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Columbarium news irks future residents of Sengkang flats

SINGAPORE — News that a columbarium would be located close to their future homes has riled some would-be Fernvale Lea residents so much that they are asking the Housing and Development Board (HDB) for a refund on their flat.

The dialogue yesterday was organised by the Sengkang West Citizens’ Consultative Committee and involved representatives from the HDB, URA and the company developing the temple. Photo: Sengkang West Citizens’ Consultative Committee

The dialogue yesterday was organised by the Sengkang West Citizens’ Consultative Committee and involved representatives from the HDB, URA and the company developing the temple. Photo: Sengkang West Citizens’ Consultative Committee

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SINGAPORE — News that a columbarium would be located close to their future homes has riled some would-be Fernvale Lea residents so much that they are asking the Housing and Development Board (HDB) for a refund on their flat.

The request was made by some among the 400 who turned up at a closed-door dialogue called by Sengkang West Member of Parliament (MP) Lam Pin Min yesterday, although they were assured that the Chinese temple housing the columbarium would not be providing cremation or funeral services,as had been said by articles circulating on social media.

After news broke last week of the coming columbarium, some current and would-be residents around Fernvale Link started an online petition to stop the development, which is expected to be completed by 2016. It has garnered more than 800 signatures.

In response to TODAY’s queries, the HDB said it would look into the residents’ request for a refund.

Petitions started by residents who are unhappy with the siting of facilities — the so-called Not In My Backyard syndrome — are not new.

For example, in 2012, residents in Woodlands Street 83 petitioned against the setting up of an eldercare centre at the void decks of Blocks 860 and 861, while some Toh Yi residents opposed the building of studio apartments for the elderly in their estate.

After the dialogue yesterday, which was organised by the Sengkang West Citizens’ Consultative Committee and involved representatives from the HDB, Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and the company developing the temple, dozens of future Fernvale Lea residents queued up to give their names and contact details for updates on the possibility of a refund.

Brochures for potential buyers of Fernvale Lea flats had indicated that the nearby Chinese temple might include ancillary services, such as a columbarium.

However, some residents who attended yesterday’s dialogue, which became heated at times during its three-hour span, argued that the possibility should have been made clearer, with some raising their concerns about traffic congestion and the resale value of their property, among others.

Speaking to TODAY about the reactions from the residents over the columbarium, Dr Lam said: “Although it was indicated in the brochures, some of them might have missed it and felt that because they weren’t given prior notice, they could not make an informed decision. I believe most of the unhappiness is because they felt there was a lack of information given to them to make such a decision.”

He added that he had received similar Not In My Backyard feedback about other facilities, such as schools, eldercare services and the new hospital in Anchorvale, and that the way to manage such situations is to find out and address residents’ concerns.

For this particular case, it was important for the dialogue to assure residents that the temple will not offer funeral and crematorium services, he said.

On whether there is any possibility of changing the current plans of the temple to remove the columbarium, the MP said: “We have to leave it up to the HDB and URA to assess the situation.”

Responding to TODAY, the HDB and URA’s statement said approved temples have and are allowed to set aside some space within their buildings for columbarium use.

As the site was sold for the predominant use as a Chinese temple development and not that of a columbarium, the space for the columbarium must not exceed one-fifth of the total gross floor area of the building, it added.

“To protect the amenity of adjoining developments, the columbarium area must also be located inside the main building, out of sight from surrounding developments, preferably in the basement. If it is located above ground, it should be screened from public view,” a spokesperson said, adding that it is not unusual for places of worship to house columbaria.

Meanwhile, soon-to-be residents of Fernvale Lea, such as one who wanted to be known only as Ms Ong, 38, raised the concern that the empty plot of land next to the temple might be developed for funeral services.

The parcel in question is currently earmarked by the URA for civic and community institutions such as police stations, welfare homes as well as funeral parlours.

Dispelling this fear, Dr Lam said he had received assurance from the URA that it is unlikely it will approve any plans for a funeral parlour in the middle of a residential area.

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