Following is a question by the Hon Audrey Eu and a reply by the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, in the Legislative Council today (November 23):
It has been reported that some developers reached agreements with indigenous villagers in Sai Kung, allegedly violating the restriction clauses on alienation contained in the land grants under the New Territories small house policy, and they also attempted to circumvent the legal procedures under the Town Planning Ordinance (TPO) to develop large scale private residential estates on rural land without applying for changes in land use and paying land premium; it is estimated that the developers can make huge profits from the development project. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) whether it has launched investigation into the aforesaid cases of suspected contravention of TPO and the relevant clauses; if it has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(b) whether it had launched investigation into similar cases in the past three years, if it had, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(c) whether it had reviewed the current vetting and approving procedures for building New Territories small houses in the past three years, so as to prevent any person from developing housing estates on rural land in the New Territories using the aforesaid tactics; if it had, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
We believe the news report the Honourable Audrey Eu is referring to is a feature report published in a local English newspaper earlier this month, the content of which is about developers reaching agreements with indigenous villagers of the Wong Chuk Yeung Village in Sai Kung North on developing small houses in the village. It is necessary for me to explain the current restrictions with regard to small house developments before I answer the Honourable Eu's question.
Generally speaking, at the time of signing a small house grant, the small house applicant is required to expressly warrant that he has never made any arrangements to dispose of his interest of developing a small house or his eligibility to apply for a small house grant. There is also a clause stipulated in the small house grant which generally prohibits alienation before the issue of the Certificate of Compliance. After the issue of the Certificate of Compliance, if the owner of the small house is a grantee of government land and he wishes to assign his small house, he is normally required under the alienation restriction clause to apply to the relevant District Lands Office (DLO); and if approved, subject to payment of premium. For a licensee who has been granted a Free Building Licence for developing a small house on private land, similar restrictions normally apply within five years, i.e. assignment of small house is only possible after approval by the relevant DLO and subject to payment of premium.
Moreover, development of small house must comply not only with the small house policy and the requirements of relevant grant conditions, but also with the relevant ordinances as well as other requirements stipulated by the Government. If the proposed development is unable to comply with the requirements of the Town Planning Ordinance (TPO) and the relevant Outline Zoning Plan (OZP), then a planning application must be submitted to the Town Planning Board and its approval obtained prior to commencement.
In general, the Lands Department (LandsD) would, upon receipt of any complaints related to small house applications, follow up in accordance with applicable procedures. Legal advice will be sought if needed.
My reply to the various parts of the question is as follows:
(a) At present, LandsD has not received any small house application from the Wong Chuk Yeung Village of Sai Kung North referred to in the question. LandsD therefore has no grounds to take any action in respect of the reported matters, including that about developers reaching agreements with indigenous villagers on small house development. As LandsD has not yet received any small house application from the indigenous villagers of that village, the Planning Department also has no grounds to prejudge any development in contravention of the TPO and the relevant OZP, or start any investigation of such. In addition, the authorities are not aware of any unauthorised development in the village which warrants follow-up action, but the departments will keep a watchful eye on the matter.
(b) According to the Honourable Eu's question, the "similar cases" which she is concerned about is believed to be the violation of the applicant's warranty on not making any arrangements in respect of the transfer of interests. LandsD indicated that it does not have statistics under such categorisation. Upon receipt of the Honourable Eu's question, the District Lands Officers have looked into their recent records. In respect of transfer of small house interests, Sai Kung DLO received in April this year a copy of what appears to be an "agreement of sale and purchase". Sai Kung DLO is investigating into the matter. Yuen Long DLO received a complaint referral on transfer of small house interests in November this year, but the complainant did not provide substantial evidence. Both cases do not involve developers reaching agreements with small house owners or applicants for the development of large-scale private estates.
(c) The present approval procedures and restrictions against abuse, including the applicant's warranty on not making any arrangements in respect of transfer of interests as well as the restriction of alienation clause contained in the small house grant, is formulated after undergoing prolonged and comprehensive considerations. In general, upon receipt of the relevant small house application, LandsD would follow up on the complaints received, and if such complaint is substantiated, appropriate actions will be taken while legal advice will be sought as and when needed. We have no plans to review the present operation.
Ends/Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Issued at HKT 15:22