Singapore

Funeral parlours at Mount Vernon Columbarium granted lease extensions

Mount Vernon. Photo: Jason Quah/TODAY
Mount Vernon. Photo: Jason Quah/TODAY
Mount Vernon. Photo: Jason Quah/TODAY
Mount Vernon. Photo: Jason Quah/TODAY
Published: 7:00 PM, December 12, 2016
Updated: 11:19 PM, December 12, 2016

SINGAPORE — For the second time, leases for funeral parlours at Mount Vernon Columbarium Complex will be extended and while operators welcome the news, they remain anxious about what the future holds for their operations.

The first round of lease extension was granted in 2014. The lease for Singapore Casket, which runs Mount Vernon Parlour 1 and 2, was due to expire on Dec 20, but has now been extended to next December.

Similarly, Mount Vernon Sanctuary, which owns six halls for wakes, will see its lease — due to run out on March 14 next year — extended to March 2018.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said that more than 12,000 of the 20,000 niches at the columbarium blocks have been claimed as of last month.

Next-of-kin have until June 30 next year to claim the niches, which will be relocated to Mandai Columbarium, that will be expanded by 2019.

The NEA did not say when the relocation will occur. But in reply to TODAY’s queries, the NEA said it plans to continue the funeral parlour leases until the parlours and the columbarium blocks are required to be cleared.

Mount Vernon Columbarium is set to make way for the Bidadari estate and its 10,000 Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats as well as 1,000 private homes. The authorities said a new, modern parlour will be well-integrated with Bidadari’s topography and landscape, to minimise the visual impact on nearby residential buildings.

Meanwhile, the two operators said they have yet to hear from the Government about whether they can be sited elsewhere when the time comes to vacate their premises at Upper Aljunied Road.

Having to cease operations, they added, would not help meet the rising demand for funeral parlours, driven by an ageing population and more families living in condominiums who are unable to hold funerals within their estate grounds, unlike HDB dwellers.

Singapore Casket, which began its operations in Mount Vernon in 2009 and also runs 10 parlours in Lavender Street, said demand for its Mount Vernon parlours has risen by 5 per cent this year from last year.

Each parlour at Mount Vernon costs S$880 per day, and its senior manager Calvin Tang said the area’s central location appeals to customers.

Funeral parlours are also seeing higher demand because families holding wakes have a choice to stay there all night or lock up the area if they want to return home to rest.

"You can’t do this if you hold funerals at HDB void decks," he added.

Meanwhile, Mount Vernon Sanctuary, which began running operations at the current site in 2010, is also seeing higher demand for its halls, with customers even willing to wait up to two days for their desired hall.

The company’s chief executive, Ms Deborah Andres, said while the lease extension is "good news", anxiety still lingers not just for them but for customers, too.

"It’s like living day-to-day, or year-to-year in this case. It gets a little nail-biting and customers are always asking us whether we’ll still be here," said Ms Andres, who has been with the company for two years.

"It’s a question that we can’t answer because the answer is not with us. We can’t assure them and they feel a little bit lost."

Operators at Mount Vernon Columbarium Complex said the area’s popularity now matches that of more established funeral parlours located in Sin Ming Drive, a point echoed by customers and those within the funeral services industry.

"The parlours are located in an oasis of greenery. That makes the area serene and tranquil and this does help people in their grieving process," said Ms Andres.

Mr Roland Tay, founder of Direct Funeral Services, said that while parlours at Sin Ming Drive are relatively more accessible by public transportation, with the area having amenities such as a food court, some might prefer the more spacious Mount Vernon Columbarium Complex.

For Ms P F Lye, Mount Vernon Sanctuary is the only choice as the venue for a relative’s wake that was held recently.

"We can only think of this place which is tranquil and tucked away, yet accessible and with adequate parking facilities as well. It also feels relatively private and has open spaces, compared to those in buildings or along the road," she said.