Developers persist with proposal for columbarium

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 April, 2011, 12:00am


Developers seeking to build a private columbarium at a secluded site near South Lantau will this week press ahead with their quest for approval from the Town Planning Board despite objections from villagers, green groups and a nearby youth hostel.

New Cheer, which owns around 70 per cent of the site near the beach at Mong Tung Wan, already has the powerful Heung Yee Kuk's support for a project that has previously been rejected. On Friday, it will present a revised proposal to the board.

The 5,850-square-metre site is currently zoned as a green belt along the fringes of the Lantau South Country Park and is accessible only by boat from Cheung Chau or a one-hour hike from Pui O.

New Cheer will ask the board to rezone it as a site for a columbarium so that it can accommodate 11 buildings with niches and a hall for funeral services. It is also asking the government to grant land that will account for 27 per cent of the area, in exchange for which it will surrender 30,000 of the 66,000 niches to the government to meet public demand.

'[The green belt zoning] is too restricted, unfair, unreasonable, impracticable and inadequate to meet the soaring high community demand [for urn niches],' says the company's statement to the board.

The company is refiling its application after failing to win support last year from the Development Opportunities Office, which provides a one-stop co-ordination service for projects considered socially worthwhile. The office then said the project, which originally proposed holding 96,000 niches, involved complex land and transport problems.

New Cheer's latest application comes with a letter of support from the kuk, an organisation which looks after the interests of indigenous New Territories residents.

But a group of indigenous villagers from Mong Tung Wan are opposed to the plan. Fan Wai-kuen, who moved out of the village in the 1970s to look for a job, like many of his fellow villagers, said a columbarium would bring bad fung shui.

'Although we no longer live here, our ancestral hall and old houses are still here. The building of the columbarium will destroy the greenery,' said Fan, who is retired.

Fan said he had sold some agricultural land to New Cheer about three years ago but thought it was only for building villas.

Peter Li Siu-man, campaign manager of the Conservancy Association, has accused New Cheer of trying to destroy the land before getting permission for development. Li said he had found trees recently chopped down during a site visit last year after the initial plan was made public.

'South Lantau is largely a forested country park area that is not intended for development. A columbarium, which will bring in many visitors during the worshipping season, is out of the question,' he said.

The Youth Hostels Association, which has a hostel adjoining the site, has also written to the board stating its objections, saying holidaymakers, especially local ones, would not welcome a columbarium as a neighbour. The association has closed its hostel at Mong Tung Wan for a year but it said it would be reopened.

New Cheer could not be reached for comment yesterday.