Letters

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 April, 2012, 12:00am

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Compromise on illegal structures

Following the election of our new chief executive, the Heung Yee Kuk and housing in the New Territories are back in the news.

Your columnist Alice Wu says, 'the next administration should stop the voracious monster of small-house rural rights once and for all' ('Slay the beast', April 16).

On the same day, another columnist, Alex Lo, accuses the kuk of chutzpah in calling for 'a blanket amnesty on all illegally built structures in village houses across the entire New Territories as long as they don't pose an immediate physical danger' ('Kuk wants pound of flesh from new CE'). While both columnists mention both issues, neither recognises a link between the two.

Both issues concern village housing, the rule of law and the shortage of land and housing.

Yes, abolition of the villagers' rural rights would provide more land for housing for all residents. But the Basic Law requires the protection of the lawful traditional rights and interests of the indigenous inhabitants of the New Territories. The kuk claims this is enshrined in the government's small-house policy, introduced in 1972.

As far as I know, there's never been a legal challenge to this, which, under the rule of law, would be necessary to abolish or change the policy.

Even the government must work within the law and to do otherwise would be disaster.

After ignoring illegal structures for 40 years, it's now proposed that the rule of law be strictly enforced and all of them be demolished.

But this could affect up to 100,000 perfectly good houses and that would only make the chronic shortage of housing even worse.

Where would these hundreds of thousands of displaced people be housed?

There's clearly room for compromise and the government should engage the kuk in meaningful talks to resolve both issues, rather than taking a heavy-handed approach.

Keith McNab, Sai Kung

Fines a way out of village impasse

I congratulate former lands director Patrick Lau Lai-chiu for formally suggesting an excellent solution to the government for dealing with illegal structures throughout Hong Kong ('Fines may solve village dilemma', April 17).

Owners should be able to call a surveyor to assess the condition and safety of any illegal structure and then, depending on the square footage of that structure, a one-off fine can be levied.

As many of these structures are designed to add to the value of the property, there should be no argument as to the payment of the fine.

It would be impractical to demolish structures that are so rampant and widespread that the toll on our landfills would be insupportable.

Furthermore, some of these structures add character and utility to the properties they adorn.

Those structures deemed flimsy and unsafe by a qualified surveyor would need to be removed. Easy.

And, this way, the government doesn't do too badly out of it either.

Karen Prochazka, Shouson Hill

One more 'must do' for C.Y. Leung

Bravo, Mike Rowse! You are spot on with your pragmatic suggestions for improving the lot of the ordinary Hongkonger ('A five-point plan to a better city and second term at top', April 16).

I proffer one more 'must do', which would not only help ameliorate the stress experienced by the vast majority of the public who spend an unacceptable part of their day queuing for public transport, but would also boost chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying's image as a man of the people.

An independent outsider with a proven track record needs to be recruited to make a comprehensive examination of the present set-up and his suggestions enacted.

His brief would be brief: look at pollution, the structural condition of the roads, enforcement of traffic laws (dangerously neglected in urban areas), integration of buses, taxis and minibuses, and pedestrian precincts.

A small working committee of regular public transport users - not government officials - should be appointed to help with the task.

Contrary to what some pundits would like us to believe, Hong Kong has little say in its political and economic direction.

But it has the ability, as a progressive community, to make decisions that would improve the quality of all our lives.

Jim Francis, North Point

Monorail not the cheapest Kai Tak route

I agree with the transport experts who suggest that trams or electric buses should be considered as alternatives to the HK$12 billion monorail project in the Kai Tak area. ('Options sought for costly monorail plan', March 30)

The monorail would no doubt be highly efficient in terms of passenger capacity but it seems it would be difficult to defray the costs of the system's construction, operation and maintenance. Choosing other options could have similar benefits but at a lower price.

A well-organised bus or tram system would not add pressure to the transport system but would give impetus to the development of an eco-friendly bus industry. This would be much more beneficial economically.

The purpose of the plan is to turn Kowloon East into a distinctive, attractive core business district and boost tourism in the Kai Tak area. But this can be achieved by other alternatives.

Charmaine Cheng Lap-kwan, Sha Tin

Sunbeam is a great ray of cultural light

Cantonese opera is an important part of Chinese culture and I am happy to see the Sunbeam Theatre will reopen next month.

There are few Cantonese opera theatres left and we should work to keep them open.

We should thank playwright Li Kui-ming for stepping in at the last minute and rescuing the Sunbeam. I look forward to seeing the theatre's new face.

Fung Chi-yeung, Sham Shui Po

Don't waste rewards of green fees

I refer to the report, 'Support for waste charges affirmed', on April 10.

In a Civic Party poll late last month, about half of the 1,533 Hongkongers who were questioned backed the idea of user fees for waste disposal, while about a quarter opposed it.

The aim of setting fees for waste disposal is to promote a greener lifestyle. Hongkongers are used to disposing of waste without sorting it, and this scheme can surely motivate them to start doing that.

If people could sort and recycle their waste, landfills would not be full so soon. Therefore, setting fees for waste could help postpone the expansion of the Tseung Kwan O landfill, benefiting the environment.

The scheme should charge both households and businesses, depending on the amount of waste they create.

Some people are worried about the extra financial burden and suggest that households not be charged if their waste volumes are below a threshold.

This is a great idea to encourage citizens to dispose of less waste while not adding to the strain on their finances.

Besides waste fees, the government and families can do more to encourage recycling. Education is important - the mindset of reducing waste cannot be built up in a short time.

Jackie Lo, Tsuen Wan

Bill's small tweaks better than nothing

As one of the world's leading financial centres, Hong Kong needs a healthy market to keep it in such a high place.

Unfortunately, monopolies exist in different markets in the city, including the catering, real estate and retail sectors.

The problems created by this situation are serious. Citizens pay more for goods and small and medium-sized firms have little space to survive.

The government has modified the competition bill to grant further exemptions to small and medium-sized firms. This is a weak form of support but it is better than nothing.

The pan-democrats think the modifications could weaken the proposed legislation. Perhaps they are right, but the changes help create a freer market. That one of the world's leading international financial centres does not have free and fair competition between firms is a shame.

Dominant companies are killing smaller firms, and granting exemptions for SMEs helps these firms to stay in the market.

Their presence not only benefits the firms themselves, but also consumers struggling with inflation and unreasonable prices.

Chris Wong, Sha Tin