Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Religious groups welcome new rules

Straits Times: Wed, Jun 13
RELIGIOUS organisations have welcomed the new guidelines that will allow greater use of industrial sites for their activities.

The new guidelines announced yesterday also allow land parcels earmarked for religious purposes to have higher gross plot ratios, providing more intensive use of the land. Maximum storey heights can also be increased, subject to Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) approval.

Religious use will now be allowed in certain industrial premises, but limited to two days a week, and groups must occupy premises within the 40 per cent of space allowed for non-industrial use under existing rules. Religious organisations already operating from industrial buildings have a three-year period to comply with these new guidelines.

These organisations told The Straits Times that the changes give them more options, especially at a time when the demand for space has increased.

The deputy director (mosques) at the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), Mr Mohamad Helmy Isa, said the guidelines give more flexibility.

'The new guidelines also help to address constraints of prayer places as well as meet rising demand for auxiliary facilities for socio-religious activities such as religious classes, which many mosques currently face,' he said.

Mr Seah Boon Lee, chairman of the Hai Lam Sua Tee Kong Toa Temple on Upper Thomson Road, said he has plans for extra space that can be 'used for storage, offices and to build a traditional Chinese medicine clinic'.

A pastor from a church at Henderson Industrial Park who declined to be named agreed that the changes were 'a step in the right direction', adding that the three- year grace period to comply with the new guidelines is generous.

'We are a non-profit group, so this is a cheaper option for us. Besides the cost, it is hard for us to find a location since we can't go to commercial areas like shopping centres,' he said.

Mr Satia Narjadin, director of Global Orion Properties, which has developed industrial properties, said that 'allowing religious organisations to use such space during weekends is a more optimal and efficient use of industrial space as many of the newer industrial buildings look very modern'.

Proposals to intensify the use of a site will be assessed on a case-by-case basis. The authorities will consider the local context and whether the plans would affect factors such as traffic and parking, or create noise problems.

The changes come a day after the URA announced it was slashing lease terms for industrial sites in a bid to keep space affordable.

Industrial land prices surged 27 per cent last year, while rents rose 16 per cent.

The range of new rules, including those restricting religious use, are expected to keep factories and warehouses for industrial use, and so rein in prices...
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