Angry residents protest over temple and urn site

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 May, 2010, 12:00am

Angry residents clashed with monks and nuns at the opening of a new Buddhist temple with a columbarium in Sha Tin yesterday. The residents suspect the facility is illegal.

About 50 residents from Mei Chung Court, 30 metres away from Puguangming Temple, blocked the gates when monks, nuns, guests and visitors tried to attend the ceremony. Police arrived to maintain order.

The protesters suspect the complex on the hill behind the housing estate is illegal as it is in a green belt and a residential zone.

Chan Yu-wah, a protester who lives in Mei Chung Court, said they wanted to stage a sit-in to attract the government's attention as officials had failed to give them a satisfactory reply. 'First, we suspect the urn niches are illegally run without government approval. Second, the facility and the religious rituals will bring noise and smoke and affect our lives,' Chan said.

Residents say the temple would put an end to the quiet, green environment around the estate.

The owners' corporation of Mei Chung Court has written to the Lands, Planning, and Food and Environmental Hygiene departments after discovering last week that the buildings, covered in canvas, turned out to be a columbarium.

Chan said the temple and the facility were converted from the buildings originally occupied by a Christian organisation. He said the Lands Department told residents there was only renovation work at the temple site and no urns were found.

A department spokesman said yesterday it would check the lease and seek legal advice today to see whether it allowed a columbarium in the land use zoning.

The green belt zoning of the compound means any plan to build a columbarium or a religious institution requires an application to the Town Planning Board. But according to the board's website, no such application was made.

Meanwhile, the residential zone, which accounts for the other half of the site, does not permit the storage of urns.

Puguangming Temple said the columbarium was 'only part of the facilities of the temple, like many others'. However, it did not say whether the urn niches were legally operated.

A full-page advertisement in a Chinese-language newspaper yesterday said the temple complex had been planned over the past year.

In the latest news column of its website, it says commemorative plaques of ancestors are available for worship but no prices were quoted.

The temple was founded by several worshippers of Kwun Yum, the website says, and it is managed by a respected monk who is vice-president of the Hong Kong Buddhist Sangha Association, a statement said. The temple also hoped residents would resolve the conflict in talks rather than through protests.