80,500 Choa Chu Kang graves to make way for Tengah Air Base expansion

TODAY Newspapers,  Jul 18, 2017

By Kelly Ng

A total of 45,500 Chinese graves and 35,000 Muslim graves at Choa Chu Kang Cemetery will be affected by the expansion of Tengah Air Base. Photo: Najeer Yusof/TODAY

SINGAPORE — Three fish farms, one nursery and 80,500 graves in Choa Chu Kang cemetery will have to make way for an expanded Tengah Air Base, as part of plans to relocate the Paya Lebar Air Base from 2030.

On Tuesday (July 18), occupants of the affected farms at Murai Farmway — Koon Lee Nursery, Goh Swee Hoon, Fisco Aquarium, Rigoh Fishery — received their notices of acquisition from Singapore Land Authority officers.

These businesses, which are on 20-year leases originally slated to expire between 2027 and 2030, will have to relocate by Jan 31, 2019. Compensation will be based on market value for the land on the date it is acquired, said the authorities.

Apart from these four plots on 2, 17, 19 and 21 Murai Farmway, on which the three fish farms and nursery sit, Chew’s Agriculture had announced last year that it is selling its farm premises and assets at 20 Murai Farmway to the Government for S$38.7 million. It is moving to a site 6.5km away along Neo Tiew Road, to be purchased from the Government for close to S$4 million.

Williton Orchids at 35 Murai Farmway will also not have its tenancy renewed after it expires in June 2019.

The relocation of Paya Lebar Air Base was first announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in the 2013 National Day Rally. It will free up 800 ha of land in the north-east region — an area bigger than Bishan or Ang Mo Kio — for new homes, offices, factories and parks, and also remove height restrictions on a large area around Paya Lebar, Mr Lee had said, adding that the full changes will take place 20 to 30 years later.

A total of 45,500 Chinese graves and 35,000 Muslim graves will also be affected by the expansion of Tengah Air Base. These will be progressively exhumed as they meet the minimum burial period of 15 years, with the first 5,000 Muslim graves slated for exhumation from the fourth quarter of next year. This will be followed by 45,000 Chinese graves to be exhumed from the fourth quarter of 2019.

Claims and registration for these graves — dated between 1955 and 2000 — will begin this September. Notices for the remaining 500 Chinese graves and 30,000 Muslim graves will be issued at a later date, after they have met the 15-year burial period.

Costs of exhumation and cremation at the Choa Chu Kang crematorium (for Chinese graves) will be borne by the Government, but claimants will bear additional costs for performing additional rituals or placing the remains in private cemeteries.

The exhumed Muslim graves will be reinterred into another part of the cemetery, said the authorities. These graves currently occupy about 100ha of land, while the farm plots gazetted for acquisition take up about 6.3ha.

In response to media queries, the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) said the expansion of Tengah Air Base will allow the ministry to “build infrastructure and facilities to house aircraft assets, operational flying and support squadrons and other facilities” that will be relocated from Paya Lebar Air Base. There will also be a new runway built in the expanded Tengah Air Base to meet the Republic of Singapore Air Force’s operational requirements.

Part of the 1.8km Lim Chu Kang Road, including a portion of the Heritage Road at its northern segment, will be re-aligned to facilitate the air base’s expansion. “Agencies are studying the exact impact on the road, and possible mitigation strategies, which includes transplanting the trees to the new road,” said the Ministry of National Development, National Environment Agency and SLA in a joint press release.

Mindef’s military training areas in the vicinity will also be affected, but the actual boundaries of the expanded air base are still being worked out. Apart from Tengah Air Base, the Changi Airbase East will also be expanded to accommodate various assets and facilities to replace Paya Lebar Air Base.