Computer ballot for niches at new Wo Hop Shek columbarium

Applications set to open for spaces at massive new columbarium at Wo Hop Shek, but those already on the waiting list will not get priority

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 August, 2012, 3:14am

The completion of a new HK$629.5 million public columbarium in Wo Hop Shek may help reduce waiting times of up to five years for a public urn niche, but the 20,800 applicants already on the waiting list will not get priority.

Applications will open on Monday for more than 10,000 urn niches at the 3.6-hectare site at the Wo Hop Shek Cemetery. But those seeking a previously used urn space for an ancestor's ashes at five existing public columbariums will have to submit a new application and hope for success in a computerised ballot.

The minimum wait for an urn niche at public columbariums at Cape Collinson, Diamond Hill, Fu Shan, Kwai Chung and the existing columbarium at Wo Hop Shek is two years, with some families facing a wait of up to five years.

Allocation of slots is entirely random, with no priority for those who have waited longer.

"For the sake of fairness, we will follow the previous allocation method by computer balloting," said Li Ka-kei, senior superintendent at the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department.

Li said those on the waiting list for used urn niches who wish to take part in the computer ballot had to submit a separate application - and could do so online for the first time.

"Those who hold specific certificates of their ancestors can submit applications by filling in the e-form on our department's website. It is used for the first time and designed for the public's convenience," said Li. A total of 10,742 niches will be open for application on Monday, including 560 further niches at the Diamond Hill Columbarium, which has won awards for its architecture. The niches will be allocated by computer on November 8. The cost of a niche will range from HK$2,800 to HK$4,000, depending on the size of the urn.

The columbarium has been under construction for three years and the five-storey complex will eventually provide a total of 43,710 niches - 35,310 indoors and 8,400 outdoors.

With an increasing number of families choosing to scatter the ashes of their loved ones rather than interring them in a niche, the crematorium will offer two gardens of remembrance.

One will be in a Western style and the other of Chinese design.

The government expects the number of cremations per year to reach 43,900 by 2019 and has promised to bring about 120,000 new niches on line within the next five years. Those who miss out in the first ballot will be automatically entered into the application process for future niches, should they so wish.

The new columbarium will offer the first new public niches in three years, since 18,000 niches at Diamond Hill became available.

Vacancies on the outlying island of Cheung Chau are available under a separate application process, but only for people with links to the island.

The long wait for a public columbarium place has pushed many families to look to private columbariums, including about 74 that have been ruled illegal.