The owners of about half the lots affected by unauthorised dumping at a Sheung Shui village want to build houses on their land and have no intention of farming it again, a rural leader says.
At least 10 of the owners of the 23 affected sites at Ho Sheung Heung have applied to the government for permission to build small houses, the chairman of the Sheung Shui Rural Committee, Bowie Hau Chi-keung, said yesterday.
The committee has been working with the land and owners since the dumping came to public attention last month. It has levelled the debris - some of which was found to have come from a government construction site - and two weeks ago planted much of the area with saplings in an effort to prove it could be farmed again. But yesterday Mr Hau said: 'About half of the owners are not going to farm the land again anyway.'
Checks with the Planning Department found that applications to change at least three of the affected lots from agricultural to residential use had been approved by the Planning Department in July and September last year.
Under the small house policy governing New Territories land, owners have to seek approval from the Lands Department to build a home. But they first need planning permission from the Planning Department.
Meanwhile, the committee's claims that the debris-covered land can be farmed were called into question yesterday when it was found that about 40 per cent of the recently planted fruit-tree saplings are dying.
The leaves of the ailing plants have shrunk and turned yellowish, while the fruit, mainly papaya, remain attached to the stems. But Mr Hau said the young trees were dying because of the stormy weather that had hit the city this month.
He said he had received laboratory tests showing the land was arable. The young trees were swiftly planted hours after the Planning Department had issued a reinstatement notice to landowners requiring them to remove all waste materials and plant grass on the land by September 30. Mr Hau said no matter what the reinstatement notice said, 'the owner of private land has the right to put whatever he wants on it'.
The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said earlier that the appearance of the filling material strongly suggested it was construction waste, which was not suitable for farming.
While the department says it 'gives technical advice on the land', the final decision on whether the land is 'recovered' lies with the Planning Department. The Planning Department said it was monitoring the affected land from time to time, but no further action or decisions would be taken until the September 30 deadline.
The rural committee said it had returned all the land to owners or occupants, but the occupants of at least six lots said they have not been informed.
Villager Hau Tai-lok, who is not an owner but whose family has farmed the area for 50 years, said he had not even been informed of the planting.
'If the land has been returned to us, why are there still notices saying 'No Trespassing',' he asked.