A move to regulate urn niches
What happened? Under Tuesday's government proposal, private urn facilities will have to obtain a five-year renewable permit from a new statutory licensing board established under the Private Columbaria Ordinance. The licence asks for operators to comply with planning and land rules. They also have to set up a maintenance fund and enter into standard business contracts with buyers.
How will the measures affect operators? They will have 18 months to sort out any breach of land and planning rules. They will not be allowed to sell niches during that period.
However, exemptions will be given to three kinds of columbarium: those within cemeteries run by religious bodies; temporary storage provided by undertakers which are now regulated by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department; and columbaria that have existed for more than five years.
Who are affected? At least 65 illegal columbarium operators who oversee a total of about 74,000 niches. They will need to get a permit; otherwise, they will face fines.
When will the changes take effect? The government will conduct a second round of public consultations until March. The Private Columbaria Ordinance, which will be submitted to Legco for approval by the end of 2013, will be enforced by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department.
Where are niches illegal? They are illegal if they're built without approval on sites zoned as a green belt, village development, or residential areas without approval. One example is Yuen Fuk Yuen, an underground urn storage facility on Ma Shi Chau island, listed as a geologically important area.
Why is the new regulation necessary? A growing shortage of urn places has led to more and more unlicensed niches in residential areas.