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LCQ4: Provision of columbarium niches


    Following is a question by the Hon Chan Bernard and a reply by the Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food, Dr York Chow, in the Legislative Council today (April 6):


    In 2004, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department handled 31,332 cremations. Yet I learn that in the columbaria managed by the Government and Board of Management of the Chinese Permanent Cemetery, not many vacant niches are available for placing the ashes of the deceased, while niches in columbaria managed by religious bodies only cater for their followers and privately-run columbaria charge higher rates.  Furthermore, the Government has not formulated legislation or other measures to regulate privately-run columbaria. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the total number of Government departments, religious bodies, public and private institutions that provide niches for placing the ashes of the deceased, the total number of niches provided and the average waiting time of each application for a niche;

(b) of the estimated time for all the current vacant niches to be taken up, and whether the Government or private institutions have plans to build new cemeteries or columbaria; and

(c) whether it will enact legislation to regulate columbaria in monasteries, private industrial/commercial premises or domestic units?


Madam President,

(a) At present, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) is the only Government department that provides columbarium niches.  The columbaria managed by FEHD provide a total of 138,000 niches, whilst the Board of Management of the Chinese Permanent Cemetery, a non-government organisation, provides 195,000 niches at its four Chinese Permanent Cemeteries.  In addition, there are also niches available in cemeteries managed by religious bodies (e.g. the Roman Catholic Cemetery, Protestant Cemetery and Buddhist Cemetery), private institutions (e.g. Po Fook Hill at Sha Tin) and monasteries/nunneries/temples for sale to the public for interring ashes of their family members.

    The new niche spaces of FEHD have been sold out in March this year.  As for the purchase arrangement for old niches, FEHD updates information about niches available for allocation on its website in the middle of each month.  Applicants may select and purchase niches at the beginning of the following month.  The waiting time for individual applicant depends on the number of niches surrendered to FEHD by the public and whether the applicant has any special requirements.  On the other hand, applicants who wish to purchase a new niche in the Chinese Permanent Cemeteries have to make advance appointment.  It usually takes an average of two to three months to complete the formalities of transaction after making the appointment.

(b) FEHD has about 1,100 old niches (mostly located at Cape Collinson Columbarium) available for allocation and sale to the public.  Around 12,000 new unallocated niches are available at Junk Bay Chinese Permanent Cemetery.  These unallocated niches of FEHD and Chinese Permanent Cemetery are expected to be sold out by the end of this year.  We do not have any information about the available niche spaces at columbaria run by religious bodies and private institutions.

    In view of our limited land resources, it is the Government policy to encourage cremation.  There is no plan to develop new burial grounds.  In line with the policy, FEHD is actively studying plans to develop new columbaria or expand the existing ones.  The work involves the following:

(1) To provide about 10,000 new niches of smaller size at Kwai Chung Crematorium, Cape Collinson Crematorium and Wo Hop Shek Crematorium.  These new niches will be completed in phases and become available from the first quarter of next year on.

(2) To build a columbarium at Diamond Hill Crematorium to provide about 18,500 new niches.  To address the concern of Wong Tai Sin District Council about traffic arrangements for the proposed development, FEHD consulted its Traffic and Transport Committee on March 29.  FEHD would apply to Finance Committee for funds in due course with a view to completing the project by the end of 2008.

(3) To review expansion plans for Fu Shan Columbarium at Shatin and Kwai Chung Columbarium and to examine the feasibility of adding columbaria at other crematoria (including Cape Collinson Crematorium and Wo Hop Shek Crematorium).

    Besides, two non-government organisations have applied to the Government for land to develop columbaria in the past year.  One of the organisations has already submitted a planning application to the Town Planning Board whilst the other intended to develop a columbarium in a "Green Belt" zone and will seek the views of the Planning Department on the proposal.

(c) Ash interment does not give rise to any public hygiene problems.  FEHD and the Home Affairs Departments have not received any complaints about private columbaria causing nuisance to their neighbourhood in the past two years.  Hence, the Government has not enacted any legislation or implemented any other measures to regulate private columbaria.  However, these columbaria must comply with the land use and planning requirements for that land or building, the lease conditions, as well as other statutory requirements, and must be a permitted use under the terms and conditions of Deed of Mutual Covenant of the buildings in which they are located.

Ends/Wednesday, April 6, 2005


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