Following is a question by the Hon Kenneth Lau and a reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Paul Chan, in the Legislative Council today (January 11):
The List of Recognised Villages (the List) is an important document based on which the Lands Department (LandsD) vets and approves applications from New Territories indigenous male villagers for grant to build New Territories small houses within the environs of the villages concerned. When considering whether a certain village should be included in the List, LandsD takes into account several basic criteria, including (i) the village involved must have been in existence in 1898, and (ii) the village has been included in the Demarcation District sheets and the Block Government Leases. I have received complaints from residents of different villages, alleging that LandsD did not approve their applications for including their villages in the List (applications for inclusion) even though they had provided the relevant documents and information to prove that the villages concerned have been in existence since 1898. For instance, villagers from Ha Fa Shan Village in Tsuen Wan filed an application for inclusion more than two decades ago, and provided proof such as aerial photographs, press cuttings and testimonies from members of the community proving that the village was inhabited before 1945, but LandsD rejected the application on the ground that "the village had been deserted". However, Ha Fa Shan Village was included in the List of Established Villages, which was jointly compiled by Heung Yee Kuk and the former Planning and Lands Branch in 1991. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the procedure that applications for inclusion have to undergo; the mechanism for vetting and approving the applications and the average processing time for such applications; the types of documents and information that will be accepted as valid proof in support of such applications;
(2) of the details of the applications for inclusion received by the authorities since 2002, including the names and locations of the villages involved, the year in which the applications were first received and the application outcome concerned, as well as the main reasons for some of the applications being rejected; and
(3) given that most of the age-old documentary heritages were scattered and lost due to wars and other reasons, rendering it difficult for the villagers filing applications for inclusion to present valid written evidence, whether the authorities will, when vetting and approving such types of applications, give discretionary consideration to oral evidence such as oral history and statements taken from members of the community; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that, and whether they will consider accepting, under special circumstances, such oral evidence as proof in support of applications for inclusion; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
The Small House Policy (the Policy) was introduced in 1972. Under the Policy, in general, a male indigenous villager aged 18 years old or above who is descended through the male line from a resident in 1898 of a recognised village in the New Territories may apply to the authority once during his lifetime for permission to build for himself a small house on a suitable site within his own village.
To implement the Policy, the first version of the List of Recognised Villages, which contained 591 recognised villages, was drawn up in 1973. Some villages were not included in the List of Recognised Villages probably due to remoteness, inconvenient location or economic/social factors leading to the Government's belief that most of such villages had been deserted for years. Upon further subsequent verification and rectification, eligible villages were added to the List of Recognised Villages in the early years after 1973. At present, there are a total of 642 approved recognised villages in the territory.
As for the other list mentioned in the question, namely, the List of Established Villages, it was compiled under the Government Rent (Assessment and Collection) Ordinance (the Ordinance) (Cap. 515) with the purpose of enabling villagers of established villages to apply for rent concessions under the Ordinance. Given that the background and purposes of drawing up those two lists are different, the relevant criteria taken into consideration are also different. Hence, the two lists should not be compared in the same light. In fact, whether an individual village could be included in the List of Established Villages compiled for the purpose of rent concessions is solely subject to whether the Director of Lands is satisfied under the Ordinance that the individual village was in existence in Hong Kong in 1898 by examining the schedule to the Block Government Leases. This is different from the criteria which an individual village has to meet in order for it to be included in the List of Recognised Villages.
My reply to various parts of the question is as follows:
(1) The Lands Department (LandsD) considers and examines applications for inclusion in the List of Recognised Villages based on the following five basic criteria:
(i) the village was in existence in 1898;
(ii) the village name appeared on both the Demarcation District sheets produced between 1899 and 1904 and the Block Government Leases that came into effect in 1905;
(iii) there are private lots within the village area on which erection of houses is allowed under the land lease;
(iv) village houses had been granted on concessionary terms in the village before the implementation of the Policy; and
(v) there must be signs of continuous habitation by indigenous villagers within the village since 1945.
Generally speaking, LandsD considers and examines each application by making reference to the relevant information in the Block Government Leases, the Demarcation District sheets produced between 1899 and 1904, old aerial photographs and file records in the District Lands Offices, and by conducting site inspections with a view to looking into the situation of the villages concerned and the signs of habitation by the villagers concerned.
Given the unique circumstances of each case, the actual processing time taken by LandsD varies depending on the nature and complexity of the matters involved in the case itself. As far as cases processed by LandsD in recent years are concerned, the actual processing time generally ranged from about 16 months and 36 months.
(2) From 2002 up to present, LandsD received applications from three villages for inclusion in the List of Recognised Villages, namely, Kap Lung Village in Yuen Long, Yuen Long Kau Hui and Leung Tin Tsuen in Tuen Mun respectively in 2004, 2006 and 2013. Kap Lung Village in Yuen Long, which fully met the five basic criteria mentioned in part (1) above, was already included in the List of Recognised Villages in 2005 upon LandsD's approval; the two remaining villages (i.e. Yuen Long Kau Hui and Leung Tin Tsuen in Tuen Mun) were not included in the List of Recognised Villages by LandsD as they failed to meet fully the five basic criteria mentioned in part (1) above.
As for Ha Fa Shan Village in Tsuen Wan referred to in the question, LandsD received an application from the village in 1996 for inclusion in the List of Recognised Villages. However, the village also failed to fully meet the five basic criteria mentioned in part (1) above, and hence was not included in the List of Recognised Villages by LandsD.
(3) LandsD examines each application primarily by making reference to information mentioned in part (1) above and by conducting site inspections with a view to looking into the situation of the villages concerned and the signs of habitation by the villagers concerned. As regards the other information provided by the villagers of the villages under application, including oral history and verbal evidence made by members of the community, LandsD makes reference of it but cannot make decisions for including the villages concerned in the List of Recognised Villages solely based on verbal evidence.
Ends/Wednesday, January 11, 2017
Issued at HKT 15:11