Illegal works up sixfold on land in New Territories

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 March, 2011, 12:00am

Cases of unauthorised development in the New Territories have risen sixfold in the past 15 years, according to Planning Department figures.

The latest figures presented to the Town Planning Board yesterday showed that last year the department issued 3,987 statutory notices to landowners or occupants concerning illegal developments in rural areas of the New Territories, six times the number issued in 1995.

Of the notices issued last year, about 300 were 'reinstatement notices'. These are the strictest of the three types the department can issue and require the landlord or occupant to restore the land to its previous state. The first type is an enforcement order. The second requires unauthorised development work to be halted.

Last year, the department required about 20 hectares of land that had been developed without authorisation to be reinstated, compared with the annual average of only three hectares between 1995 and 1999.

Of the illegal developments, over half involved the land being used for storage, workshops and parking. The department said there had been an increase of larger-scale, more complex unauthorised developments in recent years, such as land and pond filling and columbariums being built.

Some of last year's notices covered cases reported to the government, including one in Ho Sheung Heung in Sheung Shui, in which landfill - a mix of construction waste as well as coffin and tombstone rubble from a public cemetery - was dumped on farmland.

'These cases tend to demand more time and resources for investigation and collection of evidence,' the department said. It is having trouble enforcing its rules in some cases because of a lack of staff. The department has an enforcement team of 63, and there is no plan to expand it according to this year's budget.

Enforcement action will focus on environmentally sensitive areas. Priority would also be given to agricultural sites where ponds and land had been filled, cases that caused nuisance to nearby residents and repeat offences.

A Town Planning Board spokeswoman said board members yesterday also raised concerns about a rising number of development applications in the New Territories involving land subjected to prior environmental damage, such as removal of trees. 'Some of these development sites were issued enforcement notices and owners prosecuted,' she said. 'These are suspected cases of 'destroy first, develop later'. Members wonder what they should do when dealing with these.' The issue will be discussed at another meeting, she said.