Lai See

House rules in sale of land to official

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 August, 2014, 1:23am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 August, 2014, 1:23am

We have been looking at the application documents relating to the Lands Department official who bought a sizeable chunk of agricultural land in Yuen Long, an area in which she had a supervisory role as assistant director. It will be recalled that Anita Lam Ka-fun, together with her husband, bought 13 plots of agricultural land in Yuen Long for HK$18.8 million in July 2012, some months after the government announced a land-use review. Lam declared her interest and that was apparently okay with the Lands Department.

The planning approval documents show that the land Lam bought had already been the subject of two previous approvals. One, in 1995, was for a small house. The other was for three small houses. This planning approval lapsed in August last year, just over a year after Lam bought the property.

According to the minutes of the 2009 meeting of the Rural and New Town Planning Committee, the district lands officer warned "there was no guarantee that the redevelopment proposal in respect of the lots would ultimately be approved by his office". Approval was conditional on ascertaining that the lots had "house" status, in addition to entitlement to redevelop.

However, there apparently was no such issue when Lam applied for planning permission. By that time the department had discovered the lot had "house" status, even though the documents relating to this matter had been lost, which it has to be said, is not unusual.

Lam was successful in getting approval for a significantly larger development than had earlier been approved. The previous approval had been for three two-storey houses while she was granted permission for four three-storey houses. The site increased from 647.5 sq metres to 674 sq metres, while the gross floor area went from 323.4 sq metres to 728.4 sq metres, an increase of 125 per cent. The plot ratio rose from 0.5 to 1.08 and the height of the buildings from 6 metres to 8.23 metres.

An objector at the meeting drew attention to Lam's identity as an assistant director in the Lands Department and wondered since the department had considered the application acceptable, whether it should be considered by a third party. The minutes record that the chairman said "the applicant's identity was not a relevant consideration in processing the application". There are some who say this a witch-hunt since she hasn't broken any rules. But you have to wonder about our civil servants. They are well paid, but this doesn't stop them weaving their way through the rules to make a buck.


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