The Hong Kong government has received an application for the construction of a village house on a piece of New Territories farmland where waste soil was illegally dumped last year.

Local NGO the Conservancy Association told HKFP it has observed a string of cases in the past few years where landowners deliberately create waste dumps in order to lower the ecological value of rural land. The group said this makes it easier for the plots to be rezoned into housing.

illegal waste soil dump Lam Tsuen Pak Ngau Shek Sheung Tsuen
The waste dump in Tai Po in June 2016.

Last June, NGO Designing Hong Kong found that waste soil was being dumped on a piece of farmland around one hectare in size in Tai Po district. The dump rose to a maximum of six metres in height, and Apple Daily reported that the weight of the soil had caused a river embankment to collapse.

Leung Chi-chun, chief of the Pak Ngau Shek Sheung Tsuen village, told the newspaper that the soil was temporarily placed on the farmland due to nearby work to construct a road and around 20 houses.

The Conservancy Association said on Facebook that the Planning Department later found the dump to be illegal. The department sent the owners of the farmland an enforcement notice in July, and a reinstatement notice in August.

Small house proposal

On June 20 this year, the Town Planning Board announced that it received an application to build a three-storey house on the same piece of farmland.

Public consultation for the application ended on Tuesday, and the Board will deliberate the proposal in mid-August.

illegal waste soil dump Lam Tsuen Pak Ngau Shek Sheung Tsuen
The waste dump Tai Po in June 2016.

“Some landowners feel that destroying farmland and conducting dumping works will increase the chances that their applications to build houses on the plots would be approved,” a spokesperson for the Conservancy Association told HKFP.

“They feel that environmental groups will argue against their applications from an ecological perspective. If they destroy the ecology on the site, people will think it has a low ecological value… and they would use this as an argument to support their plans to build houses.”

See also: Tin Shui Wai waste dump officially becomes golf course

The spokesperson added that many similar cases have occurred in the New Territories. For example, rural strongman Hau Chi-keung dumped waste on an elderly woman’s farmland in Sheung Shui’s Ho Sheung Heung village in 2009 – an act for which he was convicted six years later. But in the meantime, the Town Planning Board approved an application to build housing on the site.

“The Town Planning Board would be setting a terrible precedent by granting permission in this [Tai Po] case,” said the spokesperson. “If [the Board] allows this, then other landlords will destroy their own farmland and then apply to develop it.”

Elson Tong is a graduate of international relations and former investigations consultant. He has also written for Stand News.