Oral Reply to Parliamentary Question on after death facilities by Mr Baey Yam Keng, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Sustainability and the Environment
Ms Carrie Tan: To ask the Minister for Sustainability and the Environment (a) whether the Ministry has considered innovative ways to process the remains of those who have passed on so as to reduce the demand for land to build columbariums in the future; and (b) whether approaches such as allowing ash scattering around trees and resizing of urns and niches have been and will be considered.
Ms Carrie Tan: To ask the Minister for Sustainability and the Environment in view of the ageing population and projected rise in death rates, whether the Ministry will consider channelling resources towards efforts to change the mindsets of Singaporeans and destigmatise after-death facilities and amenities, such as through public communications and Forward SG dialogues.
1 I thank the Member of Parliament for raising the issue, which is an important topic given our rapidly ageing population. Annual deaths in Singapore are expected to increase from about 25,000 today to about 60,000 by the 2060s.
2 The National Environment Agency (NEA) therefore, works closely with land use planning agencies such as the Urban Redevelopment Authority to plan ahead for more after-death facilities such as funeral parlours, wake halls and columbaria to ensure adequate capacity. With an increasingly ageing population, such facilities will inevitably be a more prevalent feature of our urban landscape.
3 Singaporeans by and large accept the need for such facilities, which are developed in a way that is sensitive to and integrated with the surrounding community. For example, the Mount Vernon Funeral Parlour Complex, which is being built, will be integrated with a nearby park and with lush greenery to provide a visual screen.
4 Today, most bereaved families will opt to cremate the body of their loved ones if the deceased’s religion does not require burial, and will typically place cremated ashes in niches. To provide more options for the public, in May 2021, NEA introduced Inland Ash Scattering (or IAS), at the Garden of Peace in Choa Chu Kang Cemetery as an additional option for managing cremated ashes. IAS requires less land compared to traditional niches, and the fee for IAS is also lower in comparison to niche fees.
5 Since its introduction, there has been increasing demand for IAS, with the number of applications increasing steadily from about 900 in 2021 to about 2,000 in 2023. A second IAS facility, the Garden of Serenity, is being constructed together with the new Mandai Crematorium Complex, which will make IAS more accessible when it is opened in 2025.
6 Besides IAS and niches, families can also place ashes of departed loved ones at home or scatter them at sea. NEA will continue to study methods of intensifying land use and design at future facilities to minimise the land required and optimise land usage.
7 But as the Member rightly pointed out, the acceptance of after death facilities in their neighbourhood or even some distance from where they live vary. More can be done to improve the acceptability of after-death facilities, and all of us – in this Chamber and beyond – can do our part.
8 This starts with raising awareness of end-of-life planning and post-death matters. To create awareness and make it easier for individuals to plan ahead, My Legacy@LifeSG was launched in 2020 as a one-stop portal on end-of-life planning and post-death matters. There are also ongoing efforts to work with stakeholders such as the Singapore Hospice Council, to engage the public to normalise conversations on death and dying. These conversations are necessary, although they can sometimes be difficult.
9 Beyond destigmatising after-death facilities and explaining why such facilities are needed, it is also important to understand and address the concerns that stakeholders have, especially when actual sites have been identified for development of such facilities. This way, when our loved ones pass on at some point, we can be assured that they can be provided with a dignified sending-off and a proper resting place.