Fines may solve village dilemma
Olga Wong and Stuart Lau
The solution to the small house confrontation lies in fining errant homeowners rather than forcing them to demolish houses that have illegal structures, a former head of the Lands Department says.
The proposal from Patrick Lau Lai-chiu was welcomed by a leader of the influential Heung Yee Kuk, which looks after the interests of indigenous New Territories residents.
Levying fines was a pragmatic way out for a government faced with hundreds of thousands of illegal structures attached to small houses in the New Territories, Lau said yesterday.
He referred specifically to houses that exceed the three-storey limit - the target of a Development Bureau crackdown that started on April 1.
'In cases where pulling down the [illegal] storeys will inevitably lead to the demolition of the whole building, the government can exercise discretion by asking owners to pay for the government's tolerance [of the building breaches],' he told Commercial Radio.
'But the owner has to prove the structure of the house is safe.'
Lau said the government could simply accept illegally expanded houses that were built under old leases. He was referring to the block crown lease system, dating back to 1905, which registered villagers' land ownership and did not limit the height of the houses they could build.
By law, storeys above the first three floors must be demolished.
The government has agreed to tolerate structures on top of the third floor that take up less than half the rooftop if these structures are registered and inspected every five years.
While Lau did not specify any monetary amounts, kuk vice-chairman Lam Wai-keung said fines could be made equivalent to the market price of a flat of similar size.
Lam welcomed Lau's suggestion. He stressed that most small houses with extra floors - estimated at more than 5,000 in the New Territories - were structurally safe despite acknowledging that the buildings were not secured by any piling foundation.
Another key kuk member, Leung Fuk-yuen, dismissed Lau's suggestion, belittling it as a 'tactic of procrastination'. 'What happens a year or two after we pay the fees?' he asked. 'The government might say we are breaching the law and need to remove our 'illegal structures'.'
Meanwhile, NPPCC delegate Lew Mon-hung said his suggestion that the government grant 'amnesty' to all New Territories illegal, but safe, village structures had been endorsed by lawmaker Priscilla Leung Mei-fun.
'The legal scholar said my proposal is feasible,' Lew said.