'Planning approval is not for sale'
Rich homeowners who have built illegal structures will not be able to legitimise them by paying a land premium, while poorer families have their extensions pulled down, the development chief said yesterday.
It rules out a proposal put forward by powerful rural leaders to allow villagers to keep rooftop structures and enclosed balconies built without planning approval.
Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said that the plan was unfair to those who could not afford the premium, which is based on the amount of extra floor space created.
The Heung Yee Kuk, which looks after the interests of indigenous New Territories residents, has been urging the government to allow villagers to retain their illegal extensions by offering the government a premium or rent payments.
But Lam made it clear the government was not buying the idea.
'If owners with financial means can retain their unauthorised structures by a payment, then is it fair to those owners without financial means?' she asked.
'And is it fair to those owners whose structures have already been cleared under the present policy or those who have voluntarily removed their structures after receiving advisory letters in the past decade?'
Lam said her bureau might consider amending the law to allow owners to keep some minor unauthorised structures as long as they were certified to be safe. 'But it doesn't mean I will offer amnesty to all existing unauthorised structures in the city,' she said after a Legislative Council meeting yesterday.
Under a minor-works control system that took effect last year, the bureau introduced a validation scheme allowing owners to keep a few daily necessities including air-conditioning units and clothes-drying racks - as long as they could be certified safe.
Lam said yesterday that she might consider including more items under the scheme. First, she wants to see the results of a large stock-taking exercise to assess illegal structures on 41,000 private buildings in urban areas that is due to commence this year. She is also considering a similar exercise in rural areas.
She said extending the minor-works scheme would mean taking into account the sheer number of minor works and their low risk to public safety.
But she added: 'Since not every type of unauthorised structures can be validated to ensure their safety solely by post-checking, there would be some difficulties in extending the scheme to cover other existing structures of a more complicated nature and a comparatively higher level of risk.'
She did not say whether the rooftop glasshouses, one of the most common structures for which the kuk is seeking exemption from demolition, fell into the category of more complicated and risky.
Democratic Party lawmaker Lee Wing-tat said Lam had still not touched on the enforcement priorities for illegal structures on village houses.
'The secretary is going to encounter a great challenge posed by the rural leaders,' Lee said. 'They are so powerful that they still keep their illegal structures today even though chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen has already demolished his.'
Tsang removed enclosures from the balcony of a flat he owns in McDonnell Road after they were spotlighted in the media.
Carrie Lam said she would set out enforcement priorities at the end of this month.