Kuk power player has grabbed piece of park

Top News | Kenneth Foo 19 Apr 2012

A prominent Heung Yee Kuk member has admitted that a commercial leisure park he owns has unlawfully occupied a large swath of government land for 18 years without him paying a cent.

But Leung Fuk-yuen, a key figure in resistance to a government crackdown on illegal additions to village houses, said he was not directly involved as his brothers managed the park in Tai Tong Lychee Valley, which uses part of Tai Lam Country Park.

"But I'll comply with whatever the government wants, such as removing unauthorized structures," said Leung, who is chairman of Shap Pat Heung Rural Committee and a Yuen Long district councillor.

He would not say if he was aware he breached land laws when planting fruit trees and setting up toilets, storage containers, wooden sheds and animal shelters two decades ago.

According to government watchdog the Audit Commission, the leisure park occupies 12,400 square meters, with 4,670 of it government land.

Director of Audit Benjamin Tang Kwok-bun blames the Lands Department for lax enforcement and for failing to act on the case for 18 years.

He said the district land officer in Yuen Long became aware of the park's illegal spread in the mid- 1990s, with enforcement action carried out for the first time to clear the structures in 1995.

But the leisure park held its ground despite the department conducting 25 site inspections and issuing 12 warning letters - and it is still in operation. Most structures have now been dismantled, Leung claims, though some like the animal shelters remain.

Visitors to the park pay HK$150 for a package that includes horse-riding activities, a buffet lunch and chances to feed sheep and goats as well.

Leung said he had applied eight times for short- term tenancy licenses to "regularize" the structures.

But these were rejected by the District Land Office. Officers said they could not issue a license for a commercial operator on government land.

The office is now processing another application from Leung. But officers say they will act if he fails to demolish illegal structures within two months.

The maximum penalty for an illegal occupation like this is a HK$10,000 fine and six months in jail.

The auditor wants a comprehensive review of the management of unleased and unallocated government land. For it was also found that 70 percent of the Lands Department's 494 "urgent" control cases - that means they are a public hazard - exceeded a four-month resolution target. Four cases were even unresolved after more than 10 years.

Tang also criticized the penalties for unlawful occupation offenses, saying they were not tough enough for a deterrent effect. And a lack of regular checks by the Lands Department had allowed many cases to escape detection for many years, he added.

Word from the Lands Department was that its officials accept the criticisms and will "strive to effect policy changes" to resolve "serious issues about land control and unwarranted structures."

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