Saturday, 9 May 2015

Re-tender called for temple and columbarium site in Sengkang's Fernvale Link

Govt terminates deal with firm that was planning a columbarium on site
By Lester Hio, The Straits Times, 8 May 2015

A NEW tender for the development of a Chinese temple at Sengkang will be called, after the Government and a private developer said they will terminate a previous agreement between them.

As part of the termination, the Ministry of National Development (MND) will refund Eternal Pure Land (EPL) in full what it paid for the land - about $5.2 million plus taxes and duties.

It will also release a 0.1ha plot of land along Tampines Road north of Paya Lebar Airbase, zoned for cemetery use, to the company for a "pilot project" for columbarium services.

The ministry said that this was the first time a place of worship site had been awarded to a firm not affiliated with a religious organisation and that it was not in line with the Government's plan for the site.

It added that EPL "understood that its bid was not congruous with the planning intent" for a place of worship site, and agreed to terminate the awarded contract by mutual consent.

A group of residents of Fernvale Lea, the Build-to-Order flats next to the plot, had protested against the decision to allow a columbarium to be built on the site, arguing that the brochures they received made no mention of it. They also questioned the decision to award a commercial firm the tender when it involved land designated for religious use.

National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said in January in Parliament that the Housing Board officers had assumed the company was working for a religious group. He had promised to "unwind" the situation.

Life Corporation, EPL's parent company, said in a statement that it agreed to the termination on "mutually acceptable terms".

The company will receive a full refund of the tender price along with a refund of associated taxes and duties which EPL had paid for the site.

It also announced that a submission to develop an automated columbarium at the land issued to it has been approved by the Government. This will be done through an affiliated entity, Life Corporate Services.

Such a project will maximise land use efficiency and reduce inconvenience to surrounding users, according to the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

Sengkang West MP Lam Pin Min said in a Facebook post yesterday: "Sengkang West residents' concerns have been addressed by MND."

The plot of land at the heart of the saga will be opened up for re-tender for the development of a Chinese temple, which could still be able to operate ancillary columbariums, as allowed for under existing rules.

Eternal Pure Land had topped two other bidders for the site last year - the Taoist Peng Hong Association and the Xing Guang Maitreya Society.

Yesterday, MND said that they will open the site to a fresh tender, a piece of news that the chairman of the Taoist Peng Hong Association, Mr Tan Aik Hock, was happy to hear.

He said that the association will put in a bid once the re-tender opens. It had placed an unsuccessful bid of $4 million last year.

"But there will be no columbarium, which is everyone's concern," he said in Mandarin.

"We plan to have free medical consultations."

Columbarium issue: Only five flat buyers cancelled applications
By Aw Cheng Wei And Lester Hio, The Straits Times, 8 May 2015

THE majority of the buyers who wanted to cancel their flat applications after finding out that a columbarium was going to be built in their estate did not go ahead with their requests.

Of the 98 people who made appeals to the Ministry of National Development (MND), just five of them so far have gone ahead to cancel their flat applications without a refund, while another 47 have collected their keys.

The remainder will be invited to pick up their keys when their new homes are completed, an MND spokesman said yesterday.

Unhappy buyers rallied in January to demand that the Housing Board cancel their flat orders and give a full refund of the down payment for the new Build-to-Order flats they had booked around Fernvale Link in Sengkang.

Some did so after finding out that there would be a columbarium next to them, while others were unhappy with how the site, meant for a Chinese temple, was awarded to a non-religious organisation.

The HDB had told them in February that there would be no refund of the down payment if they proceeded with the cancellations.

Yesterday, prospective buyers and residents in the area cheered news that the Government and Eternal Pure Land (EPL), which won the bid for the site, had agreed to terminate the tender.

Residents like Ms Esther Gan, 39, said she was pleased to know that the land would go to a religious group. She would not object if a temple built an ancillary columbarium for its worshippers.

"Temples will have such provisions for their members. It's the high-tech, commercial columbariums that's (unacceptable)," said the financial analyst, who moved in two weeks ago.

Information technology technician Al-Imran Abdul Aziz, 29, will be moving in later this year. "It's good that the Government called for a re-tender. Better to have a religious group getting the land."

Professor Eugene Tan, a former Nominated MP and a law academic at Singapore Management University, said the termination, made mutually, returns MND and EPL to where they started, with no parties disadvantaged.

As part of the termination agreement, the Government will release a small plot of land - zoned for cemetery use - to EPL for a project for automated columbarium services.

"It could be a carrot dangled by (MND) for EPL to agree to the termination," said Prof Tan, noting that the firm could have pressed on with its legal rights to stay there. But it probably realised its presence in the community might not be welcomed and decided to back out now, he said.

"Considering the response from the people, no one in his right mind would open a columbarium," said sales manager Tan Wei Leong, 44, who is moving into Fernvale Lea later this year.

* New tender for Sengkang temple site draws interest
By Lester Hio, The Straits Times, 26 Jun 2015

THE plot of land at the heart of the Sengkang columbarium saga has already attracted interest from potential bidders, days after a new tender for the land was put up on Tuesday.

The Taoist Peng Hong Association, one of two groups that lost the tender of the site at Fernvale Link to private company Eternal Pure Land last year, will be vying for the piece of land again.

It had placed an unsuccessful bid of $4 million last year.

Its chairman, Mr Tan Aik Hock, said: "We will definitely be putting a bid for it. Quite a few parties are interested in it."

This time round, religious groups need not worry about getting edged out by commercial entities for the tender, as the Housing Board has set more eligibility conditions in the tender.

"The Fernvale Link site was re-tendered to restore the original planning intent of a Chinese temple development. Hence, only religious organisations can tender for the site," said a spokesman for the Ministry of National Development.

The new tender for the 2,000 sq m site, which closes on Aug 4, comes almost two months after the authorities terminated the previous one.

Early last month, the ministry signed a mutual termination agreement with Eternal Pure Land after a backlash from residents in the area. They said a commercial firm should not have been allowed to bid for land reserved for religious development.

Even though temples are allowed to build columbariums under Urban Redevelopment Authority guidelines, Mr Tan said the association will not build one should it get the site, given the uproar previously.

"We want to keep it as a traditional Chinese temple."

A few Buddhist groups have also expressed interest in the site, said the Venerable Seck Kwang Phing, president of the Singapore Buddhist Federation.

He declined to name them, citing confidentiality as the tender process is still ongoing.

But a spokesman for the Xing Guang Maitreya Society, the third bidder for the original tender last year, said it would not participate in the new tender. "It's too near residences, which is troublesome," the spokesman said in Mandarin.

Tender documents uploaded on the HDB website showed that provisions had been put in place to allow only religious groups to bid for the land.

"To qualify for participation in this tender, the tenderer must be established or constituted for the advancement of religion," said the documents.

For-profit companies have been excluded from the tender. Only registered societies, charities and non-profit companies can qualify.

The group that secures the tender must continue to be a non-profit religious group, society or charity throughout the entire term of the 30-year lease.

** Sengkang temple site re-tender draws 4 bids
By Lester Hio, The Straits Times, 5 Aug 2015

Four applications for the development of a Chinese temple in Sengkang have been submitted, three months after a new tender was called following controversy about a planned columbarium.

The second tender - for the site at Fernvale Link - closed yesterday and included only bids from non-profit organisations. It came after residents protested against the planned construction of a commercial columbarium in January.

The new bidders for the plot are the Thye Hua Kwan Moral Society, Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation Singapore, Lorong Koo Chye Sheng Hong Temple Association and the Taoist Peng Hong Association. Provisional tender results were posted on HDB's website yesterday. A decision on which group will be awarded the tender will be announced at a later date.

The Peng Hong Association was one of the original bidders for the first tender in May last year.

The 2,000 sq m plot of land was originally awarded to funeral service firm Life Corporation's subsidiary Eternal Pure Land, which planned to run both a Chinese temple and columbarium at the site.

However, the tender was cancelled in May this year after complaints that a commercial entity had been allowed to bid for a piece of land slated for religious development, as well as profit from the development of a columbarium.

When the re-tender was put up in June, there were new conditions in place stating that only religious groups were allowed to bid. Only registered societies, charities and non-profit companies could qualify.

The Thye Hua Kwan Moral Society topped the latest tender with a bid of $6 million - beating Eternal Pure Land's bid during the first tender of $5.2 million.

A spokesman for the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation Singapore said its plans are still in the works, but a columbarium is not one of them. It submitted a bid of $4.58 million. The Lorong Koo Chye Sheng Hong Temple Association, a Taoist group, offered $3.88 million. The Peng Hong Association offered a bid of $3 million.

*** Thye Hua Kwan Moral Society wins bid for Fernvale Link site
Group's planned temple will have no columbarium, but a hall for ancestral tablets
By Melody Zaccheus and Lester Hio, The Straits Times, 29 Oct 2015

There will be no columbarium in Fernvale Link.

The Thye Hua Kwan Moral Society, which was awarded the 2,000 sq m, 30-year leasehold site by the Housing Board on Tuesday, said yesterday that the temple it will build on the site will have a "hall of filial piety" for ancestral tablets.

These are usually inscribed with the names of the dead.

The non-profit voluntary welfare organisation beat three other bidders with a $6 million offer.

Its success comes four months after a new tender was called for the site following controversy about a columbarium planned by funeral service firm Life Corporation's subsidiary Eternal Pure Land.

The new building will be the 37-year-old society's first temple. The group operates more than 70 centres and services such as the Ang Mo Kio-Thye Hua Kwan Hospital. It also runs four welfare homes, five family service centres and 16 senior activity centres.

Besides storing the tablets there, people will also be encouraged to submit and screen videos dedicated to the lives of their late loved ones in the planned hall.

Thye Hua Kwan chairman Lee Kim Siang said: "There will be no ashes and urns in our new temple, but just a hall for people to remember their elders with the aim of promoting good morals."

The new building, budgeted at about $10 million, will likely have four or five storeys. It will have worship spaces dedicated to Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian deities, and lecture halls where multi-religious courses will be held.

Mr Lee emphasised the multi-religious nature of his organisation, saying it has organised inter-racial and inter-religious harmony nights over the past 12 years.

The other bidders for the plot were the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation Singapore, Lorong Koo Chye Sheng Hong Temple Association and Taoist Peng Hong Association, which placed bids of $4.58 million, $3.88 million and $3.03 million respectively.

HDB first awarded the site, near Build-To-Order homes in Fernvale Lea, to Eternal Pure Land in July last year. Residents protested against the plans for a commercial columbarium on land earmarked for religious use, and the company's $5.2 million bid was cancelled in May.

The authorities introduced new conditions for the tender in June - only religious groups were allowed to bid, including registered societies, charities and non-profit firms.

Sengkang West residents feel more comfortable with a religious society running the building. Mr Peter Leow, a 42-year-old human resource manager, said: "Thye Hua Kwan is an established name without any commercial aims. It is also common for temples to have space dedicated to ancestral tablets."

Future Fernvale Lea resident S.N. Khan, a 29-year-old housewife, said there are already "many Chinese temples in Sengkang West Way". She added: "I hope there will be space dedicated to mosques, Indian temples and churches. I also hope that the new Chinese temple will be able to serve the community regardless of race or religion."

Thye Hua Kwan will appoint architectural firm Lee Coo Consultant Associates to design the building, said Mr Lee. The project is expected to be completed in three to four years.

Mr Lee said he was glad the society won the tender. "It's affinity. The time has come for us to build a temple to serve the community.

"Everyone needs a space where he can be comfortable to meditate and sit quietly to pray, whatever his religion."

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