The government has been attacked for failing to save two rows of century-old houses from being torn down to make way for new village homes.
The Conservancy Association said it was astounded the houses in 300-year-old Wing Ning village, which feature on the Lung Yeuk Tau Heritage Trail in Fanling, had escaped historical grading. Members only discovered the buildings had been demolished during a recent visit to the village.
In their place they found new village houses under construction. A wall built to protect the village in the past was also destroyed and only a small section of one row remained.
The heritage trail takes in some of the most important temples and walled villages in Hong Kong.
Built between 1900 and 1930, the eight houses were rare examples of typical village row houses in Hong Kong, the association said, and featured in a government brochure promoting the heritage trail.
Under the government's small-house policy, male indigenous villagers have the right to build a three-storey, 2,100 sq ft house close to their ancestral home.
The Lands Department said villagers did not need to obtain prior consent from the government before demolishing the existing structures on the land, as it was under block government lease. It had approved applications for redevelopment of the land, it said, and neither the houses nor the wall had been included in the government's review of the heritage gradings of 1,444 structures.
The Conservancy Association's campaign manager, Peter Li Siu-man, said he could not understand how the department could have omitted the houses from the review. 'It couldn't be just oversight, as the government includes the houses in its own brochure about the heritage trail,' he said.
'The government is not doing its gatekeeping job well. Sometimes historic structures are demolished, and the government doesn't even know about it.'
Li said members noted that the houses had been occupied on previous visits. The homes had kitchens and toilets in the front and living space in the back, a sign that they had belonged to relatively wealthy people, according to Li.
Wing Ning village is believed to be an extension of the four-century-old walled village of Wing Ning Wai. The entrance gate at Wing Ning Wai obtained a grade three heritage rating from the Antiques and Monuments Office in 2010. Li argued that the two villages should not be considered separately.
The demolition of houses in Wing Ning village was only tip of the iceberg, he added, and many historical structures in other villages faced the same destiny.
He suggested a review of the small-house policy so that villagers could not demolish existing structures for new houses so easily.
The Antiques and Monument Office said it was not aware of any redevelopment of the land as the houses were not graded historic buildings. The 1,444 buildings in the review were selected in a city-wide survey, it said, but did not say why the houses were not included.