The government faces a dilemma over two proposed private columbarium lists designed to help consumers identify trustworthy operators. Some operators are considering challenging the move in court while a pressure group does not want any listed whose legality is in doubt. The first list would contain operators who satisfy statutory planning requirements and land lease conditions, and the second list would detail those where their legality is questioned. A licensing scheme to regulate private columbariums is not expected for at least three years. Health officials in charge of a new columbarium policy under a three-month consultation until the end of September could be left in a difficult position amid pressure from operators and fears that the two proposed lists may just leave consumers even more confused. Officials admit that there is no guarantee any of the operators on the lists will get a licence when a licensing scheme is finally enacted. Lai Hau-yan, vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Columbarium Merchants Association, said people who bought private niches, even from seemingly legal firms, were now wondering if those operators would be allowed to run in the long term. And many thinking about buying niches fear that operators put on the first list - likely to number about 30 - may bump up prices. Lai asked if it was appropriate for the government to list operators allegedly violating land lease or planning rules as disputes over suspected breaches had not been determined in court. 'If the officials press ahead with the lists, there might be a collective legal action against it,' Lai said. Instead of two lists, the association - involving a dozen members managing over 50,000 niches - favours a voluntary registration system. It said a deadline should be set for operators to sign up with the government and those with legal problems should be allowed time to rectify them. Those failing to register would be shut down. While operators do not want any lists, the Columbarium Concern Group, comprising residents affected by private niche facilities across the city, said any lists should exclude operators who violated laws. 'There should be a third list to include those whose existence the government will never tolerate. But what we see now is loose enforcement that has been delayed and delayed,' said Eddie Tse Sai-kit, convenor of the group. Tse said the government's failure to provide enough public niches had spurred illegal columbarium development. Some of the operators had defied repeated warnings and notices issued by enforcement authorities and continued with construction or niche sales. Examples were construction of an underground columbarium in Tei Tong Tsai, east of the Big Buddha on Lantau Island, which was at an advanced stage, and one in Lo Wai, Tsuen Wan, which was ready even though the Buildings Department in March said the buildings might be unauthorised. Consumer Council chief executive Connie Lau Yin-hing defended the proposed lists, saying they would provide useful information for the public. 'It is far better to have the two lists than none,' she said at a City Forum yesterday. Civic Party legislator Tanya Chan called on the government to enact temporary rules for private operators and speed up the legislation process for a licensing scheme. Professor Gabriel Leung, undersecretary for food and health, said the two lists were temporary measures to increase transparency in the private columbarium market. 'We will keep visiting and inspecting each of the columbarium facilities to compile the lists so that consumers can have more information to make their choice of purchase,' he said. Leung said the government would strive to provide an adequate supply of public niches. Twelve sites in seven districts have been shortlisted for niche development but there is no timetable. Hong Kong needs at least 490,000 niches in the next decade.