No room for dead tradition in a city that must make space for the living

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 December, 2011, 12:00am


I refer to your editorial ('A problem that won't be buried', December 19).

I could not agree more with your call for greater use of scattering ashes to ease the demand for niches in columbariums.

Unlike other forms of property, a columbarium is essentially a use-once-only property.

Residential, commercial, office and industrial buildings can be reused repeatedly as ownership and tenants change.

Even flats that were the scene of a violent death can be used again if the price or rent is low enough.

And, if a property's use is no longer economically viable, it can be redeveloped by, for example, switching it from industrial use to a hotel.

However, because of the tradition of not disturbing the deceased, once a columbarium niche is occupied, it simply cannot be used again by moving out the original urn and putting in another urn.

It goes without saying that redevelopment of a columbarium for another use is out of the question.

This is an extremely wasteful use of land and ultimately it is unsustainable.

It means that the building of columbarium niches has to continue uninterrupted just to keep pace with the annual number of cremations, currently running at about 40,000 a year, according to government figures.

As the population is set to increase, the number of cremations will naturally go up. The government is already running into difficulties convincing district councils about suitable sites.

Even if the plan to house columbariums in rock caverns goes ahead, nearby residents will still grumble since an approach road will have to be built for access.

There will also be the usual ridiculous complaints about fung shui, even for a rock cavern.

If a tradition has outlived its usefulness, then it should be swept away.

The tradition of burial eventually gave way to cremation. In time, cremation will be replaced by the scattering of ashes.

A small place like Hong Kong simply can no longer afford the luxury of reserving land for the dead when it can be put to more productive use for the living.

Danny Chung, Tai Po