More space for childcare centres in places of worship

Childcare centres can now occupy more space in places of worship, after a change in rules last month.

This is to allow them to run childcare services efficiently at a "reasonable scale", said the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).

A childcare centre in a place of worship can now occupy up to 500 sq m of gross floor area (GFA), giving them as much space as other childcare centres.

The new area allowed for them is an increase of 200 sq m - or the size of three three-room Housing Board flats - from the previous space. But this is still subject to a 10 per cent cap of the total GFA of the place of worship.

In response to queries from Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao, a URA spokesman said the guidelines had been reviewed in response to feedback from the industry.

She added: "Our land use policies on various uses have to evolve as demographics and the external environment change. Hence, we review our guidelines regularly and also take in feedback to ensure that the guidelines remain relevant and can meet market needs."

The Government has been ramping up the number of childcare places to meet the high demand for pre-school services. It has also been setting up jumbo childcare centres, which can each take in 300 to 500 children, instead of the average 100 children, to meet the demand.

Less than 1 per cent of childcare centres, or about a dozen, are now sited within places of worship.

Those which could benefit from the new rules said the change gives them more flexibility and they can enrol more children. Under current regulations, the floor space available affects the number of children a centre can admit.

Ms Thong Yoke Ling, principal of Kids' Kingdom Child Development and Learning Centre, said her centre now admits about 70 children, limited by space constraints.

The centre is within Central Christian Church in Punggol, an area with many young families and high demand for childcare services.

Rent in commercial spaces is more expensive, she said.

"There is a high demand for childcare in Punggol and the centres in this area have long waiting lists.

"So we told URA that we hoped to take up more space in the church," she said.

While the centre now occupies close to 10 per cent of the GFA of the church, she said the church is planning to expand its premises, and the centre could then expand, too. "We'll have to consider other factors such as renovation costs and whether we have enough manpower.

"But in the long term, having more space gives us more flexibility if we want to enrol more children."

This article was first published on December 22, 2015.
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