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 yesterday 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 bidders 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 changes are designed to better meet Singaporeans' religious and worship needs and ensure optimal use of scarce land resources, MND said. The new regime stops businesses from muscling in on space reserved for religion.
MND 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 been released only 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.
MND said it worked closely with religious groups to review the land tender process.
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, among other things, that they are established or constituted for the advancement of religion, and have organised regular activities that benefit the wider community in Singapore. They must also show why they need the new site.
MND issued additional criteria for religious hubs - which are meant to house multiple groups of the same religion in the same multi-storey building.
For instance, those bidding for a religious hub must submit a concept proposal and have a track record in developing and operating places of worship.
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.
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 society.
Eternal Pure Land had planned to run both a Chinese temple and commercial columbarium there.
In January 2015, the authorities said they would review and tighten the land tender process for places of worship. The Fernvale Link plot was eventually awarded to Thye Hua Kwan Moral Society to build its first temple there.
Up for tender this year is a church plot in Chua Chu Kang and a Chinese temple site in Punggol. Next year, tenders will be launched for a church site in Bukit Batok and a Chinese temple site in Punggol.
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