Kuk backs families in court struggle

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 April, 2012, 12:00am

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Rural affairs organisation the Heung Yee Kuk is backing two families in court fights over illegal structures at their homes in the New Territories as it steps up its opposition to a government crackdown.

The cases involve four-storey homes in Ha Tsuen, Yuen Long, and Kam Tsin Village, Sheung Shui, which are subject to demolition orders from the Buildings Department for exceeding the three-storey limit on village houses.

The kuk will find lawyers to fight the two cases and hopes to file an application for judicial review of one case to the High Court shortly.

As part of a new policy introduced on April 1, buildings officers will take immediate enforcement action for 'severe' breaches of building rules, including homes with extra storeys.

The kuk has long opposed the crackdown, and says the two homes should be exempt from building control as they stand on land granted under so-called 'block government leases' dating back to 1905.

It hopes to create a test case on whether such homes are exempt from recent building restrictions.

'We hope to put up a hard fight at court,' kuk member and lawyer Lam Kwok-cheong said after a private meeting yesterday. 'We will supply all our arguments about our traditional rights protected by the Basic Law and the special background of block government leases.'

The case in Yuen Long, the subject of the judicial review application, centres on the home of Tang Kee-fong, 64, who last year lost a Buildings Appeal Tribunal case against a 2007 order to demolish an enclosure covering half of his rooftop. The structure is still standing.

If Tang's judicial review is not granted - the appeal period expired months ago - the kuk will turn its attention to a case involving the home of Hau Kwok-cheung, which is also subject to a demolition order.

Hau, 59, owns a house in Kam Tsin Village, which he built in 2006 after tearing down his old house because it was ruined by termites. The case against him is due to be heard by Fanling Magistrates in June.

'All the nine members of my family, including my grandchildren, live here,' Hau said. 'I cannot tear it down now. Even if the government give me loans to do it, it is unacceptable. How can I repay the loans?'

The kuk will help Hau in the magistrates court case and take it to the Buildings Appeal Tribunal.

If that fails, it will again seek a judicial review. Hau and Tang both said they were unaware their structures were illegal. Much private land in the New Territories is let on block government leases - which cover land confiscated by the British and restored to its owners in 1905.

The kuk says buildings on such land should be exempt from the three-storey limit as no such limit was included in the land lease.

It says such concessions are protected by the clause of the Basic Law which guarantees the traditional rights of indigenous villagers. But the government says all homes built after 1961 - when the Buildings Ordinance was applied to the New Territories - must be no more than three storeys to be exempt.

The government crackdown has also seen the introduction of a register of minor buildings rules breaches.

Property owners will be able to keep the structures in place for five years if they agree to sign the register.