Singapore minister says Sengkang columbarium plans will be reversed

Google Street View Screengrab of Fernvale

Singapore's minister for national development Khaw Boon Wan on Thursday said he would not allow plans for a Buddhist temple and commercial columbarium in Sengkang to proceed. He also said his ministry would "find a way" to deliver the Chinese temple the land was originally earmarked for.

Responding to multiple questions filed by three different MPs, he said in Parliament that it was the first time the government allowed a secular company to win the tender for the plot of land in Sengkang's Fernvale estate, located near to two upcoming Build-To-Order HDB projects as well as an executive condominium.

The case of the Sengkang Chinese Temple plot raised the ire of Singaporeans who had purchased flats under the project — the company, Eternal Pure Land, opted to build a Buddhist temple with a commercial columbarium on the area, plans that would-be residents said they did not know about before they opted to purchase homes there.

Several requested refunds, expressing concern that the presence of the columbarium would impact the resale value of their flats, while others said they did not want to expose their children to "these things so young in their lives", according to previous local media reports on the issue. Some 400 disgruntled people also attended a dialogue earlier this month with MP Lam Pin Min, who oversees the area.

Speaking in Parliament on Thursday, Khaw said the tender process, in place since 1991, has always allowed both religious organisations and secular companies to participate, because religious organisations often form companies to engage in such tenders on their behalf.

"The assumption is that only companies affiliated to religious organisations would participate in such tenders," he said.

The minister explained that the tender was awarded to Eternal Pure Land with the impression that the company was a vehicle for a religious organisation to build a Chinese temple, noting that a commercial columbarium is different from the columbarium services provided by religious organisations alongside temples.

"We now understand that [Eternal Pure Land] is actually a private company without any religious affiliation. From what we know, the plan of the company is to run a commercial columbarium on the site," he said. "This is not in line with our plan for the Places of Worship site."

The company had placed a winning bid of $5.2 million for the plot of land in July last year.

"Having reached such a situation, I'll find a way to try to unwind this," he continued. "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."

Khaw said his ministry is currently reviewing the existing land tender process for places of worship, working with religious groups to tighten eligibility requirements for tenderers.

"The Sengkang temple case has highlighted the necessity for such a review. I will provide more information when the review is completed," he said.