Some of the 24 potential columbarium sites identified by the government at least 18 months ago had yet to be confirmed, the health minister admitted yesterday.
Further planning and consultation with district councils was heeded, Dr Ko Wing-man said.
Ko, the secretary for food and health, promised to legislate on licensing private columbariums as soon as possible after a Tuen Mun monastery was fined, for the second time in a year, for failing to comply with a court order to remove illegal structures containing niches for human ashes.
From 2010 to last year the government announced 24 potential columbarium sites in 18 district council areas citywide. Three are in Kwai Tsing district, and there are two each in Tsuen Wan, Sha Tin, the Islands and North districts - the remaining 13 districts have one each.
At a media briefing yesterday, Ko estimated that the new columbarium projects could provide at least 300,000 urn niches in the long term - including up to 110,000 in a proposed seven-storey public columbarium on a 30,000-square metre site in Tsang Tsui, Tuen Mun, which would be completed in 2017. Another project in North District would offer up to 200,000 niches, but it could take more than 10 years to finish the land and construction work, Ko said.
The minister also admitted that some of the sites were still unconfirmed.
"We have identified these potential sites, but there is still a lot of detailed planning to be done, including transportation assessments and rounds of consultations with the district councils for each site," Ko said.
It is understood that construction work has started on only two sites, in Diamond Hill and Cheung Chau, and that a few sites, including one in Sha Tin, are still facing opposition from residents, who think they are too close to their homes.
Ko also promised to legislate on licensing private columbariums as soon as possible after Tuen Mun's Gig Lok Monastery was fined HK$10,000, for the second time in about 10 months, for failing to comply with a court order to remove illegal structures on government land. These included structures containing several thousand niches for human ashes. It was the maximum fine under the Land Ordinance, but residents criticised it as too lenient.
"Many people have asked, 'Why can't it be speeded up?'" Ko said. "But we have to understand that legislation is not a simple matter."
A bill is expected to be submitted for Legco approval next year, requiring all operators of private urn facilities to obtain a five-year, renewable permit.