The battle between the government and powerful rural leaders over illegal structures attached to village houses moved to a new level yesterday as the city's development chief pledged to tighten controls on the practice. Rural powerbroker the Heung Yee Kuk wants rules on illegal structures relaxed, claiming the New Territories is a special case, but Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said there would be no let-up. The development came after kuk vice-chairman Cheung Hok-ming admitted he and his son had built illegal structures, including a glasshouse and fish pond, at their village houses. The long-standing problem of illegal structures affects thousands of properties. Historically, those in rural areas are given a lower priority by officials enforcing the rules than those in urban areas because the latter pose a bigger danger. The policy favouring villagers was revealed in an investigation completed by the Ombudsman last month. The policy 'clearly defies common sense and logic' and turned a blind eye to illegal construction in the New Territories, the Ombudsman said. At a meeting yesterday in the Legislative Council to discuss the possibility of more staff for the Buildings Department to deal with building-safety issues, Lam was asked by lawmaker James To Kun-sun if the government would actively prosecute owners of illegal village structures and whether more resources would be allocated for enforcement. 'Policy concerning building safety has been evolving in the past 10 years,' she said. 'We are studying how the policy should be amended with tightened controls. We won't relax it for sure.' But she insisted the problem in rural areas was less urgent than in urban areas. 'Village houses are lower [in building height] and fewer pedestrians would be affected,' she said. The bureau had yet to formulate new policies on illegal structures in village houses, she said, but it would inform lawmakers next month of the number of such cases. But the kuk's Cheung, also a lawmaker, said the kuk had been negotiating with the bureau since 2005. It hoped the government would allow glass enclosures and canopies to be built on top of village houses as long as they were structurally safe and an administration fee was paid. He said talks between the two parties came to a halt after the Ombudsman's investigation report. Cheung was found to have built an illegal glassed area and a canopy on the rooftop of a house he owns in Long Ping village, Tai Po. His son, who has a house next door, was warned by the Lands Department for building an outdoor entrance, a small house and a fish pond without seeking permission. 'I admit that there was negligence in building the fish pond as we didn't know it's a change in land use,' Cheung said. 'But my son was punished for this mistake a year ago.' He said his glassed area was built more than 20 years ago to provide shading: 'It's commonly found on other village houses as well. It's an unresolved problem under the village house policy. We are willing to co-operate when the government comes up with a new policy.' Some 2,955 complaints about illegal structures on village houses were received last year, up by almost 50 per cent on 1,983 complaints in 2007.