The rebirth of cemetery land in Singapore

March 28, 2016 / By  

In land-scarce Singapore, it is only a matter of time before the bodies are exhumed and cemeteries cleared for new uses. That was the fate of many burial grounds, and the only remaining active cemetery has its burial period limited to only 15 years for newly assigned plots. Cemeteries have gradually given way to new housing developments, shopping malls, parks or other uses.

In recent years, there was much publicity over the clearance of two major burial grounds – the Bukit Brown and Bidadari cemeteries. The former raised much controversy, as part of 200 hectares of undisturbed green space would be transformed into a major road paving the way for the future development of Bukit Brown. As Bukit Brown was a natural habitat for bird species, conservationists expressed concerns over the environmental impact while others lamented the cultural and heritage losses as graves were cleared. Located in a prime residential district, the development of the Bukit Brown area for future housing would be exciting news for the market, albeit in the longer term.

In November 2015, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) offered 7,061 Built-To-Order public housing units for sale in various locations, including Bidadari, a former major cemetery just outside the city, which had been cleared of its graves earlier. Many Singaporeans, especially the ethnic Chinese, tend to be squeamish or superstitious about burial grounds, but when a fairly prime city fringe housing location presented an opportunity for buyers, good sense and logic ultimately prevailed over concerns about its past history. Demand outstripped supply by 5.43 times, as 11,606 buyers applied for the 2,139 flats on offer in Bidadari’s first phase of sales. The title of a Straits Times news article on Bidadari, “Cemeteries before, homes to die for now”, seems an apt description of the keen competition among buyers in this new housing estate. Prices range from a minimum of SGD 154,000 for one-bedroom units to SGD 544,000 and upwards for the bigger three-bedroom apartments. While considered reasonably priced given its central location, Bidadari is nevertheless 45% to 90% more expensive than suburban locations.

According to the HDB, Bidadari is envisioned as “A Community in a Garden”, so its Master Plan features a 10-hectare park connected to a central green spine linking up with residential estates and pockets of open space. It will be pedestrian and cyclist friendly with seamless connections between housing, amenities and transport nodes. Bidadari will be served by three Mass Rapid Transit stations, a bus interchange and a new commercial development. A variety of apartment sizes will cater to the needs of young couples, families as well as the elderly.

It may be nostalgic to recall the passing of cemeteries like Bidadari into history, but its transformation into a vibrant and attractive living environment is indeed a rebirth of that site, coming to life again after decades of respectful dormancy. The redevelopment of Bidadari also marks the beginning of a new city fringe sub-market that will provide new opportunities for buyers, investors and developers.

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