Government to exhume over 80,000 graves, acquire land to make way for Tengah Air Base expansion

Jalelah Abu Baker Channel NewsAsia 18 Jul 17;

SINGAPORE: The Government will be exhuming over 80,000 graves at Choa Chu Kang Cemetery in order to expand Tengah Air Base. It will also acquire land occupied by fish farms and a nursery on Murai Farmway.

The additional land, which measures about 106 ha, is required to accommodate some of the assets and facilities from Paya Lebar Air Base, which is due to be relocated there in 2030 at the earliest, the Ministry of National Development (MND) , National Environment Agency (NEA) and Singapore Land Authority (SLA) said in a joint statement on Tuesday (Jul 18).

Development works for the expansion are expected to start in 2019, by which time two ornamental fish farms, a food fish farm and nursery on Murai Farmway are expected to move out. Works will be carried out in phases. Compensation will be based on market value for the land on the date it is acquired, said the authorities.

The authorities also said that 45,500 Chinese graves and 35,000 Muslim graves will need to be exhumed. Of these, claims and registration for 45,000 Chinese and 5,000 Muslim graves which have met the minimum burial period of 15 years will begin in September this year, they added. These graves take up 100 ha of land.

Notices of exhumation for the remaining 500 Chinese graves and 30,000 Muslim graves will be issued at a later date, after they have met the 15-year burial period. The exhumed Muslim graves will be reinterred into another part of the cemetery.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced at the 2013 National Day Rally that the Paya Lebar Air Base will be relocated to free up 800 ha of land that is expected to be used to build homes, offices, factories and parks.

In developing this plan, the Government has “considered all alternatives, taking into account our national defence and security needs, as well as the overall benefits” of moving Paya Lebar Air Base in the longer term, the authorities said.

“Government agencies have, as far as possible, tried to minimise the impact of these works, and affected stakeholders will be given advance notice to make alternative arrangements,” they said.

The agencies also said that SLA gazetted the acquisition of the affected land on Tuesday.

A portion of heritage road along the 1.8km Lim Chu Kang Road will also be affected by the development, and the road will need to be re-aligned, the authorities said.

Heritage roads are characterised by their lush tropical forest ambience, and feature tall mature green walls of natural vegetation along their length. They also form a roof of overarching tree canopies.

"Agencies are studying the exact impact on the road, and possible mitigation strategies, which includes transplanting the trees to the new road," the statement said.


Manager at family-owned Koon Lee Nursery Mac Teo will not only be losing the site that has been home to the business for 30 years, but his home too.

The 41-year-old told Channel NewsAsia that his parents sold their five-room HDB flat when they had to pay an upfront sum when renewing their lease for the land 10 years ago. He now lives in a home built on the 2-ha site with his parents, wife, son and brother.

They are halfway through their 20-year lease, and he had been making improvements to the nursery, like changing the shelving, he said.

SLA officers arrived at his nursery at about 10am with officers from NParks to serve a notice of acquisition. He will have to wait for a nursery land tender to open, in order to move, he said.

"The uncertainty is what is worrying. There is not a lot of information available. Even if we bid for the land, we may not get it," he said.

He added that the 1.5 years given for them to move out is too short, given that he would first need to find a new site, build the nursery, then move the plants and flowers from the nursery. Just moving the items would take months, he said. Shutting down the business is also an option, Mr Teo said.

Still, he felt reassured by officers telling him that they will be flexible with the deadline for moving out. However, he has started making plans to minimise disruption when he does have to eventually leave the premises.

"We have to reduce the number of plants. This can only mean that if I sell, I don't buy so much. It will affect my business. I'll also have to stop making improvements, and creating new storage areas," he said.

Airbase expansion to have minimal impact on future Tengah town: Experts
KELLY NG Today Online 19 Jul 17;

SINGAPORE — Tengah Air Base’s expansion is unlikely to affect the appeal of the future Tengah town as it will take place away from the housing estate, said property analysts.

Its impact on the new town would be limited, as the area has “one of the lowest civilian population densities” among the planning areas in Singapore, said Mr Nicholas Mak, head of research and consultancy at SLP International.

The expansion’s impact on property prices in the new town would also be minimal, given the land is being clawed back for military purposes, and not the redevelopment of commercial or residential property, said Mr Chris Koh, director of property firm Chris Koh International.

The westward expansion of the airbase — away from residential developments — will mean aircraft noise having minimal impact on the living environment, analysts said.

While those whose relatives’ graves have to make way for the development will be disappointed, the prospect is not entirely unexpected, said International Property Advisor chief executive Ku Swee Yong. A 15-year burial limit for all graves has been instituted since November 1998.

The exhumation of graves will be the second-largest in scale in the last two decades, after the exhumation of 58,000 Christian graves and 68,000 Muslim graves at the Bidadari Cemetery from 2001 to 2006 to make way for housing.

More recently, 4,153 graves at the Bukit Brown Cemetery were exhumed, beginning October 2013, to make way for a dual four-lane road to link Adam Road, the MacRitchie Viaduct and Thomson Road via the cemetery.

But a possible partial closure of Lim Chu Kang Road may mean a detour for visitors travelling north to farms at Neo Tiew Road and the nature areas around Sungei Buloh, said Mr Ku.

“In future, if you want to go to Neo Tiew from Jurong, you probably have to drive a large round (to get there) ... travelling there will be more difficult now and this could have some impact on the business of restaurants and farms in the area,” he said. Valuation of the acquired plots should take into account recent investments by farmers that may be “wasted” because the land had to be prematurely returned to the Government, he added.

Tengah Air Base expansion: Short notice catches business owners off guard
KELLY NG Today Online 19 Jul 17;

SINGAPORE — Some owners of the fish farms and nursery affected by the Tengah Air Base’s expansion plans said they needed time to digest the news before deciding what to do, since it came like a bolt from the blue for them.

The occupants of the affected plots at Murai Farmway were served notices of compulsory acquisition on Tuesday, instructing them to “deliver vacant possession of the (respective) properties by Jan 31, 2019”.

Mr Mac Teo, who manages his family’s business Koon Lee Nursery, is concerned about the “uncertainty as to whether (they) can find a place to relocate”. He recently added new shelving and storage fixtures as part of a 10-year improvement plan for the nursery.

“We felt secure because we thought there are 10 more years before our lease expires ... The National Parks Board has not been able to share more information about new land available for tender. It is the uncertainty that is worrying,” the 41-year-old said yesterday.

Mr Teo said he hopes the authorities will be “flexible” in enforcing the acquisition notice, especially since it is a challenge to find new nursery plots.

“We are still considering what we can do, if we get a new place, or if we have to fold the business,” he said, adding that the nursery may have to stop replacing plants that have been sold.

The Teo family had sold their house to lease the plot for the 2ha nursery, and have been living on its premises since 1987. Mr Teo lives there with his wife, son, parents and brother.

His father, Ronnie, told TODAY: “We sold our house to buy this place ... Whatever the authorities want to do, they will, what more can we say?”

Over at Fisco Aquarium, which sells and exports ornamental fish, the elderly owner, who declined to be named, said the notice came “suddenly”. They still “need time to process” the news and consider their next step, he added.

“Why did they inform us when there are only 18 months to the deadline?” asked the man, whose aquarium has been at Murai Farmway since 1988.

“There is too little time left for us to make concrete plans, this has been quite sudden,” said the owner, who is in his 70s.

80,500 Choa Chu Kang graves to make way for Tengah Air Base expansion
KELLY NG Today Online 19 Jul 17;

SINGAPORE — Three fish farms, one nursery and 80,500 graves in Choa Chu Kang cemetery will have to make way for an expanded Tengah Air Base, as part of plans to relocate the Paya Lebar Air Base from 2030.

On Tuesday (July 18), occupants of the affected farms at Murai Farmway — Koon Lee Nursery, Goh Swee Hoon, Fisco Aquarium, Rigoh Fishery — received their notices of acquisition from Singapore Land Authority officers.

These businesses, which are on 20-year leases originally slated to expire between 2027 and 2030, will have to relocate by Jan 31, 2019. Compensation will be based on market value for the land on the date it is acquired, said the authorities.

Apart from these four plots on 2, 17, 19 and 21 Murai Farmway, on which the three fish farms and nursery sit, Chew’s Agriculture had announced last year that it is selling its farm premises and assets at 20 Murai Farmway to the Government for S$38.7 million. It is moving to a site 6.5km away along Neo Tiew Road, to be purchased from the Government for close to S$4 million.

Williton Orchids at 35 Murai Farmway will also not have its tenancy renewed after it expires in June 2019.

The relocation of Paya Lebar Air Base was first announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in the 2013 National Day Rally. It will free up 800 ha of land in the north-east region — an area bigger than Bishan or Ang Mo Kio — for new homes, offices, factories and parks, and also remove height restrictions on a large area around Paya Lebar, Mr Lee had said, adding that the full changes will take place 20 to 30 years later.

A total of 45,500 Chinese graves and 35,000 Muslim graves will also be affected by the expansion of Tengah Air Base. These will be progressively exhumed as they meet the minimum burial period of 15 years, with the first 5,000 Muslim graves slated for exhumation from the fourth quarter of next year. This will be followed by 45,000 Chinese graves to be exhumed from the fourth quarter of 2019.

Claims and registration for these graves — dated between 1955 and 2000 — will begin this September. Notices for the remaining 500 Chinese graves and 30,000 Muslim graves will be issued at a later date, after they have met the 15-year burial period.

Costs of exhumation and cremation at the Choa Chu Kang crematorium (for Chinese graves) will be borne by the Government, but claimants will bear additional costs for performing additional rituals or placing the remains in private cemeteries.

The exhumed Muslim graves will be reinterred into another part of the cemetery, said the authorities. These graves currently occupy about 100ha of land, while the farm plots gazetted for acquisition take up about 6.3ha.

In response to media queries, the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) said the expansion of Tengah Air Base will allow the ministry to “build infrastructure and facilities to house aircraft assets, operational flying and support squadrons and other facilities” that will be relocated from Paya Lebar Air Base. There will also be a new runway built in the expanded Tengah Air Base to meet the Republic of Singapore Air Force’s operational requirements.

Part of the 1.8km Lim Chu Kang Road, including a portion of the Heritage Road at its northern segment, will be re-aligned to facilitate the air base’s expansion. “Agencies are studying the exact impact on the road, and possible mitigation strategies, which includes transplanting the trees to the new road,” said the Ministry of National Development, National Environment Agency and SLA in a joint press release.

Mindef’s military training areas in the vicinity will also be affected, but the actual boundaries of the expanded air base are still being worked out. Apart from Tengah Air Base, the Changi Airbase East will also be expanded to accommodate various assets and facilities to replace Paya Lebar Air Base.

Singapore's biggest and only active public cemetery will shrink by one-third to make way for Tengah Air Base expansion
Rachel Au-Yong and Yuen Sin Straits Times 18 Jul 17;

Singapore's biggest and only active public cemetery - Choa Chu Kang Cemetery - will have its size cut down by a third, from 318ha to 200ha.

Some 80,500 Chinese and Muslim graves will be exhumed progressively to expand Tengah Air Base, which in turn is to accommodate the relocation of Paya Lebar Air Base from 2030 onwards.

Those affected can have their relatives' remains cremated at Choa Chu Kang Crematorium. For those whose religions require their dead to be buried, like Islam, the remains can be reinterred elsewhere in the cemetery.

The authorities will pay for the moves, though additional rituals or requirements will have to be borne by the affected relatives.

Due to space constraints, the Government imposed in 1998 a burial period of 15 years for all graves in Choa Chu Kang, after which the remains would be exhumed.

Since December 2004, the National Environment Agency has been exhuming graves at the 70-year-old cemetery in phases.

"While there is sufficient land in the foreseeable future, NEA will continue to work with land use planners to explore options for future generations," it said.

In 2007, it introduced a new interment system for Muslims, where concrete crypts built below ground replaced traditional earth plots.

Modelled after similar graves in Saudi Arabia, the system helps to save space as it allows the bodies interred to be arranged in a more compact way and was reported to help keep the grounds open until at least 2130.

The latest round of exhumations will take place in several phases. About 45,000 Chinese graves and 5,000 Muslim ones older than 17 years will be exhumed first, with the earliest beginning in the last quarter of next year.

Newer graves - with some buried as recently as three years ago - will be exhumed later, after they meet the minimum 15-year burial period.

Yesterday, retiree Norani Masuni, 59, whose sister's grave at the N1-3 plot will be eventually exhumed after the burial period, said:"We feel sad, but what can we do? A decision has been made."

She said it is likely that her sister's remains, which were buried six years ago, would be buried with other family members. "It has happened to us before at other graves, so we are prepared for this."

Choa Chu Kang GRC MP Yee Chia Hsing, whose Nanyang ward is affected by the expansion, said he believes that while the changes may be disruptive, most will take it in their stride as they are aware of the land constraints in Singapore.

"That is why those who can accept it will have their loved ones cremated, while those who bury their relatives know full well it cannot be for forever," he said.

Farmers affected by Tengah Air Base expansion worried about their future
Yuen Sin Straits Times 18 Jul 17;

SINGAPORE - For the past 30 years, Mr Mac Teo has lived and grown up on the site of his family's nursery at Lim Chu Kang.

"It's not just a business, but a home to me," said Mr Teo, 41, a project manager at Koon Lee Nursery, which takes up a two-hectare plot of land along Murai Farmway.

On Tuesday morning, he was told by government officers that the family business has to move - in 18 months.

The authorities have acquired its land, along with that of three fish farms, for the expansion of Tengah Air Base. The sites will be handed over by Jan 2019. The four farms will be compensated based on market value for the land at the point of acquisition.

Another two farms - which produce vegetables and eggs - will not have their lease renewed once they expire.

Three of the farms that The Straits Times spoke to expressed surprise and worries about the development.

Mr Bernard Goh, a supervisor at Seven Seas Fisheries at 17 Murai Farmway, said they were taken aback by the news. The farm, which supplies produce like snakehead fish and frogs to wet markets, had about 10 years more on its lease.

"When the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority came for a inspection a few months ago, they even made recommendations for us to increase our productivity by upgrading the water filter and re-designing the ponds. We had already started some works, but there's no use doing that now since we have to move," said Mr Goh, 31.

He also added that the company might have to wind up operations on the farm and focus on its seafood distribution business if they can't find a suitable alternative.

"It's difficult to find a suitable plot of land with the right water quality. Many of the wet market stallholders depend on us for supplies and there are not many local farms around. If we stop farming, they may also be affected."

The Singapore Land Authority, AVA and NParks said they will work closely with the affected owners and assist them in the process. New farm plots for food fish farming will be available in October (2017), while the AVA and NParks will release details on tenders for spaces for ornamental fish farms and nursery land tenders when they are available.

But some of the farmers wonder if they will have enough time to move and start anew at a new site. They have to stop operations by January 2019.

Said Mr Teo: "If we manage to bid for a piece of land tomorrow, we will have enough time to move and set up our business elsewhere. But I'm not confident that we will be able to get a new piece of land in time."

He said that 18 months is too short a time frame to find an alternative site, because of the effort and labour needed to relocate and set everything up from scratch again. His family had invested over $1 million in the business, including land costs and other facilities. It has 10 years left on the lease.

An owner of an affected fish farm in his 60s, who declined to be named, said that he was shocked at the news that he has to move out of his plot in 18 months.

"We were not mentally prepared for this," said the owner. His 1.2 ha tropical fish farm, which exports fish to Europe, has been around for close to 30 years. It has over 10 years left on its lease.

"We have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into this. Even if you tell us to move, where can we go to?"

He said that the farmers will be meeting with the authorities in the coming weeks to discuss the issue. "We only just got the news, so it's very uncertain and we are still not sure what we can do."

Choa Chu Kang GRC MP Yee Chia Hsing, whose Nanyang ward is affected by the changes, said he has asked the authorities to compensate the farms fairly.

"Hopefully, the valuation will take into the account the money they have invested into the facilities and land. I have been assured they will try," he said.

additional reporting by Rachel Au-Yong

A different Paya Lebar, with air base gone
Sean Lim Straits Times 18 Jul 17;

SINGAPORE - The look of Paya Lebar may be very different in time to come.

The relocation of Paya Lebar Air Base from 2030 will free up 800ha of land - bigger than Bishan or Ang Mo Kio. Current height restrictions in the eastern swathe of Singapore to ensure navigational safety for aircraft will be relaxed, meaning that current low-rise buildings may be redeveloped.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong first announced this plan during his National Day Rally speech in 2013. He said that the land will be used to "build new homes, new offices, new factories, new parks, new living environments and new communities".

But shifting out the air base may not directly lead to a boom in property prices in the area, according to property experts.

On Tuesday (July 18), the Ministry of National Development, National Environment Agency and Singapore Land Authority announced that Tengah Air Base will be expanded to free up Paya Lebar Air Base for future developments.

Tengah Air Base to be expanded; more than 80,000 graves exhumed, 4 farms to be acquired

On whether this heralds a property price boom in Paya Lebar, SLP International executive director Nicholas Mak said that there are many factors to be considered, such as the timing of the move and the market conditions at the point in time .

He said: "It really depends on when the relocation will be and the market conditions at that point in time. For instance, a recession might mean fewer people would be purchasing houses and hence property prices will not shift much."

Mr Mak said that if the land is being redeveloped for residential purposes, it might lead to an increase in supply of houses, and this would "put a cap on property prices".

Even if there is any price increase, it will only "rise at a moderate pace".

International Property Advisor chief executive Ku Swee Yong said that the freeing up of Paya Lebar Air Base is significant as current height restrictions will be relaxed.

He said that there will be "greater room for development of a higher density neighbourhood" in the area. Existing flats in the area, for example, will have the potential to be redeveloped and built higher.

Mr Ku said that it is too early to speculate how the landscape of Paya Lebar will change, as there are other existing towns that have yet to reach its full potential, citing Jurong West as an example.

The lack of basic utilities in the land currently occupied by Paya Lebar Air Base, such as sewage, gas and telecommunications, is something that will take years to address, Mr Ku said.

After all, he said, the land has been used as an air base for decades, and the capacity for those utilities is lower.

"After the land has been returned to the authorities, it will take many years for basic infrastructure to be laid out first, before redevelopment can take place," Mr Ku said.

Tengah Air Base expansion: 6 things to know about Tengah area, its forest and animal 'towns'
Lydia Lam Straits Times 18 Jul 17;

SINGAPORE - Tengah Air Base will be expanded, with several private land plots acquired, graves exhumed and a road realigned, the Ministry of National Development, National Environment Agency and Singapore Land Authority (SLA) said in a statement on Tuesday (July 18).

The expansion is to accommodate some of the assets and facilities from Paya Lebar Air Base, which is being relocated - freeing up 800ha of land in the north-east, and to ensure operational readiness of the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF).

Here are six things you may want to know about the Tengah area.


A total of 106ha of land - about a quarter the size of Clementi town - will be acquired by the Government to expand Tengah Air Base.
The expansion of the Tengah military airbase of the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF), located in the western water catchment, will see the acquisition of several private land plots and the exhuming of more than 80,000 graves in Choa Chu Kang Cemetery.

The existing Lim Chu Kang Road, including a portion of a Heritage Road at its northern segment, will also need to be realigned.


The five planned housing districts in Tengah, each with a unique character. PHOTO: HOUSING & DEVELOPMENT BOARD
The first flats at the new town in the west, the first to be developed since Punggol about 20 years ago, are set to be launched in 2018.

The area today is largely forest and scrubland, but will eventually have 42,000 new homes: 30,000 units of public housing and 12,000 units of private housing.

Plans to develop Tengah, a 700ha site bounded by the Kranji and Pan-Island expressways, Brickland Road and Bukit Batok Road, were mooted as early as 1991 in a concept plan for Singapore in the future.

The town will include a 100m-wide, 5km-long forest corridor linking it to the surrounding green network between the western and central catchment areas.

All about Tengah Town


SPCA in January last year moved to bigger premises in Sungei Tengah. ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG
Sungei Tengah, which is already home to the headquarters of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) and Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres), will welcome more animal welfare groups soon.

New facilities at Sungei Tengah will be built for around 40 animal welfare groups and pet farms which are in Loyang and Seletar, but which will need to move out of their premises when their leases expire by the end of this year, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said in November last year.

The 29 farms, nine groups and several independent shelters will move from their current homes, bringing with them 6,000 to 7,000 animals, to make way for redevelopment, said AVA.

Each farm and group will be allotted a space inside a 3ha compound, the size of which will depend on the number of animals. Construction will start next year.

Each unit will be able to house around 20 dogs and will include facilities like food storage and bathing areas.

The rental rate for groups and shelters will be around $13 per sq m per month. Pet farm rentals will be based on tender bids for the units.


Several farms are based in Tengah, including fish and vegetable farms. Two ornamental fish farms, a food fish farm and a nursery will be affected by the expansion, and SLA on Tuesday gazetted the acquisition of the affected land.

The farms and nursery can continue operating at their current sites until January 2019.

Compensation will be based on the market value of the acquired land on the date of acquisition, according to the Land Acquisition Act.


Going green is a central theme of the new Tengah HDB town, which will have a car-free Town Centre.

All roads in Tengah will have dedicated walking and cycling paths on both sides of the road.

It will also be home to a large 20ha central park, about the size of Ang Mo Kio Town Garden West, with ponds and canals.

Residents will also be able to take part in community gardening and urban farming in their neighbourhoods with new spaces dubbed "community farmways".

Tengah flythrough video


A site in Tengah has been gazetted for the depot for the Jurong Region Line, a new MRT line expected to be ready in 2025, Second Minister for Transport Ng Chee Meng said in June.

The line will connect areas such as the Jurong Innovation District and the Jurong Lake District.

Construction is expected to begin in 2019, and site preparation works for the depot are ongoing.

SOURCES: HDB, The Straits Times archives

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