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Law

HKT slapped with warning after four service centres found in breach of land leases

Telephone exchanges being used as service centres in Mong Kok, Yuen Long, Lai Chi Kok and Tsuen Wan have been in violation of the rules for up to eight years

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 March, 2018, 11:09pm
UPDATED : Friday, 16 March, 2018, 4:51pm

Four HKT service centres have been in violation of land leases for as long as eight years, the Lands Department confirmed on Thursday, after slapping Hong Kong’s largest telecommunications company with warning letters.

The department is also investigating three other telephone exchanges belonging to HKT, a subsidiary of PCCW owned by tycoon Richard Li Tzar-kai, for similar offences.

The news came a month after the Task Force on Land Supply recommended the government explore whether old telecoms stations in relatively prime locations had the potential for residential development.

Responding to media queries, a Lands Department spokeswoman said that the use of HKT telephone exchanges in Mongkok Exchange Building, Yuen Long Exchange, Lai Chi Kok Exchange and Tsuen Wan Exchange for customer centres breached lease conditions.

The department has issued warning letters to the owners of three, in Mong Kok, Tsuen Wan and Yuen Long, the spokeswoman said Thursday.

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The department added that it had received a request from the owner of HKT’s Yuen Long Exchange in early February to use the area under the telephone exchange as a customer service centre and the site is now being handled according to established procedures. If the application is approved, the applicant is required to pay the relevant fees and would trace back to the date that it started breaching the lease, it said.

It also asked the one in Tsuen Wan to provide more information.

For the Lai Chi Kok Exchange, the department would issue a warning letter to the owner.

The spokeswoman said records showed that it had not received applications from the land owners from the Lai Chi Kok centre to use part of the building as a customer service centre in the past eight years.

It also asked the ones in Mong Kok and Lai Chi Kok to correct the contravention within the time limit, which it did not specify.

“If the correction has not been completed after the warning period expires, the Lands Department will take further steps to implement the contractual terms in accordance with established procedures,” the spokeswoman said.

She added that the department was investigating three other telephone exchanges in Sheung Wan, Wan Chai and Causeway Bay for breaching land leases.

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According to records, the department has not received applications from HKT for the three exchanges as a customer service centre in the past eight years, she said.

A PCCW spokesman said that it would not comment on media reports.

“We liaise with the district Lands Department from time to time with regard to the use of our telephone exchanges, details of which cannot be disclosed,” he said.

PCCW currently owns more than 70 telephone exchanges across Hong Kong. Since the end of 2010, the corporation has opened a total of 10 customer service centres – seven of which are located in telephone exchanges in Yuen Long, Tsuen Wan, Mong Kok, Lai Chi Kok, Wan Chai, Causeway Bay and Sheung Wan – to provide customer service for PCCW’s landline, mobile, Now TV and broadband customers.

Hong Kong has 81 sites, across a total of 17.4 hectares, which have been reserved for telecoms companies since the 1950s and 1960s for buildings housing their facilities and machines.

The telecom companies’ buildings usually house telephone exchange utilities that used to facilitate calls in certain districts. Older systems, normally bulky machines, had to be manually operated to connect calls between people.

However, advancements in technology with more space-efficient hardware meant that some companies would convert the space into office use, which is permitted in some cases.

Under its current land lease, companies are only permitted to use them as telephone exchanges and in some cases, as ancillary offices and quarters.

Any change of land use for other purposes not permitted in the lease conditions would have to be approved by the Lands Department. They would either have to pay a hefty land premium for the change of land use, for example, into commercial use. Or they could either pay a waiver fee annually that would allow them to carry out the activities on a temporary basis, and applications for the waiver would have to be renewed.

The Lands Department and PCCW were replying to media queries following a FactWire report on Thursday.