Illegal park cleared as deadline looms

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 April, 2012, 12:00am


Rural strongman Leung Fuk-yuen has reluctantly demolished most of the structures he built on government land in a country park that he has illegally occupied for almost two decades, ahead of today's deadline.

By yesterday, a toilet, some stone chairs and other recreational structures at his Tai Tong Lychee Valley commercial park had been demolished, while a pavilion has been moved to Leung's adjacent private land.

A ticketing booth will be moved in the next few days.

But Leung - who is a prominent member of the Heung Yee Kuk rural affairs body who is campaigning against a crackdown on illegal structures on village houses in the New Territories - says he will keep the fences and shelters of a zoo that he had been told to demolish, citing 'animal welfare'.

He claims the zoo is on private land, which the Lands Department could neither confirm nor deny.

'They told me to demolish the structures, so I did,' he said. 'I have no enthusiasm for running this park any more. It was to educate children about nature. But if the government is so insistent, what can I do?'

Leung said in a statement he would not rule out legal action 'to protect owners' rights' if the government decided to prosecute him.

The Lands Department knew the 12,400-square-metre park had been using government land for 18 years but acted only after it came under fire from the Audit Commission.

The illegal occupation came to the attention of the public with the release of a report by the Director of Audit last week.

The commission said about 4,700 square metres of Leung's park was in Tai Lam Country Park, Yuen Long. Structures built on government land lying outside the country park will also have to be removed by May 18.

'The lychee valley existed before the government decided it was part of the country park,' Leung said. 'Our ancestors lived here hundreds of years ago, and we planted the trees decades ago.

'I don't know what the government should do about the trees if they say we're occupying the land illegally. Perhaps they should just fell them.'

He said that he would not take down the structures surrounding the zoo, home to a few emus, lambs and rabbits.

'I don't care if they come and demolish the fences and shelters,' he said. 'But if there's any animal cruelty involved when it happens, it's not my responsibility.'

Leung said the government's decision to stick to strict definitions was nonsense as the land in that area was a mixture of government and private land and visitors to the country park had to cross private land to get in.

He said he was not making a profit from the park, and criticised the government for failing to support organic parks.

'All admission fees go to maintenance of the park,' he said. 'I have no problem closing it down. I have lost enthusiasm anyway.'

The park's facilities also include areas for ox-cart rides, horse riding and war games.

Park workers said visitors had told them that 'they would be sad if the park closes'.

The controversy over the valley dates back to 1995 when villagers resisted government attempts to remove the lychee garden, which encroached on seven hectares of the country park.

During the occupation, Leung submitted eight short-term tenancy applications, all of which were rejected by the Lands Department.