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LCQ13: Regulatory control of squatter structures on Hong Kong Island

Following is a question by the Hon Tanya Chan and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Eric Ma, in the Legislative Council today (May 24):

Question:

In June last year, the media uncovered that the occupants of some surveyed squatter structures in Tung Ah Pui Village, Shek O, had unlawfully built extensions of squatter structures, erected unauthorised structures and unlawfully occupied government lands. On the 22nd of the same month, the Lands Department (LandsD) confirmed the presence of such irregularities and indicated that in addition to taking enforcement actions in Tung Ah Pui Village, LandsD would also commence checking in other areas of Shek O; if irregularities were found, LandsD would no longer grant discretion to allow for rectification of irregularities but would immediately cancel the survey numbers of the relevant squatter structures. On the other hand, the Director of Audit pointed out in the Report No. 68 of the Director of Audit published last month that the squatter structure monitoring system was ineffective, and hence there was no assurance that surveyed squatter structures had satisfactorily complied with the squatter control policy. Regarding the regulatory control of squatter structures on Hong Kong Island, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the current numbers of surveyed squatter structures and licensed structures in the various districts and villages of Hong Kong Island, as well as their distribution details (set out the relevant information by name of district or village);

(2) of the respective numbers of complaints received by LandsD in each of the past three years that the occupants of squatter structures on Hong Kong Island (i) had allegedly built extensions of squatter structures unlawfully, (ii) had rented out squatter structures and (iii) had sold squatter structures (broken down by year and the district or village in which the squatter structures were located); among such complaints, (iv) the number of cases investigated by LandsD, (v) the details of the investigation work (including the procedure, time taken and investigation outcome) and (vi) the details of the enforcement actions; LandsD's reasons for not investigating into some complaint cases (if any);

(3) of (i) the number of inspections conducted by LandsD on the squatter structures on Hong Kong Island in each of the past three years, together with (ii) the details of each inspection (including the date, coverage and number of squatter structures involved), (iii) the number of squatter structures in which irregularities were found, and (iv) the details of the follow-up actions taken in respect of such irregularities;

(4) of the respective numbers of warning letters and removal orders issued by LandsD in each of the past three years in respect of the irregularities of the squatter structures on Hong Kong Island; the number of cases in which the occupants of squatter structures have not yet rectified the irregularities in compliance with the removal orders; whether prosecutions were instituted in the past three years against the occupants of squatter structures who had not complied with the removal orders; if so, of the details and the penalties imposed on the convicted persons in general; if not, the reasons for that;

(5) whether LandsD demolished any squatter structures on Hong Kong Island or cancelled the survey numbers of any squatter structures on Hong Kong Island in the past three years; if so, of the respective numbers each year; if not, the reasons for that; and

(6) whether the authorities currently have any plan and timetable to demolish all the squatter structures on Hong Kong Island and replan the lands concerned for other uses; if so, of the details, and whether they will consult the affected squatter occupants on issues relating to clearance (including rehousing); if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?

Reply:

President,

Squatter structures covered in the Squatter Control Survey (SCS) in 1982 remain unauthorised in nature and are only tolerated and allowed to exist, until they are phased out through natural wastage or are required to be cleared for development, environmental improvement or safety reasons. Any extension, addition, change of use or alteration with materials not in compliance with the SCS Record is not allowed. Such "tolerance" does not confer on any person or recognise his right or legal right to occupy the land, and the occupant holds no legal title to the land.  The existing squatter control policy does not impose any requirement on the identity of an occupant.  However, as the occupant holds no legal title to a surveyed squatter structure, the purchase or renting of the structure is not protected by law.  It has been the practice of the Lands Department (LandsD) to post notices on notice boards in squatter areas reminding the public about the said limitations.

In its press release issued on June 22, 2016, LandsD announced that it would tighten its discretionary arrangements for rectification of irregularities concerning surveyed structures.  Specifically, if there is evidence showing that it is a new extension completed after June 22, 2016, LandsD will take enforcement actions, such as cancelling the squatter survey number instantly and demolishing the whole unauthorised structure on government land immediately upon detection without giving any opportunity to rectify. Lease enforcement actions will be taken immediately against cases involving newly extended structures on private land which are in breach of lease conditions.

Regarding the audit report on "Management of Squatter and Licensed Structures" issued by the Audit Commission on April 26, LandsD has appointed a directorate officer dedicated to reviewing the existing patrol systems of all district Squatter Control Offices (SCOs) and putting forward improvement recommendations to enhance the effectiveness of monitoring and enforcement actions.

My reply to various parts of the question is as follows:

(1) As at March 31, 2017, there were 4 425 surveyed squatter structures on Hong Kong Island.  Their distribution was as follows:

Squatter areas on Hong Kong Island Number of squatter structures
Pok Fu Lam Village 1 753
Shek O Village 881
San Wai Village 348
Kau Wai Village 109
Tai Hau Wan Village 138
Hok Tsui Village 106
Nga Choy Hang Tsuen 92
Stanley Village 98
Tai Long Wan Village 417
Tai Tam Tuk Village 53
Lan Nai Wan Village 24
Tung Ah Pui Village 38
Ngan Hang Village 23
To Tei Wan Village 50
A Kung Ngam Village 163
Other more dispersed squatter areas 132
Total 4 425

On the other hand, "licences" generally refer to government land licences, or modification of tenancy permits issued in respect of private land. According to records of LandsD, as at December 31, 2016, there were 149 licences covering the Hong Kong Island (a licence may cover a number of structures). LandsD does not have any readily available breakdown of the number of licences by area or village.

(2), (3), (4) and (5) The Squatter Control/Hong Kong and Lei Yue Mun Office (SCO/HK) of Lands D conducts regular patrols of various squatter areas on Hong Kong Island. The number of patrols is determined by the intensity of squatter structures in the respective areas and their geographical locations; remote areas without direct vehicular access will be patrolled at longer intervals. As mentioned above, LandsD has appointed a dedicated officer to review the patrol system concerning squatter areas.

If SCO/HK discovers or receives complaints on illegally erected structures or irregularities of surveyed squatter structures, it will deploy staff to the locations concerned for investigation. If illegal structures or irregularities are confirmed, verbal warnings will be given immediately. Warning letters will be issued if the situation has not been rectified. If the squatter structure involved is located on government land and the person concerned fails to rectify the situation by a specified date, SCO/HK will cancel the squatter survey number and issue a notice under the Land (Miscellaneous Provisions) Ordinance (Cap. 28), requiring the occupants to cease occupying the government land by a specified date, failing which SCO/HK will proceed with clearance of the squatter structure by a government contractor after the deadline. If there is sufficient evidence, SCO/HK may, after seeking legal advice, consider prosecution against the occupant for unlawful occupation of government land. If the squatter structure is located on private land, SCO/HK will cancel the squatter survey number and refer the case to District Lands Offices (DLOs) for consideration of lease enforcement action. As a land lease is a private contract, lease enforcement actions do not involve prosecution procedures.

During the period between January 1, 2014 and March 31, 2017, SCO/HK discovered / received complaint on a total of 443 suspected cases of unauthorised erection of structures or breaches of surveyed squatter structures. Of these cases, 187 cases were confirmed after investigation, involving 217 squatter structures with unauthorised extensions/newly erected squatter structures. Enforcement actions have been taken against all of these confirmed cases. The follow up actions are as follows:

Year 2014 2015 2016 2017
(Jan to Mar)
Total
No. of suspected cases (including complaints / referrals received or cases identified during patrols)
 
44 167 200 32 443
No. of cases confirmed after investigation
 
31 68 75 13 187
No. of squatter structures with unauthorised extension / newly erected squatter structures involved in confirmed cases
 
35 83 83 16 217
No. of squatter structures rectified by the occupants
 
20 76 14 0 110
No. of squatters demolished by the Government (unauthorised squatter structures located on unleased land)
 
8 2 12 11 33
No. of squatter structures referred to a District Lands Office for lease enforcement actions (unauthorised squatter structures located on private land)
 
7 5 15 1 28
No. of unauthorised squatter structures being followed up 0 0 42 4 46

Regarding the above information, the existing data of LandsD has been recorded on the basis of individual SCOs, there is thus no readily available breakdown of various sub-areas or villages within the jurisdiction of a particular SCO.

(6) As mentioned above, surveyed squatter structures are only tolerated until natural wastage or until they are required to be cleared for development, environmental improvement or safety reasons. The Government has, at present, no plans to demolish all surveyed squatter structures on Hong Kong Island.

Ends/Wednesday, May 24, 2017
Issued at HKT 16:00

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