Recycler to get farm cash - 'but it's not enough'

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 February, 2011, 12:00am

The Lands Department is ready to pay the owner of a Tsoi Yuen Tsuen metal recycling plant compensation intended for farmers, as long as he is willing to move. And the MTR Corp, which urgently wants the land for a road, has also offered to pay the owner an extra HK$150,000.

Cheung Sun-yau, 55, has been offered about HK$220,000 for the trees, seedlings, pond, abandoned house and chicken shed on his rented 40,000 sq ft of farmland, even though it mainly houses machines and metal awaiting recycling.

The Lands Department made the offer late last year after it started resumption of land in the village for the HK$66.9 billion high-speed railway to Guangzhou, Cheung said. The MTR Corp, the government's contractor for the project, offered HK$150,000 more recently, he said.

'If I promise to move out, the MTR will pay me HK$150,000,' Cheung said. 'They previously said I was not entitled to any compensation because I did not receive permission to change a piece of farmland into a factory.'

However, the MTR Corp said last night it had not offered compensation, but to buy 'some materials like hoardings at his site at a reasonable price for our works'.

Cheung plans to reject both offers. He said they were a long way short of the amount he needed to repay the money he borrowed to build the recycling plant in late 2007, one year before the government announced it would resume the land.

Cheung's dispute is only one of many arising from railway project. Forty-seven Tsoi Yuen families only finalised access to their new homes in Pat Heung's Yuen Kong earlier this month, when a mystery benefactor stepped in and bought the rights for the villagers - for which they had been asked to pay HK$5 million.

A political scientist said the government only cared about finding quick solutions to problems on the controversial project at the expense of rules and regulations.

'Using agricultural compensation criteria to measure the investment loss of a factory owner is inappropriate and unfair,' Ma Ngok, a political scientist at Chinese University, said. 'It shows the government did not have a well-planned compensation scheme when it walked into Tsoi Yuen Tsuen and told the people they had to move out.

'The government should compensate this person for losses ... Although he unlawfully changed farmland into a factory, it is no excuse to deny him compensation because the railway project is causing him to lose money.'

Ma said the MTR Corp owed the public an explanation on how it spent its money. It should explain whether offering cash to those affecting progress was a long-standing practice and whether it would have an impact on rail fares.

In 2007 Cheung, a builder, borrowed about HK$800,000 from friends to take over a chicken farm and turn it into a recycling plant. He started the business because he was not getting enough building work.

The plant stopped operations several months ago when clashes between MTR workers and villagers intensified and it was too difficult for Cheung to continue.

The Transport and Housing Bureau created special compensation packages for the village's land owners and tenants affected by resumptions. The inhabitant of a squatter hut of 400 sq ft, for example, receives more than HK$360,000 instead of the usual HK$120,000. Each household also receives up to HK$10,000 in moving allowances. Land owners are the biggest beneficiaries; they receive HK$526.80 per sq ft for farmland and HK$1,041 per sq ft for land on which a house is built.

A spokesman said last night: 'Mr Cheung is eligible for the relevant ex-gratia compensation as there are crops and farm structures in his site.'

Cheung said he knew farmland should not be used for a recycling plant without government permission, but the village was home to at least three factories, all on farmland.

'The majority of the recycling plants in the New Territories are on farmland,' he said. 'That is the reality. The profit margin of this industry is so thin we cannot afford expensive land. The government knows this.

'All I want now is for them to give me enough compensation so I can repay the loan,' he said. 'If I don't get enough money to pay the loan, then I am not leaving.'