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Balloting to replace bidding in allocating land for places of worship; religious groups welcome prospect of paying less

SINGAPORE — Religious organisations will no longer compete via a bidding process for land to build their places of worship, but will instead go through a balloting process.

Religious organisations have expressed concerns over the years about the rising prices of land set aside for places of worship.
Religious organisations have expressed concerns over the years about the rising prices of land set aside for places of worship.
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  • Religious organisations will no longer compete via a bidding process for land to build their places of worship 
  • They will now go through a balloting process 
  • This is in response to growing concerns about the prices of such land  
  • The new balloting process will not apply to mosques as the Government directly sets aside land for mosques at a predetermined price

SINGAPORE — Religious organisations will no longer compete via a bidding process for land to build their places of worship, but will instead go through a balloting process.

The ballot winner will then have to pay the land price determined by the chief valuer, which is expected to be lower than prevailing prices — a prospect welcomed by religious groups.

The Ministry of National Development (MND) announced this change on Sunday (May 28) in response to growing concerns among various religious organisations about the rise in prices for such land. 

MND said that the change will be in effect from the next launch — tentatively in the third quarter of 2023. 

Sites were previously awarded based on a competitive tender, with the space going to the religious organisation that submitted the highest bid price.

These changes will not apply to mosques, for which the Government directly sets aside land to the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) at a predetermined price set by the chief valuer reflecting the “fair market value of the site”, said MND. 

This is because mosque development is centrally coordinated by Muis. 

WHY IT MATTERS 

As a multi-religious society, religion and religious organisations play an important role in the country’s social fabric. 

MND said that land for places of worship is planned to be a part of Singapore’s residential estates to meet the religious needs of Singaporeans while ensuring optimal use of the country’s land resources. 

However, religious groups have expressed concerns over the years about the rising prices of land set aside for places of worship.

Such worries have “distracted” them from their purpose of serving the community as many end up spending more time and effort on fundraising instead, said Community, Culture and Youth Minister Edwin Tong at the Singapore Buddhist Federation Vesak Day celebration at Ngee Ann City Civic Plaza on Sunday.

MND said that it recognised these concerns and has been consulting religious groups to gather their views on the review for the land allocation and pricing framework. 

The revised framework was thus developed to address the land price issue, as well as to promote equitable access for religious organisations, said MND.

“This will better allow Singaporeans to have the space to practise their religion," it said. 

THE PROCESS 

To qualify, religious organisations would need to meet four criteria:

  • Registered for advancement of religion 
  • Have organised regular activities which involve or benefit the wider community in Singapore 
  • Able to demonstrate their need for the new site 
  • Have adequate and sustainable sources of local funding to acquire the site, develop and operate the place of worship 

Those shortlisted after meeting these criteria will be allowed to ballot for the site. 

Each religious organisation will receive one ballot chance, with an additional one for each unsuccessful attempt in the past five years. 

However, there will be a cap of four ballot chances.

This is to give religious groups who failed in the past more chances, but also strike a balance between ensuring that religious organisations with multiple unsuccessful attempts have a high enough success rate and providing others a chance.

The ballot winner will then have to pay the price determined by the chief valuer based on his professional judgement, added the ministry. 

Previously, religious groups would have to fulfil the first three criteria to qualify for bidding. 

The space would then be awarded to the organisation that submitted the highest bid price. 

Under the new process, certain organisations will be subjected to a cooling-off period to ensure that balloting chances are distributed fairly. 

The cooling-off period is five years for those who have obtained a new site, and two years for those who have renewed their lease, tenancy agreement or temporary occupation licence.

MND said that this will be applied prospectively — groups that have renewed their sites prior to Sunday will be allowed to ballot. 

The ministry added that exceptions may be allowed on a case-by-case basis.

HOW LAND WILL BE PRICED 

The chief valuer will make adjustments to the price based on site-specific factors such as the location and land area.

"There will be upfront price certainty as religious organisations will pay a predetermined price," said MND. 

The ministry added that the price of such land under the new framework is expected to be lower than the prevailing prices. 

“The revised framework will level the playing field and provide all religious organisations with a chance of obtaining land for places of worship,” said MND. 

Lease renewal premiums for such land will be in line with the new pricing framework and is expected to be lower as well, the ministry added. 

Religious organisations renewing their leases will not be subjected to the ballot system. 

MND said that it plans to release new land for places of worship later this year. 

"Details about the upcoming launches under the revised framework will be announced when ready," it said.

WHAT RELIGIOUS ORGANISATIONS SAY

The National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS) said the fixed price of place of worship land is welcome news, as it will also mean lower lease renewal premium for churches with expiring leases. 

"However, the balloting system may not necessarily be in the favour of churches with larger financial resources as there is no certainty of being awarded the place of worship land. It is too early to say how this will impact the churches," NCCS said.

Under the previous bidding process, the last tender award before the Covid-19 pandemic, Adam Road Presbyterian Church was awarded the site at Bukit Batok West Avenue 5 in 2020 at a cost of S$12 million. 

This does not include building costs which "sinks millions of dollars into the church building for a 30-year lease", NCCS said.

"We understand that the fixed pricing will be less costly to churches. Therefore the savings could be channelled to social service to benefit many more in society," NCCS said.

"With these savings, most churches will be able to increase their outreach programmes for welfare work and donate to charities."

Churches that operate kindergartens and preschools can also employ more staff, purchase more equipment and improve the quality of their educational programmes, the council added.

Mr Malminderjit Singh, the chairman of the Sikh Advisory Board, said the Sikh community has in recent years explored expanding the number of its places of worship, or gurdwaras, due to "larger congregation numbers, increased demand for religious services and classes". 

It also wanted to expand to parts of Singapore where a substantial portion of the community comes from but where there is no gurdwara in proximity. 

"However, the increasing price of land, including for places of worship, meant that it was always going to present affordability challenges for a small religious community as ours," Mr Singh said.

"The new ballot system removes a competitive element from the tender, which helps keep prices of land for places of worship more certain."

Related topics

Ministry of National Development religion

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