Kuk to fight demolition orders
New Territories power brokers the Heung Yee Kuk will 'definitely' launch a judicial review when villagers receive the first demolition orders under a new policy on illegal structures which kicks in today.
That was the promise from kuk vice-chairman Cheung Hok-ming as building officers prepare to inspect nine villages in the New Territories with the highest numbers of complaints.
They will look for 'severe' breaches of the standard three-level format permitted for village houses, including buildings with four, five or even six storeys.
The crackdown was announced in May last year, 15 years after the Ombudsman first criticised the government for turning a blind eye to illegal construction in the New Territories.
Cheung said yesterday that the kuk was ready to pursue several cases through the courts when villagers start to receive demolition orders to remove the extra storeys.
These would involve villagers living on so-called 'block government leases' - land confiscated and then re-granted by the colonial British administration in 1905. The kuk, which represents Hong Kong's indigenous villagers, says these houses should be exempt because these leases did not stipulate a height limit and they were part of traditional rights protected by the Basic Law.
The government says the exemption does not include homes built after 1961, when a small-house policy took effect.
'The kuk will financially support the villagers in the court cases,' said Cheung, adding it was hoping to recruit barrister Edward Chan King-sang SC to lead its legal challenge.
The kuk's stand follows a breakdown in negotiations with the Development Bureau to put the new offensive on hold.
One of the new enforcement measures is the setting up of a registration system for lesser breaches of the illegal structure rules, requiring house owners to declare extensions such as glassed-in areas that only take up part of a rooftop.
Once registered, the items can be kept for at least five years.
Junius Ho Kwan-yiu, chairman of Tuen Mun Rural Committee and also president of the Law Society, called on villagers to boycott the system because signing the registration form would amount to 'self-incrimination'. He said villagers receiving a removal order for these minor breaches could take their case to the buildings appeal tribunal.
Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor warned a boycott would be 'unwise'.
She said a 12-member team had been set up to fast-track the redevelopment process for people required to demolish the extra storeys should they wish to rebuild their houses completely.
The first demolition orders under the new policy would be issued by June, she added.