Friday, July 27, 2012

Details sought to allow more intensive use of religious sites


Straits Times: Fri, Jul 27

THE Government is moving ahead with its plan, unveiled last month, to allow some religious organisations to expand the facilities at their places of worship.

Religious organisations are being asked to give more detailed information, mainly about parking arrangements, for assessment before any approval is given for the more intensive use of these sites.

Last month, the Government announced that it will allow religious organisations that meet certain criteria to be given a higher gross plot ratio for sites designated as places of worship in the Master Plan of the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).

This means land that churches, mosques and temples are built on can be used more intensively and have their maximum storey height lifted, subject to URA approval.

More details were provided in a URA circular released on Wednesday as the Government moved to cater to the strong demand for religious space.

A key concern outlined in the circular was to ensure that the proposed intensification does not adversely affect surrounding uses. This could include traffic, parking and noise problems.

The proposed gross plot ratio and storey height will be 'evaluated on a case-by-case basis taking into consideration the local context,' the URA said.

Religious organisations will have to provide information on the expected utilisation of parking space by their congregation.

They will also have to give details on other activities likely to increase traffic - such as childcare centres or social services that might take place apart from the regular worship services.

Moreover, details of any traffic management measures already in place - such as shuttle services, the deployment of traffic marshals or alternative off-site parking arrangements - will also be required.

URA added that this information will help with assessments by relevant agencies, such as the Land Transport Authority, on traffic and parking matters.

Mr Seah Boon Lee, chairman of the Hai Lam Sua Tee Kong Toa Temple in Upper Thomson Road, who is considering applying for a higher plot ratio, said he does not foresee any traffic congestion even if more space is approved, as there is a Housing Board carpark nearby.

'We have a celebratory dinner twice a year where about 1,500 people turn up, but we have always indicated on the invitation where they should park. We don't think traffic will be a problem,' he said.

Abdul Gafoor Mosque chairman A.M.A. Nasirudeen added that many mosques face a shortage of parking space and that any extra space awarded could also be used for building parking facilities.

The URA emphasised in its statement last month that the needs of religious organisations and the interests of surrounding users must be balanced.

For instance, religious developments in landed and low-density housing areas will have a lower allowable gross plot ratio compared with similar developments within HDB estates and in high-density residential areas.

'Place-of-worship developments which are allowed intensification will be required to put in place measures to mitigate any disturbances that may arise from the intensification,' it added.

Last month, the URA also announced that religious activities will be allowed in certain industrial buildings under new guidelines to ease a shortage of suitable sites.

  
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