New World Development has rejected suggestions that an associated company was responsible for dumping fill on land it owns in a Fanling village - saying that in fact local villagers were responsible.
The denial came after residents of Shek Wu San Tsuen complained that a 50,000 sq ft site owned by a company indirectly controlled by New World had been cleared of vegetation and covered by debris up to a metre deep.
The green-belt-zoned site, owned by Starry Land Development, which bought it in 1997, has lain idle for years behind broken fences and under dense grass and shrubs.
The company's seven directors include leading New World figures Henry Cheng Kar-shun and Stewart Leung Chi-kin.
New World is believed to be a major landowner in the area, which is due for a facelift under a land use zoning study for proposed new towns in the northern New Territories being carried out by the Planning Department.
New World spokesman Kwan Chuk-fai said the company had nothing to do with the work on the Fanling site and had no immediate plans for its development.
'The work was actually done by the villagers in Shek Wu who were scared of flooding during the recent rainstorms,' he said. 'They excavated a nearby drainage channel and then dumped the waste on our site.'
Kwan said the villagers did not notify the company about the dumping or seek permission.
'The villagers have already confessed to us, and we have asked them to remove the waste and reinstate the site as quickly as possible,' he said, without naming the villagers.
No breach of planning or environmental regulations has been found by government officers who inspected the site.
A Shek Wu San Tsuen resident, who lives close to the work site, said he was not aware of any drainage work in or near the village. He also disputed New World's claim that the soil on the site came from other places, as he had seen excavators enter the site and dig up the land.
'The diggers felled the trees and shrubs first and then dug up the soil and buried the vegetation under the soil. I have never seen soil transported from outside,' the villager said, adding that there had been rumours that the site would be turned into a car park.
A resident of a nearby village said yesterday the work had destroyed a feeding ground for a sheep farm opposite.
'The sheep farmer leads his flock to the site to feed on the grass there every day before moving on to a nearby pond,' she said.
She also feared the work would worsen the flood risk facing the village, because small drainage channels at the site had also been buried.
After an inspection of the site yesterday, the Environmental Protection Department said it had not found any sign of construction or demolition waste on the site. 'We will continue to monitor the site closely,' a spokesman said.
The Planning Department said that while the work site was covered by an outline zoning plan and zoned as green belt, it was not covered by a development permission area plan.
Without such a plan, the department would have no enforcement power over suspected unauthorised development, such as illegal dumping, a planning official said.