Following is a question by the Hon Chan Yuet-ming and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Ms Bernadette Linn, in the Legislative Council today (April 19):
It is learnt that, between 1898 and 1904, the Government carried out a land survey in the New Territories and drew up demarcation district plans for the land for the purpose of recording ownership and taxation. However, such plans produced back then are rather sketchy and incomplete by modern day standards, resulting in unclear land boundaries which have often led to disputes, including the problem of "missing lots" (i.e. when a landowner requests the Government to locate the boundaries of a lot but a search of Government records fails to establish its position). In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) whether it has compiled statistics on the missing lots in the New Territories; if so, set out in a table the relevant lots in various districts of the New Territories; if not, whether it has plans to compile such statistics;
(2) of the number of cases in the past 10 years in which landowners sought assistance from the Government in respect of missing lots, and the mechanism put in place by the Government for handling such cases; and
(3) as there are views that the Government will, in the light of the development of the Northern Metropolis, undertake a substantial amount of land resumption work, (i) how the Government will handle the missing lots within the Northern Metropolis in a more flexible manner at the time of land resumption, and (ii) when the land is to be resumed by the Government in accordance with the law, whether the Government will set a time limit within which the landowners concerned may claim against the Government in respect of the missing lots?
"Missing lot" refer to a situation where a lot has a lot number but the plan (e.g. the grant plan) showing its boundary is missing or is relatively sketchy or incomplete in its preparation, thus making it difficult to establish the exact location of the lot. A common example of "missing lot" is the case of "House Lot Blocks" (HLBs) under Block Government Lease. Each of these HLBs consists of multiple small house lots. While the relevant land instruments record the lot number of each of these small house lots, the relevant demarcation district plans only mark the extent of these HLBs collectively, without showing the individual location and boundary of each small lot. In addition, agricultural land under Block Government Lease may also have "missing lot" situation due to unclear plans. For "missing lot" cases, even if the approximate location of such a lot can be identified based on information kept by the landowner or the Government, it may not be sufficient to establish the lot boundary precisely.
My reply to various parts of the question raised by the Hon Chan is as follows:
(1) There is a substantial number of lots in the New Territories. Specifically, there are over 200 000 parent lots if only Block Government Leases are counted. As the urgency of handling "missing lot" cases mainly arises when there is sale and purchase or development of land, it is not the prevailing priority of the Lands Department (LandsD) to mobilise substantial manpower resources to investigate each and every lot for compiling statistics on "missing lot", nor is this in line with the policy objective of deploying limited resources in the most effective way to enhance speed and efficiency for increasing land supply. We believe that a more practical way to cope with the issue is to continue handling "missing lot" cases in accordance with the established mechanism as mentioned in the ensuing paragraphs.
(2) Over the past three years (2020 to 2022) (Note), the LandsD has received about 50 applications in total from owners of "missing lot" for re-establishing their lot boundaries.
In accordance with the existing mechanism, upon receipt of the lot number and relevant documents from an applicant as proof of ownership (such as lease documents and payment receipts of Government Rent etc.), the LandsD, if satisfied that there is sufficient proof that the applicant is the owner of the lot, will review its records (such as demarcation district plans, old lot boundary records, aerial photographs and old survey plans etc.), and conduct a site survey to establish the location and boundary of the lot. Preparation of plans and the execution of deed of rectification will then be carried out to confirm the lot boundary. If the LandsD is satisfied that the applicant is the owner of the lot but the location and boundary of the lot cannot be ascertained, the LandsD will consider to re-grant to the applicant a lot at an appropriate location (such as a location which is within the possible region based on existing information and considered reasonable and technically feasible by the LandsD), generally without charging any land premium. Among the 50 applications mentioned above, one case has been approved, two cases have been rejected due to insufficient proof of ownership, while the rest are under processing.
(3) When invoking the Lands Resumption Ordinance (Cap. 124) and the relevant legislation to resume private land, the Government will post and gazette land resumption notices in accordance with the relevant legislation. All private land parcels to be resumed will be shown on land resumption notices and plans. Even if a private land parcel is a "missing lot", its approximate location will also be shown and marked as land to be resumed on the plans. This is to ensure that no private land parcel within the resumption boundary will be missed out.
Any landowner who considers himself in ownership of such "missing lots" upon inspection of the land resumption plan may make claims for compensation in accordance with the relevant legislation. Such claims will be considered by the LandsD based on the information provided by the landowner and other records kept by the department. Ex-gratia compensation offer will be made if the landowner's interest in the relevant lot(s) is established (including establishment of the lot area and boundary).
As stipulated in the Lands Resumption Ordinance, in case of no receipt of any written compensation offer from the Government or any government notice that requests submission of compensation claims, owners or persons having any interest in the land to be resumed shall submit claims for compensation within one year from the date on which the land reverts to the Government. However, the Chief Executive may allow a further period based on the merits of individual cases. Other legislations related to land resumption (e.g. the Roads (Works, Use and Compensation) Ordinance)) also have similar provisions on time limits for making compensation claims. Such provisions apply to any owner and person having any interest in the land, including owner of "missing lots".
The Government introduced the Development (Town Planning, Lands and Works) (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 2022 (the Bill) into the Legislative Council (LegCo) in December 2022. Among others, the Bill proposes to provide expressly in the legislation for the Government to gazette the proposed resumption boundary and handle objections to land resumption in parallel with the statutory planning process. In addition, compensation and rehousing can be provided right after obtaining the Chief Executive in Council's authorisation for land resumption without having to wait for the funding approval for the relevant works. The Bill is currently being scrutinised by the Bills Committee of LegCo. These measures can improve communication between the LandsD and the affected parties, including enabling persons believed to be owners of "missing lots" to approach the LandsD earlier so as to facilitate prompt investigation of the lots concerned and expedite the subsequent processing of compensation. In addition, as part of our work on streamlining development-related administrative procedures, the LandsD is also studying on possible improvements to the land title checking work prior to payment of land compensation (including land compensation for "missing lot" cases), with a view to expediting payment of land compensation.
Note: The LandsD does not have readily available statistical information for earlier years.
Ends/Wednesday, April 19, 2023
Issued at HKT 15:09