The Town Planning Board yesterday quashed a proposed exemption that would have allowed village houses in the New Territories to encroach on green-belt areas. It also ruled that developments that would extend into government open spaces must first apply for planning permission - an existing requirement for all houses straddling the boundary of the so-called 'V' zone, which is land allocated for village-type developments. The decision follows expressions of concern by board members that more trees in green-belt areas would be cut down to make way for village houses. Board member Ng Cho-nam said the proposed relaxation might have 'enticed' villagers to cut down trees. 'I am worried that the villagers may first cut down the trees and then develop the land,' he said. 'The revised proposal only requires villagers to apply for permission if they cut down trees in the green-belt areas as they develop. It does not say they need to apply for permission if they cut down trees before they develop.' Under a government proposal released on Tuesday, houses would have been allowed to encroach on green-belts areas without planning permission if no trees were to be cut down and at least half of the site stayed within the 'V' zone. But the government's chief town planner, Brenda Au Kit-ying, argued that Planning Department staff would report the cutting down of any trees. 'Our colleagues will normally visit the site and give advice to the villagers when they apply to the Lands Department to build a house,' she said. 'If our colleagues discover trees being newly chopped down, they would let us know and we would transfer the case to the Town Planning Board for approval.' The board also suspended the exemption on encroachment onto government open spaces, saying that it could affect the government's overall development plan. Albert Lai Kwong-tak, chairman of the People's Council for Sustainable Development, said the cancellation of the two exemptions would bring about little improvement in the efficiency of processing applications. 'No dramatic improvement will be seen. The board usually approved their applications even before there were exemptions,' he said. Mr Lai said the core of the problem was the Small Village House Policy, formulated in 1972, which created the potential for an uncontrollable sprawl of village houses. Under the policy, any male indigenous villager over the age of 18 can apply to build for himself once in his life a three-storey house measuring 2,100 sq ft. Heung Yee Kuk chairman Lau Wong-fat said the revision made the government's goodwill attempt in proposing the exemptions no different from the existing arrangement. 'The suspension of the exemptions is like giving a person a kiss and then slapping him on the face afterwards. It is quite harsh.'