Anger over new restrictions at crowded cemetery

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 May, 2012, 12:00am


A limit on the supply of spaces for burial urns at the Wo Hop Shek Cemetery could lead to more people cremating the bones of their relatives after the seven-year burial limit passes, putting pressure on hard-pressed columbariums.

At the moment, people looking for a final resting place for a relative whose remains are exhumed after seven years can choose vacant spots for an urn grave in any of the 48 lots that make up the cemetery in Fanling.

But from September the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department will allow a choice of vacant spots in only two of the lots. A maximum of 500 people will be interred each year in each lot. The department said the changes would make management of the cemetery easier and make better use of land.

Brian Lai Wan-leung, a spokesman for a group of government-registered burial agents, warned that the quality and size of the vacant spots in the two lots were not good and families would not choose to inter their relatives there, forcing them to look instead to cremation.

Lai said the department had not consulted the agents before announcing the changes, although it had met them since.

'The vacant places available for urn graves in the two lots are small,' Lai said. 'People won't opt to inter the bones of their ancestors in such a packed place.'

Every year, about 1,000 people are interred at the cemetery, but Lai estimates this number will fall to around 200 if the restrictions are introduced.

Eddie Tse Sai-kit, convenor of a concern group fighting the spread of illegal columbariums, said he did not believe the new rules would lead to a surge in demand for public columbariums.

'Urn grave burial is no longer a common way of treating the remains of ancestors,' Tse said. 'I don't think the policy will cause a large number of people to switch from choosing urn graves to ash niches.'

Tse said the government should consider changing the land use of vacant sites earmarked for urns to columbariums to ease pressure on them.

A serious shortage of niches at public columbariums has led to the rapid growth of private columbariums, many of them built illegally.

A spokesman for the department said its decision was made to improve the management of the site and make better use of the land resources.