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Government proactive in increasing supply of public niches (with photos)

     The Secretary for Food and Health, Dr Ko Wing-man, today (July 25) said that the Government has been adopting all feasible measures to increase the supply of public niches. The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) has completed the construction of a new public columbarium at Wo Hop Shek Cemetery as previously planned.  It provides 43,710 niches.  Allocation of these niches to the public will soon commence.

     Dr Ko today met representatives of the Concern Group on Illegal Columbaria to listen to their views on the development of columbaria in Hong Kong.

     During the meeting, Dr Ko reiterated that the Government, pursuant to a district-based columbarium development scheme, has identified 24 potential sites in the 18 districts for columbarium development. The Government is forging ahead with the technical feasibility studies of relevant sites and has been proactively engaging the relevant District Councils. Among the 24 sites, the expansion works in Diamond Hill Columbarium have been completed and those in Cheung Chau Cemetery are expected to be completed in the fourth quarter of 2013.

     Dr Ko said, "Subject to the support of District Councils and the Legislative Council for projects in the pipeline, it is estimated that the Government together with the Chinese Permanent Cemeteries will provide more than 120,000 new niches in the coming five years (i.e. 2012 to 2016), and that the supply of new niches will cumulatively increase to hundreds of thousands in the medium and long term (that is, from 2017 to 2031)."

     On regulating the operation of private columbaria, Dr Ko referred to the public consultation exercise on the licensing scheme for private columbaria which ended on March 30 this year. He said that the Government has since been carefully studying and analysing the views collected and is about to take forward the relevant legislative exercise.

     In order to help the public make informed choices when purchasing niches before the licensing scheme is introduced, the Development Bureau publishes and updates on a quarterly basis a list capturing the relevant land/lease (user restrictions) and planning information pertaining to private columbaria that are made known to the Lands Department or Planning Department, and premises which the departments have reason to believe are operating as private columbaria.  For better protection of their interests, members of the public are strongly advised to obtain from the operators complete information prior to purchase.  Such information includes how the operators would look after the interests of their customers should the columbarium concerned close down or be prohibited from operating, covering, for example, the handling of cremains already interred and whether there would be any refund or compensation.  Members of the public should seek independent legal advice on their rights when necessary.

     Dr Ko emphasised that the relevant government departments will continue to take enforcement action against any unauthorised aspects of private columbaria according to the power within their jurisdiction as appropriate. "I would like to point out, in particular to developers and operators of private columbaria, that as the Government will enhance the regulation of private columbaria, they are well advised not to pursue at this juncture columbarium developments with a speculative mindset blatantly disregarding prevailing statutory requirements and conditions in the land leases.  If unauthorised developments and operations are found, the authorities will take due action in accordance with the law," he said.

     In recent years, there has been increasing acceptance among Hong Kong people of the scattering of cremated ashes in Gardens of Remembrance (GoRs) or designated areas in Hong Kong waters as a means of returning the deceased to nature.  In response to the demand, FEHD has built new GoRs, including the new GoRs at Diamond Hill and Wo Hop Shek, as well as enhancing its free large-scale ferry services to facilitate the scattering of cremated ashes at sea.  The Government encourages the public to adopt these means of sustainable burial, in keeping with Hong Kong's special circumstances including our dense population and scarcity of land.

Ends/Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Issued at HKT 17:15


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