Progress Report on Cleaning Up Environmental Black Spots in the New Territories
To report on the progress of work of the Task Force (Black Spots) (TFB) in Lands Department and the Central Enforcement and Prosecution Section (CEPS) in Planning Department.
2.The TFB is dealing with environmental black spots classified as existing uses (EU) under the Town Planning Ordinance. The TFB became operational in August 1994 and initially commenced action in 2 pilot action areas.
3.The CEPS was established in mid-1994 to step up statutory planning enforcement action against unauthorised developments (UDs) in the rural parts of the New Territories.
4.Members were last briefed on the work of the TFB and the CEPS on 17 December 1996. This paper updates members on progress so far.
PROGRESS OF WORK OF THE TASK FORCE (BLACK SPOTS), LANDS DEPARTMENT (TFB)
5.In respect of open storage uses, the TFB commenced action in the Pat Heung Pilot Action Area (PHPAA) dealing with all EU undertakings within a 50m wide strip either side of the three main roads i.e. Kam Tin, Kam Sheung and Fan Kam Roads. It also chose the Ha Tsuen and Lau Fau Shan Container Action Area (HTCAA). Improvement work in both action areas is now coming to an end.
6.In the PHPAA, by 1 October 1997, a total of 6.50 hectares of government land had been cleared and 5.67 hectares landscaped. A total of 223 EU undertakings comprising 30.55 hectares were actionable and the TFB has considered 200 undertakings comprising 26.78 hectares for in-situ environmental improvement works (IEIW). The approach was that should the owners and operators choose not to co-operate, lease enforcement action would be taken but the present situation is that 148 undertakings comprising 17.98 hectares have carried out the IEIW works at their own expense in accordance with the "polluter pays" principle. As an illustration of these IEIWs, slides will be shown to Panel members as part of this report.
7.In the HTCAA, the liaison between the TFB and the Container Depot and Repairer Association (CDRA) for the implementation of the Code of Practice (COP) as recommended by the Port Back-up Land and Open Storage Requirements Study for environmental improvement has proved successful. All the 13 existing use undertakings occupying a total area of 34.94 hectares implemented COP as far as is possible taking into account the circumstances of each particular undertaking.
8.As part of the administrative arrangements, the TFB is now in a situation where it will be sending out offers of Short Term Waivers/Short Term Tenancies (STW/STT) to all landowners/operators who have completed the IEIW works within these two action areas.
9.Work is well underway in the second open storage action area known as the North District (East Action Area) (NDEAA) which comprises strips of land 70m wide either side of Sha Tau Kok Road north of Lung Yeuk Tau, and Ping Che and Lau Shui Heung Roads. A total of 286 undertakings on private land have been identified which occupy an area of 41.78 hectares (plus 8.16 hectares of government land). The number of EU undertakings totals 137 comprising 23.40 hectares. The TFB has so far considered 84 undertakings comprising 15.12 hectares for IEIW works. A total of 11 undertakings comprising 2.26 hectares have completed IEIW works and it is intended that notification of IEIW works be made to all EU undertakings in the immediate future with a view for completion of the IEIW by the end of 1997/early 1998. Clearance of illegally occupied government land has virtually been completed totalling 2.80 hectares. A total of 0.94 hectares have been landscaped. The remaining land will be landscaped upon completion of the road works in the area. The TFB has maintained liaison with the relevant works agencies dealing with the road projects on all landscaping aspects.
10.Also within the NDEAA, because some of the undertakings have substantial structures and the zoning permits use on a permanent basis, rather than continue with the temporary land use approval approach, the TFB has contacted the landowners/operators with a view to ascertain whether or not they are interested in a land exchange which would allow conversion to low density industrial/godown use on a permanent i.e. 50 years lease basis. A total of 22 undertakings/sites were approached out of which 14 positive responses involving a total private land area of about 4.5 hectares have been received. These cases are now being processed by TFB on land exchange basis.
11.Within the second container action area known as the Tuen Mun Container Action Area (TMCAA), a total of 6 undertakings occupying 9.63 hectares are actionable by the TFB. Liaison is underway on the implementation of the COP. Parallel action is underway on a third container action area known as the So Kwun Wat and Tai Lam Chung Container Action Area (SKTLCAA) where six undertakings totalling 8.28 hectares have been identified for implementation of the COP.
12.As well as taking action in the various container action areas, the TFB also carried out an updating exercise in order to ascertain full details of all container related uses throughout the New Territories. This exercise was carried out to provide the necessary information for Third Review of the Port Development Strategy. It took some 6 months to complete and the relevant information has now been passed to all the relevant offices in the Administration. It has proved to be a useful contribution towards the determining of requirements for this Strategy.
13.Another survey has commenced to identify EU undertakings in the third open storage action area at Ha Tsuen which comprises strips of land 70m wide either side of Lau Fau Shan, Ping Ha, Tin Ha and Hung Tin Roads. Government land totalling 12.47 hectares along the above main Roads has already been cleared and 10.57 hectares of land is being landscaped.
New Initiative Sites
14.The TFB has continued to actively work with Planning Department to identify suitable alternative sites for both open storage and container related uses. A total of about 37 hectares of land have been identified by Planning Department in conjunction with TFB and other government departments as suitable for open storage uses. A paper is shortly to be submitted by TFB to Finance Committee for approval for funding of the necessary infrastructure to make these areas more available for open storage and container related uses. The request will specifically concern three sites :-
Site 1 - Ping Che (15.8 ha)
15.The site presently falls within an area zoned "Agriculture" on the draft Ping Che and Ta Kwu Ling Outline Zoning Plan No. S/NE-TKL/1. It is proposed to rezone the site to "Open Storage". The site is mostly left fallow and adjoins "Open Storage" and "Industrial (Group D)" zones. There are no major villager clusters or other sensitive uses nearby except the Ping Che Village off the southwestern corner of the site.
Site 2 - Sheung Shui Wa Shan (about 10.32 ha)
16.The subject site is presently zoned "Agriculture" ("AGR") on the draft Fu Tei Au and Sha Ling Outline Zoning Plan No. S/NE-FTA/1 gazetted on 24.6.1994. It is proposed to rezone the site from "Agriculture" to "Other Specified Uses (OU)" annotated "Container Trailer / Tractor Park". The majority of the site has been formed and left vacant. The site was previously occupied by a number of unauthorised development (UDs) to the extent that reversion to agricultural use is impracticable. The site is considered suitable for port back-up facilities including container trailers / tractors park, heavy vehicle parking and ancillary repairing activities as it is located adjacent to Man Kam To Road and is in close proximity to the border.
Site 3 - Ping Shan
17.The site has already been zoned "Open Storage" on the relevant OZP. Out of the 20 ha land, 11 ha are still vacant, most probably due to a lack of internal access. In order to facilitate the open storage developments, an internal access road will be provided which is scheduled for completion in year 2003.
18.The TFB will carry out all associated resumption and clearance to facilitate implementation of these infrastructure works.
19.Furthermore, two other sites as follows are being actively pursued by the TFB, both close to the Man Kam To Border Crossing :-
ORB Hill, Sheung Shui
20.The TFB is actively negotiating with Sheung Shui Village Council to bring on stream a site of 2.76 hectares of land for container tractor / trailer parking by way of a direct grant on a Short Term Tenancy.
Fu Tei Au, Sheung Shui
21.This is a site identified by TFB and comprises 1.52 hectares of government land. Following discussions with other departments, the TFB has submitted a s16 application under the Town Planning Ordinance to the Town Planning Board to use this site for a 4-storey tractor/trailer parking / vehicle repairing and ancillary use development. The proposed use follows recommendations made in the Port Back-up Land and Open Storage Requirements Study. If this is approved, the site will be cleared and disposed of on the open market.
Special Committee on the Cleaning Up of Black Spots in the New Territories
22.The Special Committee has held a total of 13 meetings, the last meeting being held on 29 May 1997. Because of the unfortunate passing away of the Chairman, Dr The Hon Samuel Wong Ping Wai, MBE, JP and the fact that the current term of the Special Committee expires in November 1997 a decision was taken to advance the appointment of the new Special Committee. Arrangements are currently in hand for the appointment of members.
Consultation and Publicity
23.Consultation has continued to take place with the North Yuen Long and Tuen Mun District Board and their sub-committees. The TFB has also regularly briefed the Rural Committees. The written and electronic media have been accorded interviews with staff as and when interviews have been requested and the announcement of public interest has continued to be broadcast on television and radio from time to time. The TFB participated in the Sha Tin Flower Show in March 1997 and gave considerable publicity to its work.
24.The TFB has also revised its publicity pamphlet and a copy of this is readily available at all District Offices.
25.The TFB will continue to work through the Ten-year Rolling Programme and will make every effort to keep to schedule and hopefully even speed up work. The programme dictates that at any one time two open storage areas will be tackled concurrently with one container action area.
26.One of the problems that has to be faced is the upkeep of the standard of the IEIW in the actioned areas and to this extent the TFB is looking at its resources with a view to deploying a team to inspect the completed undertakings on a rotational basis. This workload will obviously increase over time as more and more undertakings complete the IEIW.
27.The Ten-year Rolling Programme covers only the immediate roadside area in the open storage action areas. It will still be necessary to tackle the hinterland.
28.The TFB will continue to seek co-operation from the public in its work and todate it is satisfying to note that very little adverse comments have been made on what has been achieved so far. The TFB will however try to be pro-active and look for new ways of dealing with EU undertakings and bringing about improvement to the environment.
29.Members will note that the forthcoming resumption work the TFB will be carrying out for the infrastructure for the new initiative sites, the on-going maintenance of IEIW standards and the requirement to tackle the hinterland, will mean that the TFB will run considerably beyond its current 5 year life which expires in 1999. The Administration will be looking at the question of the permanency of the TFB in the light of these on-going commitments.
PROGRESS OF WORK OF THE CENTRAL ENFORCEMENT AND PROSECUTION SECTION, PLANNING DEPARTMENT(CEPS)
Progress of Planning Enforcement
30.As a response of the Administration to the community's growing aspiration to control the haphazard developments in the rural area of the New Territories, the CEPS was established in July 1994 to step up statutory planning enforcement action against unauthorized development (UDs). These developments are not only eyesores of our countryside and they have caused traffic congestion, flooding and other environmental problems. The CEPS is responsible for a total of 17,640 ha of land subject to statutory planning enforcement control under the Town Planning Ordinance (Plan 1).
31.After three years of persistent enforcement and prosecution actions undertaken by the CEPS, the unscrupulous proliferation of UDs has been broadly controlled. The progress of CEPS work is summarized at Table 1. Up to 1 October 1997, a total of 659 UD cases occupying about 186 ha of land had been discontinued and another 237 UD cases occupying about 112 ha had been regularized through the planning application system. The effect of planning enforcement was particularly obvious in North East New Territories, Sai Kung, Pat Heung Pilot Action Area, North District (East) Action Area and Mui Wo Fringe Area. Some successful cases are shown in Photos 1-4.
32.As regards prosecution, a total of 168 cases (involving 408 defendants) had been prosecuted. The overall conviction rate for the UD cases was 98%. The fines imposed by the court were generally low and the average fine was about $40,000. However, it is worth noting that a record high fine of $300,000 has recently been imposed by the court in a direct prosecution case against an unauthorized container yard in Mai Po. While the fine of this case seems to have an impact on the operators of the trade and in the Mai Po area, it might not have the same deterrent effect on UD operators of other trades in other parts of rural NT unless heavier fines are imposed by the Magistrates on those cases as well. To strengthen the deterrent effect of prosecution actions, CEPS would continue with its efforts, in consultation with the Department of Justice, to initiate proceedings to request the court to review those fines which are manifestly low.
33.In order to restore degraded rural land to a more acceptable condition, a proactive approach has been taken by CEPS for the environmentally sensitive areas. Statutory reinstatement actions have been taken on 32 UD sites so far, resulting in about a total of 10.1 ha of land being restored. The reinstatement work includes landscaping and removal of eyesore, restoration of drainage channel/stream course, and prevention of local flooding.
34.Despite the above encouraging achievements, there is still some way to go before the problems of UDs in rural New Territories could be resolved. Up to 1 October 1997, there were still 242 hectare of land (795 cases) occupied by active UDs. Alleged UD cases are also reported to CEPS through public complaints and referrals from other departments. Actions are being taken to tackle these UDs in order of priority.
Concerted Efforts with TFB
35.Special teams have been set up within CEPS to work in collaboration with TFB on the common objective of cleaning up the environmental black spots in Pat Heung Pilot Action Area (PHPAA), the Ha Tsuen and Lau Fau Shan Container Action Area (HTCAA) and the North District (East) Action Area (NDEAA).
36.In PHPAA, up to 1 October 1997, concerned parties of 83 cases (14.7 ha) have been served with enforcement notices and reinstatement notices. Defendants of 31 cases have been prosecuted and convicted. As a result of strong and persistent planning enforcement, 121 cases (20 ha) have been discontinued and 56 cases (11.4 ha) have been regularized through planning application system. At present, there are only 78 UDs (12 ha of land) that require further enforcement actions.
37.Regarding NDEAA, concerned parties of 68 cases (13.4 ha) have been served with enforcement and reinstatement notices. Defendants of 25 cases have been prosecuted and convicted. Subsequent to enforcement and prosecution actions, 72 cases (14 ha) have been discontinued and 10 cases (2.5 ha) regularized. Further enforcement actions are still required for another 54 UDs occupying 7.7 ha of land.
38.Unauthorized developments within HTCAA mostly involve container depots for which there is an acute demand. As such, CEPS has been following a realistic strategy in enforcing these unauthorized depots. Thus, enforcement efforts have been focused primarily on containing the proliferation of unauthorized depots in Ha Tsuen and on enforcing those with major environmental, traffic and drainage problems. So far, 5 cases (6.2 ha) have been served with enforcement notices and operators of 8 cases have been prosecuted and convicted. 7 unauthorized container depots (10.4 ha) have been discontinued and 6 (7.9 ha) regularized after planning enforcement. To prevent the occurrence of new unauthorized depots, CEPS has been taking a very active approach in containing the problem. Whenever massive landfilling activities are detected, warning letters would be issued to concerned landowners to caution them not to use their land for UDs. This approach is successful in curbing the proliferation of unauthorized depots in Ha Tsuen.
Identification of New Open Storage Sites
39.There has been 374 ha of land reserved on the rural NT statutory plans for open storage or container back-up uses. Another 192 ha of land have also been zoned "Industrial" and "Industrial (Group D)" which could be used for vehicle workshops and related uses. As a continuous effort, the Planning Department, in conjunction with TFB and other departments, has further identified another 33 ha of land suitable for these uses. Some of these new sites have already been put to temporary open storage uses and container back-up uses through the planning permission system, whilst others will be rezoned for such uses by end 1997/early 1998. Additionally, as about half of the land reserved for container back-up, open storage and other related uses have yet to be developed for such uses, further initiatives are being taken, including the provision of funds from TFB, to provide necessary infrastructure to these sites in order to speed up the development of the land for the zoned uses.
Promotion of Public Awareness
40.As a long term effort to prevent occurrence of UDs, it is necessary to promote public awareness of planning enforcement, particularly amongst the land owners in rural New Territories and operators in the trades of container back-up uses and open storage. Apart from broadcasting announcements through mass media, distributing pamphlets and posters during site inspections, CEPS has issued press release on convicted UD prosecution cases from time to time to promote public awareness of planning enforcement. Moreover, dialogues with operators of various trades and land owners have also been maintained. They have been explained with the rationale of planning enforcement, planning application procedures and reservation of sites on rural Outline Zoning Plans.
41.The Planning Department will continue to carry out its statutory planning enforcement functions vigilantly and sensitively with a view to controlling unscrupulous proliferation of unauthorized developments and to improve the rural environment. Our goal is to channel the UDs to properly planned locations through the planning permission system, as appropriate, rather than to eliminate them roughly. In parallel, the Department also strives to provide more sites for open storage uses to meet the economic needs and it will continue to promote public awareness of planning enforcement. More potential sites for rezoning for open storage uses would be examined particularly in the Planning and Development Studies on Northwest N.T. and Northeast N.T. To improve the efficiency and effectiveness of planning enforcement, the Department is also liaising closely with the Department of Justice for necessary amendments to the Town Planning Ordinance with a view to introducing the amendments to the Legislature in 1998.
Table 1: Progress of Enforcement and Prosecution Actions Taken by CEPS
|1st year of
|2nd year of
|3rd year of
|No. of cases with Warning Letter served
|No. of cases with Enforcement Notice served
|No. of cases with Reinstatement Notice served
|No. of cases with Compliance Notice served
|No. of cases prosecuted
|No. of magisterial reviews
|No. of high court appeals
|No. of judicial review
NB : The numbers inside brackets indicate the total number of notices served.