No columbarium objections so far, health official says

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 July, 2010, 12:00am

A senior health official says none of the district council chiefs he has consulted so far has rejected proposals for a new columbarium in their neighbourhood - as the government's push to get its plans accepted by local politicians got under way.

The remarks by Professor Gabriel Leung, undersecretary for food and health, came a day after a new columbarium policy was revealed by the Food and Health Bureau. Its purpose is to boost the supply of public niches, to meet an overwhelming demand and regulate private operators through a licensing system.

Twelve sites in seven districts - three in Kwai Chung, two in Sha Tin and others in North district, Eastern district, Tuen Mun, Cheung Chau and Mui Wo - have been shortlisted to build columbariums to supply an unspecified number of public niches.

Leung said some district council chairmen he had spoken to had an open mind on the subject.

'None of them has rejected us right away. In fact, some of them told us they feel they have obligations to share the responsibility,' he said.

Leung said he was cautiously optimistic about winning the final support of the district councils, noting that the districts wanted well-designed niche facilities with well- thought-out infrastructures.

The battle plan to win the support of locals in the targeted districts will be unveiled this afternoon, when officials brief Kwai Tsing District Council about their proposals. The district has three shortlisted sites, one sitting on an old waste incinerator site, one on a site southeast of the incinerator and another one close to a cemetery.

However, Eddie Tse Sai-kit, a spokesman for a columbarium concern group, said he doubted the government could push the proposals through quickly enough to ease the niche shortages. 'These new proposals, to be realised in an unknown time frame, will in no way address the urgent problem of niche shortage we are facing now,' he said.

The new niches would all be spoken for by the time they were completed because at least 40,000 people join the queue for niches every year, he said.

In coming months, the government will also issue two separate lists of private columbarium operators - those who comply with and those who fail to meet planning rules and land lease conditions. Operators on both lists will have to meet licensing conditions yet to be spelled out by the government or face the prospect of being shut down.

Looking for a niche

This many Hongkongers join the queue for columbarium niches every year: 40,000