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Legislative Council Question 10 : "Land filling activities undertaken on agricultural land" by the Hon Lam Wai-keung and a written reply by the Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands, Mr Michael Suen, in the Legislative Council

Following is a question by the Hon Lam Wai-keung and a written reply by the Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands, Mr Michael Suen, in the Legislative Council today (January 11):

Question:

In February 2005, the Town Planning Board (TPB) unilaterally amended, without first consulting the owners of agricultural land in the New Territories, the "Notes" for agricultural land in the Master Schedule of Notes to Statutory Plans so as to control land filling activities undertaken on agricultural land. Then, in April of the same year, the TPB announced by notice in the Gazette amendments to 25 draft/approved Outline Zoning Plans, which included the above revision to the Notes. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council of:

(a) the number of complaints received in the past 10 years by the authorities about land filling activities undertaken on agricultural land, the number of pieces of land involved and their sizes;

(b) the number of cases in which works undertaken in the past 10 years by the Government for the purpose of developing new towns, constructing roads and river training in the New Territories had turned land in the vicinity into low-lying land, as well as the area of the land involved;

(c) the examples of cases showing that land filling activities undertaken by owners of agricultural land have negative impacts on the economy and livelihood of the local community; and

(d) how the authorities arrived at the 1.2 metres upper limit on the thickness of soil laid in land filling activities requiring no planning permission, and whether the authorities have consulted owners of low-lying land; if so, please provide the relevant papers?

Reply:

Madam President,

My reply to the four-part question is as follows:

(a) In the past ten years, the Planning Department has received a total of 901 complaints regarding land filling activities in the rural areas of New Territories involving 708 different sites. However, the Department does not have detailed information on the sizes of sites involved.

(b) In the past ten years, no works for new town development, road construction and river training in the New Territories have turned land in the vicinity into low-lying areas. When implementing new town development projects (including land formation, road construction and river training), the Government would carry out project feasibility study and assessment as prescribed by established procedures and would implement the project in accordance with the relevant design standards and statutory requirements. Moreover, during the construction phase, adequate drainage facilities would be provided in the construction sites and in its vicinity.

Low-lying areas bordering main watercourses in the New Territories are mostly natural flood-plains and susceptible to frequent flooding. To enhance the flood relief capacity of watercourses, it is often necessary to widen and deepen these watercourses and build embankment to prevent flooding. The purpose of river training works is to alleviate flooding in flood-plains. In no circumstances will these works lead to the enlargement of low-lying areas.

(c) The majority of those who lodged complaints with the Planning Department are local residents directly affected by land filling activities. Illegal land filling activities in rural areas of the New Territories cause environmental, traffic and drainage problems such as the loss of agricultural land, air and environmental pollution, spoiling of rural landscape, blockage of access and serious flooding. All this will bring adverse impact to the lives and activities of local residents.

To quote some examples, the large-scale land filling activity in a village in Tai Po has created dangerous slopes and threatened the safety of local residents. The serious flooding in a private housing development in Yuen Long in recent years is also mainly attributable to land filling activity in an adjacent site. This land filling activity led to the filling up of a natural watercourse within the site and as a result rainwater cannot be drained away properly.

(d) Last year, the TPB revised the "Notes" of the "Agricultural" zone in the relevant Outline Zoning Plans. The amendments stipulate that all land filling activities require prior planning permission from the TPB unless the laying of soil serves cultivation purpose and does not exceed 1.2 metres in thickness.

In preparing the amendments, the TPB took account of the comments from the relevant departments. According to the information provided by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, the thickness of the top soil required for cultivation of vegetables is roughly about 0.3 to 0.45 metre while that for trees is about 1 to 1.2 metres. As such, the laying of soil not exceeding 1.2 metres is adopted as the criterion for exempting planning permission. In this way, usual agricultural activities will not be affected. It is considered that such arrangement has struck a balance between the need to control illegal land filling activities and to avoid causing nuisance to bona fide agricultural activities.

As the amendment would take immediate effect upon promulgation, the Administration did not conduct public consultation before its gazetting in order not to undermine the effectiveness of the control work. Nevertheless, the Town Planning Ordinance has provided for a statutory channel under which any person could lodge an objection against the amendments to the TPB during the exhibition of the relevant plans. All objections will be considered by the TPB in accordance with the said Ordinance. The TPB will deliberate on the grounds of objections before making a final decision. During the plan exhibition period, the Planning Department has issued information papers and explained the amendments to the Heung Yee Kuk as well as the relevant District Councils and the Rural Committees.

Ends/Wednesday, January 11, 2006
Issued at HKT 12:30

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