New Territories residents rush to declare illegal structures

With deadline looming, 500 New Territories owners disclose low-risk additions to homes in one week, but most still in wait-and-see mode

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 September, 2012, 3:55am

New Territories residents have submitted about 500 declarations of illegal structures in the past week, as a government deadline of the end of this month to come clean about "less risky" installations in village houses approaches.

The rush of declarations means a total of 800 submissions have now been made to the Buildings Department.

An appeal was launched in June for owners to register structures that do not pose an immediate danger to public safety, such as small canopies and unenclosed rooftop installations covering less than half of the roof.

Despite the late surge, the number falls far short of rural authority the Heung Yee Kuk's earlier estimate that 35,000 village houses have illegal structures. This suggests many villagers are still adopting a wait-and-see attitude, three weeks before the deadline.

"They are afraid the government would ask them to remove their structures in the future," Democratic Party district councillor Au Chun-wah told a Tai Po district council meeting yesterday, reflecting concerns the scheme was a ruse for officials to collect evidence.

"But I'm thinking the opposite. Only those who do not report their structures may be issued with a demolition order."

He said a professional safety check should cost only a few thousand dollars.

Under the reporting scheme, announced by the Development Bureau in April, unauthorised structures built before June 28 last year can be kept temporarily if they are deemed safe by a qualified person. Such checks should be conducted every five years.

For risky structures - extra storeys on top of a standard three-storey village house, for example - the department has issued 81 demolition orders after inspecting nine villages with 2,400 houses.

The department had received only 300 submissions of less risky structures by last month, director Au Choi-kai said. Some district councillors who are rural representatives called for an extension of the September 30 deadline.

The buildings director turned this down, urging villagers to report as early as possible. But the cost of demolishing extra storeys may deter some villagers, who would be displaced if their homes were pulled down.

Lawyer Lam Kwok-cheong said the kuk, which represents the interests of indigenous New Territories residents and of which he is a member, was considering launching a judicial review of the government's decision to outlaw extra storeys of village houses.

Cases under consideration involve four-storey homes in Ha Tsuen, Yuen Long, and Kam Tsin Village, Sheung Shui.

In Yuen Long, the case centres on the home of Tang Kee-fong, 64, who last year lost a Buildings Appeal Tribunal against a 2007 order to demolish an enclosure covering half of his rooftop.

In Sheung Shui, Hau Kwok-cheung, a resident rebuilt his property in 2006, after his old house was ruined by termites. Nine family members are currently living in the house.

The kuk says houses standing on land granted under "block government leases" dating back to 1905 should be exempt from the Buildings Ordinance, which specifies a village house should not exceed three storeys.

But the government says the law should apply to all homes built after 1961, when the ordinance was applied to the New Territories.