Businesses no longer allowed to bid for religious land under new MND framework

The issue of businesses placing bids for religious land surfaced in 2014 when a commercial, profit-focused entity placed a $5.2 million bid for a leasehold site in Fernvale Link, Sengkang, meant for a Chinese temple. PHOTO: SHIN MIN DAILY NEWS

SINGAPORE - Only religious groups will be able to bid for land reserved for places of worship under changes to the tender process, and such tenders will no longer be evaluated solely on price.

The Ministry of National Development (MND) said on Thursday (Sept 13) that these changes are being made "to ensure that only religious groups that actively contribute to the community, and have a genuine need for worship space" can bid for such land.

The Ministry said tenderers must also demonstrate that they have adequate and sustainable local funding to finance the site's purchase and development, and will not use foreign donations.

The issue of businesses placing bids for religious land surfaced in 2014 when a commercial, profit-focused entity - Eternal Pure Land - a subsidiary of an Australian-listed company, placed a $5.2 million bid for a 30-year leasehold site meant for a Chinese temple, in Fernvale Link, Sengkang.

This beat a $4 million bid by a Taoist organisation and a $1.8 million offer by a Buddhist group.

Residents in Build-To-Order flats in the area had complained about Eternal Pure Land's planned development of a commercial columbarium on the temple site.

Amid the public outcry and various news reports, then National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said in January 2015 that the Government will review the land tender process for places of worship and tighten eligibility requirements for tenderers.

A new tender for the site was called the same year and the site was eventually awarded to Thye Hua Kwan Moral Society which said it would build its first temple there.

The MND said the changes are designed to better meet Singaporeans' religious and worship needs and ensure optimal use of scarce land resources.

Meanwhile the Ministry added that it will release at least two church and two Chinese temple sites each year over the next few years. This will result in more land for places of worship as sites have previously only been released intermittently.

It also announced that it will be offering two sites to serve as religious hubs for the first time. Next year, it will launch tenders for a church hub in Ubi and a Chinese temple hub in Tai Seng.

The MND said it worked closely with religious groups to review the land tender process. It added that under the tightened framework, bidders for both religious plots and hubs will have to go through two stages.

First, they will be assessed on a set of pre-qualification criteria to show that they are established or constituted for the advancement of religion.

They must also demonstrate that they have organised regular activities that involved or benefited the wider community in Singapore and show why they need the new site.

The MND also issued a set of criteria for religious hubs - which are multi-user and multi-storey places of worship. These hubs are meant to house multiple groups of the same religion in the same building.

This follows the MND's 2014 Request for Information exercise which sought views and proposals from churches and Chinese temples on the possibility of building such hubs.

Many small religious groups currently rent hotel function rooms and spaces in remote industrial buildings to house their activities as they do not have the finances to bid for a plot on their own.

The MND said the tenderer of a religious hub must submit a concept proposal and have a track record in developing and operating places of worship, and have experience managing religious groups in Singapore.

It added that the proposed design and development concept of the hub should cater to the needs of smaller religious groups. Tenderers must also demonstrate how potential conflicts between tenants and other stakeholders in the estate can be managed.

The religious parcels of land will be awarded to the qualified tenderer with the highest bid price in the second stage of the process.

Assessments on the financial health of tenderers of the religious plots and hubs will be made during stage two of the process.

Up for tender this year is a church plot in Choa Chu Kang and a Chinese temple site in Punggol. Next year, the Government will launch tenders for a church site in Bukit Batok and a Chinese temple site in Punggol.

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