SINGAPORE - A new funeral parlour will replace the Mount Vernon Columbarium Complex, as the latter makes way for new homes in the upcoming Bidadari estate.
Construction works will start in the second half of 2021, and the redeveloped complex is expected to be operational in 2024.
At 1.1ha, the complex will occupy one-seventh the space of the existing one, and contain 12 funeral parlour halls, four more than its soon-to-be predecessor. The rest of the site will eventually become the future Bidadari Park, as well as home to future HDB flats.
In a joint statement on Tuesday (Jan 9), the National Environment Agency and the Housing Board assured future Bidadari residents that the future complex will be modern and "sensitively integrated with the topography and surrounding landscape".
The new complex is across the road from two HDB projects, which have not been launched yet. But, among other things, there will be enough greenery to shield the site, both visually and in terms of noise. Rituals and processions will be conducted within the site or indoors as much as possible. And, where possible, the wake halls will not face nearby residential estates.
Government agencies will consult the funeral parlour industry later this year on how the complex, likely to be a multi-storey building, should be designed - such as ensuring sufficient parking spaces for cars and coaches.
Association of Funeral Directors Singapore president Roland Tay said he hopes the government would consider building six more parlours, to make 18, at the new complex.
"By the time we get to 2024, our ageing population will be even older. Having more parlours is a better thing," he said, adding that with the impending closure of the current eight parlours, "people may have to run around everywhere" to find an appropriate place.
The NEA has said that there is sufficient space to conduct funerals in the interim.
The parlours' current operators - Mount Vernon Sanctuary, which runs six parlours, and Singapore Casket, which runs two - are preparing to cease operations in September.
This is the third and final extension to their leases since the move was announced in 2013, "after which the existing funeral parlours will be cleared together with the columbarium blocks", said the NEA and HDB.
Mr Ang Ziqian, deputy chairman for Ang Chin Moh Group, of which Mount Vernon Sanctuary is a part, said his "first priority is to ensure that none of the staff lose their jobs". All five staff will undergo retraining and then be redeployed to various companies under the group.
Singapore Casket chief executive Goh Wee Leng said the loss of the two parlours will not have much impact on her company, as its Lavender Street building is being renovated to increase its 10 halls to 12 in March.
"Even if we didn't have our own parlours, customers will still engage us for our service in giving their loved ones a proper send-off," she added.
Both Mr Ang and Ms Goh said they hoped to operate the parlours at the new complex.
The future complex will also no longer hold niches. About 16,000 of the 20,000 niches at Mount Vernon have been claimed and are in the process of being relocated to Mandai Columbarium. The ashes of those that remain unclaimed after three years will be scattered at sea, in line with existing policy.
Spanning 93ha, roughly the size of 150 football fields, Bidadari estate is bounded by Bartley Road, Sennett Estate, Upper Serangoon Road and Mount Vernon Road. It is built on top of what was once Singapore's largest grave site.
Since November 2015, HDB has launched more than 6,000 flats in seven new-generation public housing projects such as Alkaff Lakeview and Woodleigh Glen.
These units have seen strong response, averaging about five applicants to one flat.