By Joanne Poh
There was an outcry when it was announced that the historic Bidadari Cemetery would be exhumed to make way for a new housing estate. Singaporeans lamented yet another instance where heritage would be razed to make way for progress.
But years later, prospective property buyers are unfazed. The Bidadari Estate, with its excellent location in the mature town Toa Payoh just minutes from the city core, has proved one of the most sought-after new housing estates in Singapore.
In fact, the first batch of Build-To-Order (BTO) flats, launched in November 2015, were hugely oversubscribed, and a more recent BTO exercise in May 2017 saw Bidadari, together with Geylang, seeing the highest demand.
History of Bidadari Cemetery
While Bidadari is now being redeveloped into an integral part of Toa Payoh’s residential infrastructure, Singaporeans are determined not to let the area shed its rich history. The National Heritage Board has worked hand in hand with the Urban Redevelopment Authority to ensure that some of the area’s design retains elements which allude to its past.
The word Bidadari means “angel” in Malay and is of Sanskrit origin. The former Bidadari Cemetery once held the remains of Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Sinhalese people. It originally served as Singapore’s principal Christian cemetery during its run from 1908 to 1972.
Previously, the main Christian cemetery had been situated in Bukit Timah. However, because it tended to get flooded often, Bidadari was chosen to house a new cemetery, with the new layout being greenlit in November 1907. The cemetery was officially opened on New Year’s Day 1908, and after 1909 burials were diverted from the Bukit Timah Cemetery to this new one.
Later, plots of land neighbouring the existing Christian burial grounds were assigned to other communities, with the Muslim cemetery being opened in 1910, and the Hindu and Sinhalese cemeteries in 1925. Later in 1932, the Bidadari Mosque was constructed on the grounds of the Muslim Cemetery, only to later be demolished in 2007 when the cemetery had already ceased operations.
The final burial at the cemetery was held on 31 October 1972, following which all other burials had to be redirected to Choa Chu Kang Cemetery, which is today the only cemetery accepting burials.
In the following years, the Bidadari Cemetery fell into disuse, and as it became overrun by thick vegetation, it was transformed into a park of sorts, which Singaporeans visited for a dose of nature or exercise. It also became a popular birdwatching spot, with over 50 species having been spotted in the area.
Exhumation of the cemetery began in 1996, but it was only after the cemetery was earmarked for development that works intensified, with the bulk of the exhumation being carried out between 2001 and 2006 in order to make room for urban redevelopment.
Today, the memory of the cemetery lives on at the Bidadari Memorial Garden on Mount Vernon Road, where several relics and headstones selected for preservation are now on display.
A sought-after residential estate
The Bidadari residential estate is slated for completion this year. Expectations are high, and residents are looking forward to a 700m “heritage walk” that will link Bidadari Park with the upcoming Alkaff Lane. Swathed in greenery, it is expected to be a scenic route that lends itself well to walking and cycling.
The new Bidadari estate is made up of four districts, namely Alkaff, Woodleigh, Park Edge and Bartley Heights, covering an area of 93ha.
The area is served by the Potong Pasir and Woodleigh stations on the MRT’s North East Line and Bartley station on the Circle Line, as well as the future Bidadari Bus Interchange, which will be connected to Woodleigh MRT station.
Parents with school-going children are also attracted by the presence of many established schools in the vicinity including Cedar Girls’ Secondary School, St Andrew’s Secondary School and Maris Stella High School.
Alice Tan, Director and Head of Consultancy and Research at Knight Frank Singapore, is optimistic about what residents can look forward to.
She said: “The future residents of Bidadari can look forward to the upcoming development of a town centre, new public housing and the rejuvenation of Bidadari park by the Housing and Development Board (HDB).”
Bidadari’s overwhelming appeal to prospective BTO flat buyers is unsurprising.
Find out more about the upcoming Bidadari estate with our AreaInsider guides.
Tan said: “Bidadari is one of the up-and-coming precincts in the central region to be developed into a distinctive residential enclave centred on the vision of ‘A Community in a Garden’. Its attractiveness to home buyers lies largely in its good location with convenient transport connectivity to the city, and the shortage of available new homes to support the growing residential demand in this area.”
In November 2015, Bidadari’s first batch of BTO flats was launched in the Alkaff district to great fanfare. Of the 2,139 units available, more than half of them were four-room flats.
The first BTO projects, including Alkaff Vista, Alkaff Lakeview and Alkaff CourtView, are expected to receive their Temporary Occupation Permit in 2019 or, in the case of Alkaff CourtView, 2021.
They are expected to reinforce Bidadari’s “community in a garden” urban planning concept, and residents will enjoy facilities such as a park, scenic lake, market square and park connector measuring 1.8km which will enable cyclists to pedal from Punggol to Kallang.
Overwhelming appeal looks set to endure
Even though Bidadari’s first new residents have yet to collect the keys to their new homes, the area has already become one of the most highly desirable residential addresses due to its proximity to the city centre.
Tan predicts continuing popularity, particularly amongst young couples who wish to get a slice of a centrally-located mature town.
She said: “The upcoming new home supply will be highly sought-after by young couples who would like to live near their parents, and families who live in nearby estates and are looking to buy new homes. Currently, the precinct is well supported by amenities in the surrounding mature estates, but there still remain opportunities for further commercial development of Bidadari to support the upcoming population.”
It is still early days for Bidadari, but based on the overwhelming reception received by every BTO launch in the area to date, the area will continue to enjoy uncommonly strong demand as Singaporeans compete for increasingly scarce homes in one of Singapore’s most sought-after and most conveniently-located mature towns.
Did you know?
- Parts of the former Bidadari Cemetery once belonged to one of Sultan Abu Bakar of Johor’s wives, and she even maintained a palace, the Istana Bidadari, on the land before it was acquired to construct the cemetery.
- Some famous people who were buried at Bidari Cemetery include Dr Lim Boon Keng and John Laycock, who founded the law firm where Lee Kuan Yew began his legal career.
- Bidadari Bus Interchange will be Singapore’s first underground air-conditioned bus interchange when it opens in 2019.