Parliament: There will be no commercial columbarium in Fernvale, says Khaw Boon Wan

The area at Fernvale Link where the columbarium is supposed to be built. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
The area at Fernvale Link where the columbarium is supposed to be built. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - There will be no commercial columbarium at the proposed temple site at Sengkang, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said in Parliament on Thursday.

He said that until the recent case in Sengkang, the Government had never awarded a place-of-worship site to a company that was not affiliated to a religious organisation.

"We now understand that the winning tenderer for this site, Eternal Pure Land, is actually a private company without any religious affiliation," he said.

"From what we know, the plan of the company is to run a commercial columbarium on the site. This is not in line with our plan for the place-of-worship site."

News of a proposed columbarium and Chinese temple in Sengkang caught residents in the area by surprise. The site is next to a Build-To-Order (BTO) project called Fernvale Lea, which is due to be completed in 2015.

In a petition put up by angry residents, some said they did not want their children to be exposed to "these kinds of things so young in their lives".

Others were annoyed that the possibility of a columbarium at the temple there was not clearly indicated in marketing material, and that the HDB did not also make that clear to them.

Others were worried that the proximity of a columbarium would affect the resale value of their flats.

Some were also unhappy that a profit-driven organisation won the tender.

Eternal Pure Land, which is owned by Australian company Life Corporation, had put in a $5.2 million bid on July 17, 2014.

After a dialogue with Sengkang West MP Lam Pin Min, some Fernvale Lea buyers asked the Housing Board for a refund.

Mr Khaw told Parliament, in response to questions about the site, that it had been awarded to Eternal Pure Land under the impression that the company was a vehicle for a religious organisation to build and own a Chinese temple.

He drew the distinction between the operation of a commercial columbarium and an "incidental columbarium", which is a service provided by religious organisations.

He said the ministry will ensure the land is restored to the original plan of a Chinese temple, and that it is in discussion with Eternal Pure Land on how that can be achieved.

"Having reached such a situation, I'll find a way to try to unwind this. The key point is for that Sengkang site we want the Chinese temple and we will deliver that, for that Sengkang site we do not want a commercial columbarium and we won't have one."

He also said the Government will review the land tender process for places of worship and tighten eligibility requirements for tenderers.

Australian-listed Life Corporation requested for a trading halt on Thursday afternoon, for up to 48 hours from the start of trading on Jan 30.

In an announcement posted on the Australian Stock Exchange, Life Corporation said the request was "pending an announcement to the market relating to its proposed development of a Chinese temple and associated integrated Columbarium".

Dr Lam Pin Min, MP for Sengkang West SMC, posted about Fernvale on his Facebook page.

 

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lesterh@sph.com.sg