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02/06/2011

Prosecutions over unauthorised structures in rural areas fell 38 per cent from 2007 to last year despite a rise in complaints, government figures show
 
Prosecutions over unauthorised building structures in the New Territories hit a new low last year despite a continuing rise in complaints over the past four years.
 
Figures were given by the Development Bureau at the request of lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung just hours before Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen moved to dismantle a glass-panelled balcony at a MacDonnell Road property he owns amid concerns he may have been in breach of building laws.
 
Prosecutions for illegal structures in the New Territories fell 38 per cent from 754 in 2007 to 468 last year. There were only five prosecutions for unlawful occupation of government land in rural areas, compared to 13 and nine made in 2008 and 2007, respectively.
 
The statistics demonstrate the difficulty in law enforcement, according to one frontline lands officer.
 
With an estimated 40,000 illegal structures in the New Territories, only 122 Buildings Department staff and 198 in the Lands Department are responsible for the enforcement duties in rural areas, including handling of complaints and following up cases.
 
It was also difficult for officers to obtain owners' permission to enter private premises to conduct checks, the officer said.
 
The Buildings Department, meanwhile, said it could still not confirm whether Tsang's enclosed balcony was legal.
 
Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said the government was revising the law to allow officers to enter suspicious flats by applying for a search warrant from a court.
 
She said the bureau had also adopted a broadened enforcement policy against urban unauthorised structures since April, covering less dangerous structures like podiums and back-lane buildings after concentrating earlier on those that posed a danger.
 
Prosecutions in Kowloon - where there has been widespread demolition of illegal structures, although many still remain - dropped 23 per cent from 1,664 in 2007 to 1,276 last year. Cases on Hong Kong Island are on the rise, from 603 to 865 cases.
 
There were two prosecutions on Hong Kong Island last year and none in Kowloon over illegal occupation of government land
 
Rural leader Lau Wong-fat - elected yesterday for his ninth term as Heung Yee Kuk chairman - pledged to put the problem of illegal structures in the New Territories at the top of his work agenda.
 
Lau, who is negotiating with the government on the type of structures that could be tolerated, urged officials to take a lenient approach.
 
"The New Territories has its unique historic and social background. The so-called illegal structures are a problem which has been there for years {hellip} this is not a purely legal issue. We can't expect to solve it only with laws," he said.
 
"To prevent unnecessary unrest, the authorities had better handle the issue with a flexible and lenient approach."
 
He also took issue with government policy on the zoning of 54 private sites which could be included in country parks, saying it would intrude on the rights of landowners.
 
"The kuk cannot accept any unreasonable and unjust policy, or measure which overlooks the interests of landowners."
 
Lau, who has been the kuk's head since 1980, said he would retire from the post after this four-year term. One of his deputies, Cheung Hok-ming, was re-elected unopposed. The other deputy, Daniel Lam Wai-keung, defeated challenger Chung Wai-ping 99 votes to 31.

SOURCE: SINGTAO



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