Health officials have completed their challenge to the 'not in my back yard' attitude of people who don't want funeral urns stored near their homes by selecting possible sites for public columbariums in the remaining six districts without them.
The seven sites named yesterday bring to 24 the number shortlisted in the government's drive to provide urn storage in all 18 districts to solve a severe shortage of public niches that has led to a boom in private developments, many of them illegal.
The list, including two sites in some districts, such as Kwai Chung and Sha Tin, was drawn up during a nine-month search launched last year at the height of public concerns over the proliferation of private sites.
The exact number of niches they might provide has not been calculated, but Secretary for Food and Health Dr York Chow Yat-ngok said the bigger sites may hold at least 10,000 each.
Whether all the sites are eventually used will depend on the results of technical studies covering the environmental, traffic and social impacts and consultation with local politicians. 'The district councils will be consulted before sites are confirmed for columbarium development. We will also improve the outlook and layout of the facilities through flexible design to ease the concern and anxiety of nearby residents,' Chow said.
Of the seven sites listed yesterday, two are close to existing cemeteries - the Chinese Christian Cemetery in Pok Fu Lam in Southern district and the Tsueng Kwan O Chinese Permanent Cemetery in Sai Kung district.
Two unused government sites at Sham Shui Kok near Siu Ho Wan on North Lantau that are on the list are about two kilometres from the Sunny Bay station, where tourists transfer to trains for the Disney theme park.
Vacant quarters for government hygiene workers in the Sai Sing Funeral Parlour in Cheong Hang Road, Hung Hom, are also on the list, as is the southwestern part of a former landfill in Shuen Wan, near the Tai Po Industrial Estate and a golf course.
Low-rise villa developments surround another potential site between San Tam Road and Mai Po Lung Road in San Tin, Yuen Long. Chow, who met district council chairmen yesterday, said local politicians generally supported the sites and were committed to the districts sharing responsibility for columbariums.
But Kowloon City district councillor Pius Yum Kwok-tung said Hung Hom residents would oppose the use of the site there unless illegal private facilities in the district were shut down. 'These private columbariums have been thriving in recent years and Hung Hom has been turned into the biggest urban supplier of niches. If we have to take in more, please close the illegal ones and improve facilities to minimise the nuisance,' Yum said.
A traditional home of funeral parlours, Hung Hom has some of the most notorious private niches in multi-storey residential buildings.
Eddie Tse Sai-kit, a spokesman for a columbarium concern group, said the search for sites was just a cover-up for the planning failure.
'It is just an attempt to divert public attention away from the planning flaws of the government in the past,' Tse said.