'Wait and see' over illegal structures
The government's campaign calling for New Territories' villagers to report unauthorised structures has stalled in the face of renewed talks with rural representatives.
According to a survey by the South China Morning Post, only a small number of indigenous villagers in five of the nine villages singled out by the government in the first round of inspections have reported 'less risky' unauthorised structures to the Buildings Department.
However, some residents in at least four villages have already received removal orders for structures that pose bigger risks, such as large-scale rooftop glasshouses.
The Post found that only a handful of residents of Hang Tau village in Sheung Shui, Lo Wai village in Tsuen Wan, Wong Yee Au village in Tai Po, Sheung Wo Che village in Sha Tin and Ho Chung in Sai Kung had so far volunteered information on unauthorised structures before the government's September 30 deadline.
Rural representatives said villagers were holding back in the hope that authorities might grant a blanket amnesty in a new round of discussions with the Heung Yee Kuk.
'I hope the new administration will be more tolerant of additional structures, as long as they do not pose immediate danger to the public,' said Daniel Lam Wai-keung, the kuk's vice-chairman.
Lam, who met Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying last week, urged the government to renew discussions with the kuk on how to 'rationalise' the illegal structures issue quickly.
'There is hope,' Lam said. 'We almost reached a consensus ... years ago. [The kuk's] aim is to let villagers live a happy and stable life.'
Lam's stance differs from that of kuk chairman Lau Wong-fat, who publicly called for villagers to report their structures before Leung took office on July 1.
But Hang Tau village representative Au Yeung Hok-wang noted that a rooftop glasshouse could cost as much as HK$200,000 to build. 'It's understandable that villagers want to wait and see,' he said.
Au Yeung criticised the government for being unclear about how long it would tolerate unauthorised structures. He added that, as far as he knew, only a few non-indigenous villagers had submitted reports.
Lo Wai village representative Cheung Sing-man said: 'There are rumours the government will tolerate the structures for only five years, even if we report them. There are still two months to go [to the deadline]. Let's wait for the kuk's instruction.'
Two village representatives from Sha Tin and Tsuen Wan said some professionals had declined to certify the safety of rooftop structures as they were not sure how long materials used to build the older structures would last. 'They just don't want to take the risk,' said Nam Chi-cheung, of Sheung Wo Che village.
According to the Buildings Department, only about 200 individual cases from the 624 villages recognised by the government had been reported by the end of last month.
But an earlier estimation by the kuk revealed 35,000 village houses have illegal unauthorised structures.
Under the reporting scheme announced by the Development Bureau in April, unauthorised structures built before June 28 last year that pose less risk to public safety can be kept temporarily if they are deemed safe by a qualified person.
Examples include canopies and unenclosed structures covering less than half of the rooftop area. The safety inspection should be conducted every five years.
The nine villages singled out as hot spots of illegal structures also include Fuk Hing Tsuen in Yuen Long, Tsing Chuen Wai in Tuen Mun and Shui Hau village on Lantau.
Some residents in Hang Tau village, Wong Yee Au village, Sheung Wo Che village and Nam Tin Tsuen in Tsing Yi have received removal orders for large structures, mostly rooftop glasshouses, following inspections carried out since April. But not everyone has complied.
Tang Wing-keung, of Nam Tin Tsuen, said: 'If the rooftop structures are illegal, why are we asked to pay extra rent for them by the Rates and Valuation Department? We are still waiting for an answer.'
Representatives of Fuk Hing Tsuen in Yuen Long and Tsing Chuen Wai in Tuen Mun did not comment.
The number of cases reported by the end of last month in the 624 villages recognised by the government, according to buildings chiefs