Officials prick village barrier but road is still impassable

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 October, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 October, 2009, 12:00am

Government contractors yesterday removed part of a barrier that had been blocking the only access road into a Sai Kung village since last Friday after the landowner refused to clear the area. But the road linking the village to Sai Sha Road remains inaccessible to cars.

Some of the villagers in Kei Ling Ha San Wai said they were considering taking civil action against the landowner after lawyers said they could claim the right to use the land if they had been using it for five years or more.

The development came after the landowner failed to comply with an order to remove concrete blocks and fences that had prevented access to the rest of the village.

The maximum penalty for failing to comply with the clearance order is HK$10,000 and six months' imprisonment.

At about 4pm, workers from the department removed the order sign, part of a fence and one of the poles supporting it, collapsing the fence.

Villagers were frustrated after a Lands Department spokesman said on Monday that it could not get involved in such land disputes because they largely involved private lots.

A possible solution emerged yesterday when a lawyer said the residents could claim an easement - a right to use another person's property for access - if they could prove they had been using it continuously for at least five years.

Lawyer Wong Kwok-tung cited an example of how HSBC closed off the ground floor of its headquarters in Central for an hour every few years to interrupt continuous use of the property by the public and avoid a claim on the area.

Ivy Lam May-lai, who owns 12 flats in the village, said the access road had been in use since she moved into the village in 2003. She said she would consider taking civil action against the occupier if the road remained blocked.

The road was blocked last Friday after construction workers, said to be working on the orders of the landowner, placed concrete barriers on it and fenced it off.

The occupier claimed that he fenced off the area to express his dissatisfaction against the village chief, whom he accused of misusing his power by objecting to the erection of a house on the lot.

Two makeshift access roads have been built for temporary use, but residents are unwilling to use them, as they fear that the roads, built on loose soil, with sharp turns, are unsafe.

The incident follows a similar one in Ho Chung Village, also in Sai Kung, where a developer last month started building a house over the only access road, forcing some residents to leave their cars outside the village and trapping others inside.

A rural chief said yesterday that such land disputes were usually between indigenous villagers and new residents.

'Indigenous villagers understand how the system of land ownership works in the village,' Tai Po Rural Committee chairman Man Chen-fai said. 'They can solve their problems themselves.'

He said some villagers had settled similar rows by exchanging land, and suggested that charging for accessing the private land - which happened in some villages - could be a solution.

Wong said the tariff should be set at a reasonable level and suggested making reference to rental fees of a nearby car park.