Kuk plays hardball on housing

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 November, 2011, 12:00am


The Heung Yee Kuk yesterday called on villagers to use delaying tactics in the face of an impending crackdown on illegal housing structures - after leading a mock funeral for the development secretary.

Around 1,000 residents and rural leaders, assisted by a monk, kicked and burned a paper coffin bearing Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor's surname and a paper doll resembling her outside kuk headquarters in Sha Tin.

'Carrie Lam has bypassed the kuk ... She is enforcing [the crackdown] as a fait accompli,' said Leung Fuk-yuen, a rally organiser.

They also set fire to Development Bureau leaflets that were sent to all New Territories villagers on November 18, bearing details of the government's plan to remove unauthorised structures on their houses.

After the protest, in which residents also criticised kuk chairman Lau Wong-fat as being weak in negotiating with the secretary, the powerful rural affairs body held a meeting at which members proposed taking 'more strategic action'.

Alfred Lam Kwok-cheong, a lawyer and a member of the kuk's executive committee, said residents should wait for the current administration's tenure to expire in six months and then start talks with the new government. 'What we need is time,' he said, adding villagers should ignore any warning letters from the Buildings Department.

He said villagers who receive removal orders from the department could also take their cases to the Building Appeal Tribunal, in which hearings could drag on for six months or more. 'At least you buy time and let chairman [Lau] deal with the next administration,' he said.

Lam himself is a member of the tribunal panel.

Lau, the kuk chairman, said delaying tactics could be a good thing since the kuk needed time to discuss the matter. He admitted making mistakes in dealing with the government and said he needed to review his stance. 'But weakness is not impotence,' he said.

Lau did not say whether he would consider talks with chief executive hopefuls Leung Chun-ying and Henry Tang Ying-yen. He would only say that he would not base support for either man on the housing dispute.

The bureau says all illegal structures built after June 28 will be dismantled immediately, as will older structures in serious breach of the rules, such as additional floors built on top of three-storey village houses.

Lau said the kuk would consent to the removal of extra storeys on three-storey homes built under the small-house policy in force since 1961. However, it argues that houses, built on land confiscated and then re-granted - without height limits - by the colonial British administration in 1905 should be exempt because they were part of traditional rights protected by the Basic Law.

There are around 100,000 of these houses, and the kuk will not rule out a judicial challenge to any crackdown on illegal structures added to such homes.

It says it will collect donations and set up a fund soon to sponsor legal studies of the issue. Another meeting will be held this week to discuss further action.

Under the government's plan, lesser breaches - such as covering less than half of a building's rooftop with glass - will be excluded form the first stage of enforcement, with sanctions to be imposed at a later date. Minor illegal structures, such as solar panels for heating, will be exempt.

A Development Bureau spokesman said it had consulted the kuk in June and September, and that the leaflet was meant to educate villagers who had 'weak understanding' of general building control measures.