Mixed reception over plans to change village housing policy

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 March, 2006, 12:00am

Lobby groups, legislators and villagers are at loggerheads over proposed amendments to the controversial small-house policy and its possible eventual abolition.

The government said earlier this week it was considering scrapping the policy, which gives the male line of indigenous families the right to build a three-storey house on a 700 sqft plot at a concessionary price.

It also suggested a pilot scheme to allow villagers in expansion areas in Sha Tin and Yuen Long to build multi-storey houses with a maximum plot ratio of five. Sharing the building with others, they would then be entitled to the same amount of floor area.

Heung Yee Kuk vice-chairman Lam Wai-keung said in a radio interview yesterday that the kuk supported the government's proposal in principle, provided villagers' rights were not eroded as a result.

'For example, if in a village there are 10 people hoping to get housing then it would be better to meet their needs all at once instead of building a 700 sqft, three-storey, building for one person,' Mr Lam said. 'But we have to be very careful because we cannot allow this to affect the indigenous people's legal rights to their land.'

Mr Lam also stressed that there must be a consensus on how to distribute the housing space, though the kuk's main concern was to reduce the backlog of applications.

At the end of January, 11,900 applications had been submitted, of which 9,100 are being processed. An average of 800 to 1,200 approvals are granted each year.

Lisa Hopkinson, researcher with lobby group Civic Exchange, said the government should not rely on the pilot scheme to solve the land shortage problem.

'The pilot scheme clearly cannot be a solution,' Ms Hopkinson said. 'The government does need to ensure planning controls in all existing villages as well as having the political courage to admit that the policy is fundamentally unsustainable and will need to be repealed sooner rather than later.'

She also warned that multi-storey buildings could be damaging to and incompatible with village environments.

A spokeswoman for the Housing, Planning and Lands Bureau said the proposal was preliminary and could not comment further.