Green light for plan to create 23,000 burial niches at old Hong Kong industrial building

Town planners give approval, with restrictions, to ease acute shortage of urn spaces, but local councillor says residents’ concerns have not been addressed

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 September, 2016, 7:21pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 September, 2016, 7:21pm

Town planners have approved an application to convert a 12-storey industrial building in Kwai Chung into a 23,000-niche columbarium complex – with conditions.

They gave the green light before ruling later this month on a similar but more controversial application by Kerry Logistics to convert a Chai Wan godown into an 82,000-niche columbarium.

Wing Kwong Leather Factory and Wing Loi Tannery, applicants in the Kwai Chung project, at the junction of Wing Lap and Kwai Hei streets, said the scheme would help to alleviate the acute shortage of urn spaces in Hong Kong and have “no significant traffic impact”.

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Conditions for approval set down by the Town Planning Board’s Metro Planning Committee on Wednesday include capping the number of niches at 23,000 rather than the 50,000 initially proposed and barring the burning of ritual papers or joss at the site. The board also asked for more information about bus services the operator would provide from Tsuen Wan and Kwai Chung.

The operator will also have to submit to plans by the transport and planning authorities and police to handle traffic and crowds, including temporary traffic arrangements, two months before the annual Ching Ming and Chung Yeung grave-sweeping festivals.

According to planners, eight storeys of the building will house 2,875 niches on each floor connected by two stairwells and three lifts. Rooftop and ground-level landscaping will be incorporated to soften the visual impact. To ease worries about crowding and traffic, the idea is for visitors to make appointments through an e-booking system.

Kwai Chung Crematorium and Columbarium and Tsuen Wan Chinese Permanent Cemetary already operate near the site and the government is proposing to build another public columbarium in the area.

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The Food and Health Bureau and the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department expressed no objections to the plan, while the Transport Department said traffic impact and crowd management assessments that had been submitted were “generally acceptable”.

But Kwai Tsing District councillor Rayman Chow Wai-hung, who represents Kwai Shing East Estate, said none of the measures satisfied residents’ concerns about traffic flow and crowds during the grave- sweeping festivals. He criticised the applicants for not consulting residents directly.

“There is already lots of traffic congestion from the government [columbarium] facilities next door on these festivals and this will only get worse. We will ask the applicant to explain their plans to the council again,” he said.

With Hong Kong’s elderly population growing rapidly, the shortage in public urn spaces has intensified. The average waiting for a public niche is now 41 /2 years.