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Most of the five participants who spoke to TODAY did so on condition that they did not want to be identified as giving information to the media from a closed-door dialogue.

However, they said that some questions were “not quite satisfactorily answered” by NEA.

For example, the questions on the potential size of the development and how the Mandai site was picked.

A resident who has been living along Sembawang Road for about five years said: “NEA said this was not a site that it chose but was given.” 

Another resident had also asked if the idea of developing multiple, smaller sites elsewhere instead of building mega complexes in Mandai was ever proposed.

This resident said that a decentralised approach could have opened up more choices of alternative sites and it might be easier to find smaller pockets of land in other parts of the island.

Given the existing columbaria in the vicinity, participants had stressed during the dialogue that this was not a case of a “not in my backyard” mentality, where people are opposed to the location of something considered undesirable in one’s neighbourhood. 

In 2015, residents around Fernvale Link started an online petition to oppose the development of a commercial columbarium near their homes, with some even asking the Housing and Development Board (HDB) for a refund on their new flat. 

Three years earlier in 2012, residents from Woodlands Street 83 petitioned against the setting up of an eldercare centre at the void decks of their housing blocks.

Mr Goh Boon Leng, a 68-year-old retiree who spoke to TODAY from his home on Springside Drive ahead of the dialogue on Tuesday, said: “We are not against it being in our neighbourhood per se, we are all used to columbaria and crematoriums here.

“But the question is equity. Why another one in my neighbourhood? And 10 hectares is very big.” 

NEA said that at the dialogue, it spoke about the need for after-death facilities in Singapore with an ageing population, and how developments such as columbaria and funeral parlours are located at various spaces around the island.

In response to TODAY’S queries on Wednesday, it also said that although the site is about 10ha and located more than 500m away from the nearest residential estate at Springside, it has assured residents that the actual land area to be used by the proposed new complex would depend on findings from further assessments that are expected to be completed by 2025.

“NEA will continue to engage all stakeholders, including residents and nature groups, as the development process progresses,” the agency added. 

TRAFFIC WOES

Another point discussed during the dialogue was traffic congestion, especially during the Qing Ming Festival when some of the Chinese visit the tombs and niches of their departed family members or relatives.

There are already traffic jams with two existing columbaria in the neighbourhood.

The first is the Mandai Crematorium and Columbarium Complex, located at the other end of Mandai Avenue and about four minute’s drive from the proposed new columbarium site.

There is also another columbarium at Grace Presbytarian Church, located next to the Springside residences.

The occasional mobilisation exercises for military reservists compounds the traffic problems, given that Nee Soon Camp is also located along the same road.

A 56-year-old resident working in the airline industry, who gave his name as just Frank, said: “There were instances where the roads were congested especially early in the morning and late evening.”

Ms Tan the MP said that residents mentioned during the dialogue that they have been “exercising tolerance” towards the traffic conditions all these years, especially during the Qing Ming Festival. 

“I can understand they do not wish that there be more traffic,” she added.

ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS

The loss of green space was another matter heard at the dialogue, though NEA had said that an environmental impact assessment would be done.

One of the attendees said candidly: “But all of us know that environmental impact assessment in Singapore usually comes back with a green light. I doubt it will say that we should not have the columbarium there.” 

A 35-year-old civil servant who wanted to be known only as Mr Ang said ahead of the dialogue that there were already cases of “very aggressive” monkeys being spotted in the residential areas.

“If they keep cutting down the trees, the monkeys will have nowhere else to go (and create more human-wildlife conflicts),” Mr Ang added.

Mr Goh the retiree from Springside Drive described the possible cutting down of 10ha of forest for the sake of the dead as a “travesty”.

Residents asked for more dialogue sessions to be held, with at least one to be held before Chinese New Year, and to include other relevant authorities.

A young male resident, who attended Tuesday’s session and has lived in the Nee Soon area for about five years, said: “Given that this was an inter-agency decision, solely having NEA in the dialogue is not adequate enough to answer (the residents’) questions.” 

Ms Tan told TODAY that she will be raising the residents’ concerns in Parliament.

“It is important that their voice is heard, and I will also be working closely with agencies to ensure the residents’ perspectives are (presented) in their review and planning going forward,” she said.

The dialogue participants told TODAY that no other concrete follow-up actions were offered apart from what they had heard about more dialogue sessions and their concerns to be relayed in Parliament.

For some residents, this was to be expected, which was why they did not bother to sign the petition.

A 71-year-old retiree who gave her name as just Ms Toh said in Mandarin: “Whether I sign or don’t sign, they’ll still do whatever they plan… Even if I have any thoughts about it, it’s useless.”

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