Golf courses and certain parks could potentially serve as remedies to the lack of space to run funeral parlours, according to panellists in a discussion on the future of funeral parlours in Singapore at Mount Vernon Columbarium on Wednesday (12 Sep).
Funeral director and deputy chairman of Ang Chin Moh Group, Mr Ang Ziqian, said: "Each golf course has 80 hectares or so. I think the funeral profession needs two hectares each in the north, south, east, west, and central (Singapore). So 10 hectares in all. I think that will be sufficient for us."
The 7.1ha Mount Vernon Columbarium will cease operations at the end of this month as leases for existing funeral parlours at the columbarium reach their expiration, and also to make way for housing developments in the Bidadari estate, according to the Housing and Development Board and the National Environmental Agency.
Mr Ang predicts that the space crunch for funerary services will heighten after the closure, as the eight halls at Mount Vernon Columbarium make up a fifth of Singapore's funeral parlours that are available to the public.
He added that "Any land (offered) up for this purpose will be (highly sought after)" while noting the absence of tenders for sites designated for such funeral services over the last twenty years.
Mr Ang suggested that the design and construction of funeral parlours could potentially serve as the best method in preventing noise and air pollution, which often arise from utilising other public spaces for funerary rites such as makeshift wakes at the void decks of HDB flats.
A new 1.1ha funeral parlour site, which will contain 12 funeral wake halls, will replace Mount Vernon Columbarium, and is expected to be completed by 2024.
Architecture professor and architect at the National University of Singapore, Professor Richard Ho Kong Fatt, observed that Singapore is "squeezing land for the dead," and that what matters is not how much land the country has, but rather "how we make use of it," subsequently signalling the need to utilise golf courses to make way for funeral parlours.
He added: "Our students are also quite shocked that they are located at the fringe of an industrial estate, right next to a highway in no man's land, in a desolate area where nobody wants to go.
"(And with a three-year lease), how much would you invest to make the premises look good? It is a vicious circle," he warned.
Director of facilities planning and development at NEA, Ms Wong Chiu Ying, said that while Singapore is "definitely not number one in caring for the dead," the infrastructure at Mandai points to the capability to accommodate cremation services, unlike in some other countries where families have to endure a lengthy wait prior to obtaining a slot for their deceased loved ones' cremation.
Ms Wong added that the NEA's challenge would be to design complexes for funeral services in a way that will minimise inconvenience to residents living in the surrounding area, and has highlighted the Agency's challenge to place funeral facilities in accessible locations on the island.
She explored the possibility of holding funerary rites in parks as brought up by the panel, saying that "it may take time for people to come to accept it, but I certainly hope that this can be something that can happen".