From ‘Upset over columbarium plans, Fernvale Lea’s future residents want a refund from HDB’, 4 Jan 2015, article by Samantha Boh, ST
Upset about an upcoming columbarium close to their future flats, some would-be residents of Fernvale Lea have asked the Housing Board for a refund. Their request came even after Dr Lam Pin Min, MP for Sengkang West, held a dialogue with residents on Sunday and said that there would not be a crematorium or funeral parlour services at the Chinese temple where the columbarium would be housed.
Some residents stood in line to leave their contact details with the HDB after a three-hour dialogue with Dr Lam and representatives from Life Corp, the company developing the temple. Residents at the dialogue said the HDB should have been more upfront about the Chinese temple housing a columbarium.
News of the columbarium, which is expected to be completed by 2016, had surprised many residents when it was reported last week. An online petition started on Tuesday to stop the development of the columbarium had garnered more than 800 signatures.
Speaking on the sidelines of the dialogue, Dr Lam said the authorities had been upfront, noting that it was indicated in the Fernvale Lea brochure for the new flats that the temple may include a columbarium allowed under the guidelines of the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). “There is really nothing to hide,” he added.
Some residents had also asked why the Chinese temple is being developed by a private company. Dr Lam said URA guidelines did not restrict the type of company that can develop a religious institution and he understood from the URA that it has been done before.
Sin Ming residents can relate. When a funeral parlour was proposed to be built in the vicinity of a school, one resident complained that the estate would be henceforth known as the ‘Avenue of the Dead’. But it’s not just spaces for the deceased that get people upset, but also void deck elder-care facilities and sometimes even community HOSPITALS, where residents may get traumatised by the ‘smell of medicine’ in addition to the threat of impending doom.
Fernvale Lea’s selling point, according to its online brochure, is that residents get to live amid ‘lush greenery’, which also happens to be the kind of environment you want to ‘rest in peace’ within. It does mention the future placement of a Chinese temple, but leaves the interested buyer to interpret the disclaimers at his own risk, namely the statement that ‘the proposed facilities, their locations and surrounding land-use….are indicative only and subject to change or review. These facilities may include other ancillary uses allowed under URA’s prevailing Development Control guidelines.’ Which basically means HDB can do whatever the hell they want years after you’ve settled down in your new home, whether it’s building a private-owned ‘dragon and phoenix’ temple, a foreign workers’ dormitory, or a cut-and-paste shopping mall which turns out to be an foreign worker enclave. Heck, they could run a new highway or MRT line right next to your house and you can’t do anything about it.
In 1984, applicants of Clementi flats slammed the agency for keeping dead silent about plans to build a funeral parlour near the estate. It appears that HDB should know exactly the sort of reaction from people whenever you surround them with facilities reminding them of their mortality, but till this day continues to refrain from telling buyers straight in the face, like a property agent omitting the tiny detail of your flat being previously owned by someone who committed suicide in the living room. In any case, people are still going to hold void deck funerals right under your block anyway, columbarium or no columbarium.
If you’re diligent enough, you’d actually go the extra mile and read about URA’s ‘Development Control’. And by extra mile I mean sending an email to URA because I have no idea where these guidelines are from the website. Or, if you’re desperate for a house even if it means living next to a cemetery or a string of noisy pub/bars, you could look past the hazards of living near a storage for urns and maybe consider that you have quite a few decent schools nearby (e.g Nan Chiau), which may allay any fears of poor resale prices, since some parents would camp above a mortuary just to live 2 minutes’ walk away from a top school. You could also interview Yishun Ring Road residents if they had witnessed any creepy happenings living near a heartland columbarium, a mere 10 min walk away from the MRT station.
Ironically the developer of the ‘80% temple, 20% dead people’s ashes’ is called ‘Life Corp’. People will continue dying in our ageing society and unless we move beyond the traditional way of remembering the deceased through tablets and urns, or loosen up on our superstitions, both the living as well as the dead will be fighting for space in this already very crowded city. Hopefully when it’s time for my demise, all I’d need to do is download my memories digitally into a thumb drive or upload my electronic ghost on a password-protected family cloud somewhere without having to hide in some basement of a posh temple designed to look like a shopping mall and scaring the shit out of the living around me.
UPDATE 29 Jan 15: In a surprising about turn, Khaw Boon Wan announced that there would be no commercial columbarium in Fernvale after all, as Eternal Pure Land (under Australia’s Life Corporation) was a private entity with ‘no religious affiliation’. Waitaminute. Earlier in the month, URA said that they did not restrict the type of company developing a religious institution and it has been DONE BEFORE, now Khaw says that this tender award to such a company without godly links was a ‘first’. So, has it been done before or not? Pray tell.