Lands Department announces the findings of its investigation and follow- up actions in Tung Ah Pui Village

     In response to the suspected irregularities concerning squatter structures and illegal occupation of government land in Tung Ah Pui Village, Tai Tam Bay, Shek O, the LandsDepartment (LandsD) announced the findings of its investigation and follow-up actions today (June 22).

Surveyed Squatter Structures

     On the surveyed squatter structures, LandsD's findings are as follows:

(i) There are currently 12 surveyed squatter structures in Tung Ah Pui Village, all of which are located on government land. According to the Squatter Survey Records in 1982, all ofthese squatter structures were built mainly with permanent materials (such as concrete, tiles, and bricks) for domestic use. In other words, although the materials concerned are not those temporary materials commonly used in the construction of the majority of surveyed squatter structures (like planks and galvanised iron), the use of permanent materials does not deviate from that of their surveyed records. Moreover, as these squatter structures were covered in the Squatter Control Survey (SCS) in 1982, they are "tolerated" and "allowed to exist" on the government land concerned provided that the requirements (including those in respect of materials, dimensions and uses of the structures conform to the SCS records) under the squatter control policy are complied with; for this reason, the allegation that the Government "has turned a blind eye to the illegal occupation of government land by those structures for over 30 years" does not hold water.

(ii) Squatter control is carried out based on the SCS records in 1982. Recently, LandsD has gathered further information like aerial photographs to find out whether all surveyed squatter structures in Tung Ah Pui Village have been re-built or extended after 1982. Based on such information, it is established all such squatter structures have not been rebuilt.  However, it is found that the dimensions of three squatter structures are inconsistent with the 1982 SCS records.  Two involve unauthorised extensions (including one glass house which was demolished earlier) and one involves unauthorised structures on its roof. Warnings will soon be issued, asking the occupants to rectify the irregularities within 28 days, or else their SCS records will be cancelled and their squatter structures demolished in whole.

(iii) There is no initial indication of irregularities concerning the uses of the squatter structures. However, inspections inside some of the squatter structures are yet to be conducted as their occupants cannot be reached, so the uses of these structures cannot be ascertained at the moment. To further confirm their uses, the Squatter Control Office will follow up closely on the matter.

     As to whether the district Squatter Control Office has delayed in taking action against the irregularities concerning the surveyed squatter structures in Tung Ah Pui Village, LandsD responds as follows:

(i) Due to the remoteness of Tung Ah Pui Village and the neighbouring areas, inspections are conducted once around every three months by the Squatter Control/Hong Kong and Lei Yue Mun Office of LandsD (SCO).  But these inspections are generally conducted to see whether any building works are on-going, and whether there are any newly constructed structures.

(ii) In August 2015, SCO received a media enquiry on the squatter structures in Tung Ah Pui Village.  During an inspection carried out at that time, SCO found a pavilion which did not have a squatter survey number.  The unauthorised pavilion was demolished by the occupant after warning by SCO.  Later on, SCO inspected the site again in October and found, by observation, four squatter structures with suspected extensions. No further checking was performed due to the situation explained in paragraph (iii) below.

(iii) According to SCO's records at that time, Tung Ah Pui Village, Tai Tam Bay has been included in a non-development clearance programme (Category 2), i.e. those structures are, considered by the Civil Engineering and Development Department, especially vulnerable to landslides during periods of heavy rain due to their close proximity to potentially unstable slopes. Although clearance is not imminent, occupants, who have a choice to stay, should be advised to move out voluntarily. Based on the past practice, for surveyed squatter structures located within the area of a non-development clearance programme, squatter control actions are put on hold at the discretion of the district Squatter Control Office, and clearance will only be carried out by those sections or units responsible for such non-development clearances after the affected households have been offered public housing or have moved out.  SCO, therefore, did not immediately make further checking or take any control action against the suspected cases at the time.

Strengthened squatter control and improvement measures

     Notwithstanding that LandsD's investigation reveals that there is no selective enforcement and control because of the background of the parties involved by SCO staff, having reviewed the situation of Tung Ah Pui Village, the department considers that there is room for improvement in the current squatter control work.  A task force has been set up under LandsD to review the existing guidelines on squatter control actions, and it is decided to put in place the following control and improvement measures:

(i) For surveyed squatter structures covered by a non-development clearance programme, unless occupants explicitly indicate that they will voluntarily vacate the structures to allow clearance to be carried out in the near future, LandsD will continue to take control actions against irregularities in accordance with the squatter control policy;

(ii) As for surveyed squatter structures with unauthorised extensions, LandsD has been exercising discretion to allow the occupants to rectify irregularities.  Having considered that the squatter control policy explicitly requires enforcement actions to be taken against unauthorised squatter structures and does not encourage unauthorised extension, LandsD will tighten its discretionary arrangements with immediate effect.  Specifically, if there is evidence showing that it is a new extension completed after today, actions will be taken such as cancelling the squatter survey number instantly and demolishing the whole unauthorised structure on government land immediately upon detection without giving any opportunity to rectify, or taking lease enforcement actions against cases involving newly extended structures on private land as appropriate;

(iii) The guidelines on squatter control actions will be reviewed with a view to drawing up a specific timetable for the enforcement work and strengthening monitoring.  All Squatter Control Offices are required to report to the headquarters regularly on the case progress of their squatter control actions;

(iv) To enhance the effectiveness of ground level inspections, apart from targeting on-going erection works and change of uses of surveyed squatter structures, the strategy of regular inspection will be revised by stepping up investigation and information gathering efforts through the use of unmanned aerial systems and aerial photographs to actively identify suspected illegal extension/re-building cases.

     The Director of Lands, Ms Bernadette Linn said, "When carrying out investigations into and follow-up actions on the surveyed squatter structures, the occupants' background was not taken into account.  For the three confirmed cases of unauthorised extension in Tung Ah Pui Village, it is LandsD's established practice to offer them an opportunity to rectify.  If we take more stringent actions against them arbitrarily, purely for the reason of great public concern, we are afraid that many people who are now occupying surveyed squatter structures will be affected, as in principle, all similar cases should be treated alike.

     "However, since our squatter control policy clearly states that any surveyed squatter structures inconsistent with their squatter survey records will not be allowed and enforcement actions will be taken against them, LandsD does not want to see abuses of 'to breach first, then rectify', as this will lead to the permanent existence of squatter structures which are 'tolerated' and 'allowed to exist temporarily'.  Therefore, LandsD decided that discretion will not be granted to extensions completed after today to rectify the irregularities, but to cancel their squatter survey numbers immediately."

Non-surveyed squatter structures and unlawful occupation of government land

     In addition to the investigation into the surveyed structures in Tung Ah Pui Village, LandsD has found that there are illegal structures and occupation of government land in the village, such as a tree house, bird cages, canopies and other miscellaneous articles.  Last week, control actions were taken under the Land (Miscellaneous Provisions) Ordinance (Cap. 28), such as posting of a notice requiring occupants to cease occupation of government land, and 15 "Government Land" boards have been erected thereon.  At present, most of the illegal structures without squatter survey numbers have been demolished.  The rest are mainly fences, fence walls and others.  As regards non-compliance with the above-mentioned statutory notice requiring the occupants to rectify the unlawful occupation themselves before the deadline, LandsD is consolidating the facts collected and gathering further information (including establishing the parties involved) to follow up on prosecution.  In order not to prejudice evidence collection and prosecution, the department is not in a position at this stage to disclose the details of the follow-up action.

Jetties, barbecue platform and low walls

     As for the eight jetties, one barbecue platform and several low walls currently located along the coast at Tung Ah Pui Village, after consulting the relevant government departments, LandsD confirmed that these jetties, contrary to previous media reports, are not located within the coastal protection area on the relevant outline zoning plan or within the marine parks and marine reserve areas governed by the Marine Parks and Marine Reserves Regulation, but all of these jetties, barbecue platform and low walls are illegal structures.  LandsD plans to remove these coastal illegal structures, and is now consulting the relevant government department to ensure that removal works will be carried out in a proper manner.

Other surveyed squatter structures in Shek O area

     LandsD previously indicated that, in addition to the investigation into the case of Tung Ah Pui Village, inspections would also be conducted on the surveyed squatter structures in Shek O area.  According to the records as at late 2015, there are about 1 670 surveyed squatter structures in the whole Shek O area.  In the past three years (2013-2015), SCO issued nearly 90 verbal or written warnings, requiring occupants to rectify irregularities or cease their unauthorised occupation of government land; deregistered 32 surveyed structures; and completed clearance of 30 illegal structures.  In addition to the action taken in Tung Ah Pui Village, SCO will initiate a new round of inspection of other parts (including Lan Nai Wan, Ngan Hang, To Tei Wan, Cape D'Aguilar, Shek O and Tai Long Wan) in Shek O area in the next stage.  Control action will be taken if irregularities are found.

     Ms Linn said, "LandsD understands that members of the public have expectations for the Government's enforcement work.  Hopefully, the actions against the cases of Tung Ah Pui Village and the improvement measures announced today will clarify the facts, manifest fairness and impartiality, and raise the effectiveness of enforcement work over squatter structures."

     Under the current squatter control policy, squatter structures which were covered in the SCS in 1982 are unauthorised and temporary in nature and are "tolerated" and "allowed to exist" until they are phased out through natural wastage or are required to be cleared for development, environmental improvement or safety reasons.  No extension or alteration can be made to those surveyed structures of which the uses and building materials must comply with the SCS records.  Surveyed squatter structures cannot be re-built, but exception may be granted to those surveyed domestic squatter structures in the New Territories which meet the established procedures and conditions depending on the actual circumstances of each case.  If re-building is found, as the original squatter structures no long exist, squatter survey numbers of these structures will be cancelled instantly and enforcement actions will be taken.  In 1984/85, the Government conducted a squatter occupancy survey on the surveyed squatter structures that were for domestic use mainly for record purpose; and no one has been granted the right to occupy the land concerned.  The existing squatter control policy does not impose any requirements on the identity of the occupant.

Ends/Wednesday, June 22, 2016
Issued at HKT 23:42