ratio should be increased, he added.

Locating the hubs in industrial areas "will not be the best for churches", he said. "Many churches serve the local communities where their premises are located."

SLP International Property Consultants research head Nicholas Mak suggested that the hubs be built like community centres. "Investment in sound-proofing might be necessary for the different groups to use the same building at any one time."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 13, 2016, with the headline 'Multi-user places of worship get the OK'. Print Edition | Subscribe