Sengkang columbarium: 5 things about the tender of government land for religious uses

The case of Eternal Pure Land winning the bid for a temple site in Sengkang (pictured above) has raised questions on land-use models and the tender process.  -- ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN
The case of Eternal Pure Land winning the bid for a temple site in Sengkang (pictured above) has raised questions on land-use models and the tender process.  -- ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

SINGAPORE - The case of Eternal Pure Land, a commercial entity, winning the bid for a temple site in Sengkang has raised questions on land-use models and the tender process.

Here are five questions - and answers - related to the much-discussed topic.

Q: What was new about the tender for this site?

A: It was the first time that a company not linked to any religious group had bidded - and won. The winning tenderer, Eternal Pure Land, is a subsidiary of an Australian listed company.

Q: Have companies put in bids in the past?

A: Yes, but very rarely. Such sites are usually contested only by faith groups. The only other time a business got involved was in 2000 - for a Chinese temple and funeral parlour site in Bedok North Avenue 4.

Even then, the business, Tan Holding, did this in partnership with the Lorong Koo Chye Sheng Hong Temple Association.

Q: What exactly is the Urban Redevelopment Authority's (URA) role in this?

A: The URA - which decides how land is used - allocates such parcels based on population demography, distribution of existing places of worship, ease of access for the community, and any potential impact on the surroundings.

It works with agencies such as the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth and the Housing Board (HDB) to study the demand and provision of sites for places of worship. The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore, a statutory board which oversees 68 mosques, also works with these agencies.

These sites are then safeguarded and zoned for place of worship use in the Master Plan.

Q: What is HDB's role?

A: HDB acts as a land sales agent for the State and calls tenders for these sites.

Government agencies work together to determine if each site is to be designated as a church, or a Chinese or Hindu temple, at the time of tender.

Only one or two such sites are released each year, usually as towns develop.

Q: Are such sites hotly contested?

A: Yes. As many as 11 groups might contest one site, as in the 1996 tender for a 2,500 sq m plot for a Chinese temple in Jurong West Street 76, where the Singapore Soka Association now stands.

Its winning bid was $6.3 million.