Village folk to get early compensation

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 July, 2007, 12:00am

The government yesterday took the unusual step of seeking Legislative Council support for relocating residents of Hong Kong's oldest urban village before proposals for its redevelopment have been finalised.

Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said the unusual compensation-first approach was reasonable for the Nga Tsin Wai project because of the small number of owners and residents involved. She stressed that the proposed arrangement should not be regarded as setting a precedent for other redevelopment projects under the Urban Renewal Authority. Among them is the mega project to redevelop Kwun Tong town centre.

'If relevant parties in other redevelopment projects also hope to be given the same treatment, the financial burden on the Urban Renewal Authority would be more than it could bear,' she told Legco's subcommittee on heritage conservation.

The minister said her department was seeking legal advice about the risk that taking such an approach could trigger applications for judicial review by parties to such projects.

'When formulating a policy, we want to make sure it can withstand the challenge of reason, law and human concerns. But we also do not want to see judicial reviews take place all the time,' she said.

There are only 63 households left in Nga Tsin Wai, Kowloon City - the last surviving urban village in Kowloon. Of the original 127 houses, 59 are left. Residents have been complaining about their dilapidation for years.

Legislators supported the relocation, saying it would end 10 years of suffering for the residents and give the government more bargaining power when dealing with property developer Cheung Kong (Holdings), which owns about 70 per cent of the properties.

Barrister Alan Leong Kah-kit said nobody could rule out the possibility that the proposed solution would spark a judicial review. But Mr Leong, a legislator, said the advance relocation was unlikely to be taken as setting a legal precedent, as long as the situation in Nga Tsin Wai could be shown to be unique.

'The situation where a single property developer has acquired over 60 per cent of the land ownership is uniquely different from the other projects managed by the Urban Renewal Authority. In this sense, if the government can identify such a feature, it will [not set a] precedent,' he said.

Mrs Lam also promised authorities would look into whether archaeologists would be able to dig for historical relics on the village site before a decision was reached on the redevelopment.

Billy Lam Chung-lun, managing director of the Urban Renewal Authority, said the government had pledged to preserve the village's Tin Hau temple, a gatehouse and a stone tablet.