The development chief yesterday ruled out watering down a crackdown on illegal structures in the New Territories by fining owners with unauthorised extra storeys on their homes rather than ordering demolitions.
Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor dismissed a suggestion by former lands director Patrick Lau Lai-chiu that a levy on owners who breached a three-storey limit on village houses would help defuse controversy in cases where owners of illegal structures would otherwise have to demolish their homes.
'I have never considered it as a solution,' she said. 'I don't think the idea will be supported by the general public. It violates the spirit of rule of law if one is allowed to pay to legalise their offence.'
Under the new policy, which took effect this month, unauthorised structures, including rooftop constructions taking up less than half of the area of the roof, will be tolerated if they are registered with the Buildings Department and undergo safety checks every five years. However, extra storeys on homes built after 1961, when the three-storey maximum and a 27-foot height limit were introduced, will have to be removed, even if the only way to do so is to demolish the house.
Rural powerbrokers the Heung Yee Kuk have urged owners not to register illegal structures, and vowed to fight demolition orders by seeking a judicial review, in the hope that the courts will rule that houses on land granted by the colonial government in 1905 are not covered by the height restrictions.
Asked about the kuk's delaying tactics yesterday, Lam said that it was unacceptable to leave the problem of illegal structures to the new government, which takes office on July 1.
However, she said she would welcome clarification on legal matters from a court ruling.
'Making a compromise will only intensify the conflicts between urban and rural areas,' Lam said after a Legislative Council meeting.
'I have been pragmatic. But the rule of law is a core value of this city. Social harmony should be built on the basis of fairness and justice.''
The Heung Yee Kuk said it still wanted to negotiate with Lam while also pursuing its court challenge.
Speaking at a kuk meeting yesterday, kuk chairman and Executive Council member Lau Wong-fat sent a warning to Lam.
'If the government is to handle the village houses issue ... by means of a clear-cut approach, the kuk fears that it would trigger villagers to launch a large-scale, aggressive confrontation,' Lau said.
The kuk meeting confirmed organising a delegation to Beijing's central government around July - the month when chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying formally succeeds Donald Tsang Yam-kuen.
'We are not going to make an 'imperial complaint',' kuk member Leung Fuk-yuen said. 'But after all, the central government cares about Hong Kong affairs.'