'Park use tolerated by agency for years'
Ng Kang-chung and Tanna Chong
The rural strongman who has unlawfully used almost 5,000 square metres of government land in Yuen Long as a commercial park for almost two decades says he did it for the public good.
Tai Tong Lychee Valley operator Leung Fuk-yuen claims that he reached an 'informal consensus' with the Lands Department to tolerate his use of the property because his facilities benefited visitors to the Tai Lam Country Park.
'I would have no problem demolishing the facilities,' said Leung, who is chairman of the Shap Pat Heung rural committee and a Yuen Long district councillor. 'Visitors will have no toilet to use and maybe have to go in the woods, if that is what the government wants to see.'
But the Development Bureau said the Lands Department had been promised all the unauthorised structures would be removed by the end of this month and Leung had been told to vacate the land by May 18.
Taking journalists on a tour of his park yesterday, Leung said all but three structures - the toilet, a pavilion and a small zoo - had been demolished since the early 1990s.
'The toilet is for the convenience of visitors to the country park, as is the pavilion,' he said. 'As for the zoo, if I demolish the shelters, people will say it is animal cruelty.'
His use of the land was highlighted on Wednesday with the release of an Audit Commission that criticised the Lands Department for dragging its feet despite knowing of the unlawful occupation for more than 18 years.
A Development Bureau spokesman said Lands Department officers were promised during a site visit on Wednesday that all unauthorised structures would be cleared by April 28. The spokesman said the operator's application for a short-term tenancy to run a business on government land would not be accepted.
During the occupation Leung also submitted eight short-term tenancy applications, all of which were rejected by the Lands Department.
While the Audit Commission said about 4,700 square metres of the 12,400 square metre park spilled onto on government land, Leung estimated the encroachment at only about a fifth of the park's area.
The controversy over the valley dates back to 1995 when villagers with bulldozers, knives and sticks resisted government attempts to remove the lychee garden which encroached on seven hectares of the Tai Lam Country Park.
At that time, Leung said the lychee trees were planted in 1982 in line with a family tradition.
Sheung Shui rural committee chairman Hau Chi-keung blamed the government.
'The government has been neglecting the laws for years,' he said, citing the current row over illegal structures on village houses. 'It charged villagers property rates on what officials now say are illegal extensions, making villagers think the add-ons had been recognised.'
Admission fee, in Hong Kong dollars, visitors are charged to enter Tai Tong Lynchee Valley, which sits partially on government land