Kuk seeks more concessions on illegal homes
The Heung Yee Kuk has urged the government to let owners of village houses that exceed the three-storey limit to keep them until they redevelop them, as long as they are safe.
The vice-chairman of the group representing indigenous villagers' interests, Daniel Lam Wai-keung, said small houses with illegal structures should be allowed to stand. He blamed lax enforcement by the Lands Department in the past for misleading villagers into believing that small houses on old lots could exceed three storeys.
The government this month is checking unauthorised structures in the New Territories. A new policy - tolerating illegal structures up to 3.5 storeys and demolishing those above the limit - has deepened a long-standing dispute between the Development Bureau and rural villagers.
'If unauthorised structures on three-storey houses that prove to be safe can be tolerated under the new policy, why isn't it applied to houses having more than three storeys?' Lam said, referring to taller houses built on old lots.
'Old' lots refers to land granted under the 'block crown lease' system dating back to 1905. It registered villagers' land ownership and specified no height limit.
But the Development Bureau has emphasised in recent months that no lease can be above the law. After 1961 - when the Buildings Ordinance was applied to the New Territories - no small homes in the territories can be taller than 8.2 metres (27 feet), or three storeys.
The new policy tolerates 3.5 storeys - three storeys plus a rooftop structure that takes up less than half the roof. Such structures must be registered, but they need not be removed as long as their safety is confirmed in a professional building inspection every five years. Structures over the limit must be demolished.
Still, the kuk is asking for more. 'I won't say we are asking for an amnesty as it would imply we have committed an offence or are receiving a favour from the government,' Lam said.
The kuk estimates nearly 4,000 small houses in the New Territories exceed 3.5 storeys and more than 1,000 exceed four storeys.
Kuk member Leung Fuk- yuen, a vocal opponent of the government's crackdown on illegal structures in rural areas, said all 27 rural committees had united to set up a 'home protection action group', asking villagers not to register their unauthorised structures.
Registration would mean admitting that villagers had broken the rules, and hundreds of thousands of them would be affected by it, Leung said.
Lam did not state clearly if the kuk supported that boycott but said it would not force villagers to register their illegal extensions.
Lam's radio comments triggered some sharp criticism. Lawmaker and former Civic Party leader Audrey Eu Yuet-mee said the concession proposal was unacceptable, adding the kuk took a mile when the government gave them an inch.
'This in effect means penalising those who complied with the law; those who take advantage will benefit,' she said.
A listener who phoned in said: 'If you said your right to build is inherited from the Qing dynasty, then you shouldn't enjoy the social benefits given by this society to you today.'
Another caller said: 'Are you saying illegal construction is acceptable as long as it already exists?'
The year male indigenous residents were given the right to build a three-storey house on a 700 sq ft area of land in their villages