Enforcement policy against unauthorised building works at New Territories village houses

In response to media enquiries on certain villagers' protest against the enforcement policy on unauthorised building works (UBWs) at New Territories village houses, a spokesman for the Development Bureau said today (November 28) that the problems relating to such UBWs have been a matter of public concern for years. The Ombudsman published direct investigation reports on the matter in 1996, 2004 and earlier this year and made recommendations for improvement.

Since the establishment of the Development Bureau in July 2007, the issues have escalated to the Secretary for Development - Heung Yee Kuk (SDEV-HYK) Liaison Committee for regular discussions and exchange of views.

The spokesman said that the Government's enforcement policy has taken into account the current regulatory regime for control of village houses, the actual situation on the ground and the views of various parties. It has also taken reference from past experience in tackling UBWs in the urban areas. The four key principles on which the enforcement policy was founded, i.e. safeguarding building and public safety, acting in accordance with the law, categorisation for control and management, and prioritisation for progressive enforcement, had the support in principle of Heung Yee Kuk representatives at the SDEV-HYK Liaison Committee meeting on June 13. The basic difference in opinion was over the Heung Yee Kuk's view that village houses built on land held under the Block Government Lease should not be subject to enforcement actions, because the Block Government Lease did not impose restrictions on the height of the buildings.

The Development Bureau reported to the Panel on Development of the Legislative Council on details of the enforcement policy and categorisation for control and management of different types of UBWs on June 28. The scheme was broadly supported by members. They requested the bureau to submit a progress report to the panel after six months.

The Secretary for Development also reported the latest developments on implementation of the enforcement arrangements against UBWs at village houses to the Heung Yee Kuk at a SDEV-HYK Liaison Committee meeting on September 8.

The spokesman said that it is established practice for the Buildings Department (BD) to conduct publicity before launching enforcement actions. The presence of UBWs at village houses reflects the lack of knowledge about New Territories village houses among villagers concerned and their inadequate understanding of the legislative restrictions on the planning, design and construction of village houses. Therefore, apart from taking enforcement action, the Government has placed great importance on publicity and public education.

So far, the BD has organised a series of publicity campaigns on building safety, with focuses on UBWs, building repair works and subdivided flats. The department has distributed publicity materials on UBWs and building repair works as well as on the Minor Works Control System. In parallel with these, a new publicity campaign entitled "Village Houses without unauthorised building works put your mind at ease" was launched on November 18, aiming at promoting awareness of building safety among villagers and owners of village houses and strengthening their knowledge about illegal structures and UBWs.

The publicity campaign includes printing and distribution of pamphlets, producing an announcement of public interest (API) for television, placing advertisements in local newspapers, showing APIs on public transportation serving the New Territories and posting posters at selected public areas in the New Territories.

"We fully appreciate the villagers' concerns, but we also have responsibilities to safeguard building and public safety and to act in accordance with the law. We have carefully considered the existing situation in the rural areas, as well as views of the Heung Yee Kuk. Hence, while enhancing enforcement against UBWs which constitute blatant contravention of the law and impose higher potential risks of public and building safety, we will adopt a more lenient approach for those of a less serious nature and imposing lower potential risks by implementing a UBWs reporting scheme and a regular inspection scheme to ensure the structural safety of the buildings," the spokesman said.

"We also recognise the rising aspirations of villagers for improving their living environment and the level of comfort. Some specified green and amenity facilities would thus be allowed to remain or be installed at any time in future without seeking permission from the Lands Department or the BD," he said.


Ends/Monday, November 28, 2011
Issued at HKT 20:40