Hong Kong planning officials are being accused of looking the other way when a powerful former village chief and his family allegedly broke land development regulations.
Green group Conservancy Association said the Planning Department stood aside to allow former Heung Yee Kuk chairman Lau Wong-fat and his family business to fill five Yuen Long fish ponds and turn them into farmland, Apple Daily reports.
It said the move contravened the Town Planning Ordinance which prohibits such conversions.
Backed by official aerial photographs, the group said the five ponds covered 2.13 hectares in Ha Pak Nai in July 2006 but were gone three years later.
The group said the ponds are part of the landholding of a company owned by Lau, his wife and son Kenneth who succeeded him as village chief.
The company applied to the Town Planning Board in 2007 and 2008 to build residential homes, vacation homes, a hotel and a golf course on the land but these were rejected by the government amid a public outcry, Conservancy Association said, citing its own investigation.
In 2014, part of the land was turned into a vertical farm by SCATIL, a company owned by the younger Lau, which claims its hydroponic technology raises clean and high-quality vegetables, it said.
Conservancy Association campaigner Leung Tak-ming said the Planning Department and SCATIL colluled in the illegal development of the land.
Town planning regulations prohibit such conversions but allow the Town Planning Department to authorize an applicant to restore land to its previous condition within a certain period.
The department said it approved the land restoration after considering “various factors and risks”.
Meanwhile, Kenneth Lau told Ming Pao Daily that his company followed normal application procedures and received approval for the vertical farm from the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, as well as the Lands Department.
He said the Planning Department was satisfied with its efforts to make the land eco-friendly.
The association said the Planning Department’s ambiguous guidelines encourage land owners to circumvent town planning regulations.
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