Urban planning

New Hong Kong lawmaker accuses officials of encouraging illegal occupation of government land

Yiu Chung-yim blasts Lands Department after revelation it approved short-term tenancy on illegally occupied New Territories site

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 September, 2016, 12:09pm
UPDATED : Friday, 16 September, 2016, 12:37pm

Hong Kong officials are encouraging people “to illegally occupy government land” based on how authorities handled a controversial housing project in the New Territories, a lawmaker-elect said on Friday morning.

New architectural, surveying, planning and landscape legislative councillor Yiu Chung-yim was speaking on RTHK a day after he met Secretary for Transport and Housing Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung to discuss the government’s plan to prioritise developing a green-belt site instead of building public housing on a brownfield site, or environmentally damaged agricultural area, in Wang Chau in Yuen Long.

The decision was made after private exchanges with rural leaders who were accused of having links to ­triads, illegally occupying parts of the brownfield area, and not consulting villagers on the green-belt area.

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The matter was complicated on Thursday afternoon after the Lands Department confirmed it had granted applications for short-term tenancy on 1.2 hectares of illegally-occupied government land in Wang Chau.

The department did not say when the applications were granted nor who applied for the short-term tenancies. But Yiu understood that rural leaders were among the successful applicants.

“This is tantamount to encouraging people to occupy land first and then renting it because they can pocket all the interest obtained from occupying land ... and even after they’re discovered to have done so, they can regularise their illegal occupation,” he said.

The revelation came two days after the Ombudsman, the government’s watchdog, criticised the department for not actively monitoring illegal land use, thus allowing people to occupy public lands for decades.

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In a statement on Thursday, a Lands Department spokesman said after receiving complaints about the situation in Wang Chau in February, its officers inspected the area and confirmed the illegal occupation involved about 3.8 hectares of government land.

The department took action and fenced off 2.6 hectares of the involved area. The other 1.2 hectares were leased because the plots were “unlikely to be separately alienable in the market through open tender due to their topography” and not required for any public purpose in the short term.

But Yiu, elected earlier this month to the city’s Legislative Council, said officials should either turn the plots of land into public space for residents’ use or enable civic organisations to apply for them through open tender. “Why do the illegal occupiers have the right to apply but not others?” he asked.

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Cheung had explained the government’s ultimate goal was to build 17,000 housing units in Wang Chau, but Yiu suggested that after all the controversies a public consultation on the project should be held.

“The key is that there was no consultation,” Yiu said. “Something is wrong when there’s a lack of procedural justice.”

“The public should be asked whether the government should first develop the green belt or the illegally occupied government land,” he added.