Development Bureau's response to Information on Private Columbaria

With reference to the open letter published in newspaper today (November 22) by the Hong Kong Columbarium Merchants Association (HKCMA) and the Development Bureau Grading Relations Group, the Development Bureau has the following response.

The Development Bureau clarifies that, contrary to the claim of HKCMA, the Information on Private Columbaria ("the Information") to be published soon is not a grading exercise for private columbaria.  The Information aims to provide to the public land/lease (user restrictions) and planning information relating to those private columbaria that are made known to the Lands Department and/or Planning Department and which the departments have reasons to believe are operating as columbaria.  The Information will be updated regularly.

Transparency of information is important to the Administration.  Relevant departments will provide information where appropriate on individual cases in response to enquiries or complaints received.  Moreover, the public can view land lease and planning information of specific private columbaria through other public means (such as the Land Registry and the website of the Town Planning Board).  The Information will only provide information currently possessed by relevant departments in a more systematic and forthcoming manner for public viewing.  The information to be published consists of two parts.  Part A sets out the private columbaria compliant with the user restrictions in the land leases and the statutory town planning requirements and are not illegally occupying Government land.  Part B sets out other private columbaria that do not fall under Part A, and are either-
(i)  pending checking for compliance with the relevant requirements for inclusion in Part A; or
(ii) have been confirmed not compliant with the user restrictions in the land leases and/or statutory town planning requirements and/or are illegally occupying Government land.

The Information is not to substitute the proposed statutory regulatory regime.  In the earlier Consultation Paper of the Food and Health Bureau on the review of columbarium policy, it has been mentioned that in the longer term, the Government should through legislation introduce a licensing scheme for private columbaria.  Prior to that, the publication of information related to private columbaria can provide information to consumers for them to make informed choices, thereby enhancing consumer protection.  
The establishment of an appeal mechanism and a hearing panel in relation to the Information as proposed by HKCMA is, therefore, inappropriate.

During the earlier public consultation, some private columbarium operators have expressed worry about the release of the Information and its possible impact on the industry.  The Development Bureau has in turn written to individual operators included in Part B to give them an opportunity, prior to the publication of the Information, to express their views as regards the land/lease and planning information to be published.  Their views will be suitably reflected in Part B of the Information.  Upon some columbaria operators' request, the Development Bureau will also meet with HKCMA soon to explain the content of the Information and to exchange views on the questions raised.  

We have received reply from the majority of the Part B private columbarium operators.  We are processing the response, and will publish the Information as soon as possible.

Ends/Monday, November 22, 2010
Issued at HKT 21:30