End 'ding uk' grants before sprawl ruins countryside

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 September, 2007, 12:00am

The government is planning to relax its rules to speed up the building of village houses in the New Territories in response to rising pressure from indigenous villagers.

SCMP, Sept 5

Let's translate this into what it really means - The government is prepared to accept the wholesale destruction of the country parks through gang-run sprawls of unplanned, ramshackle three-storey buildings in order to pander to supposed villagers, most of them long since gone from their villages, who demand satisfaction of sexist 'rights' that are no rights.

These are the facts of what we face with the Planning Department's proposal to allow development of village houses in green belt areas outside village boundaries.

The department says it intends to require that at least half the developments stay within the boundaries but this putative requirement exists only so that you can laugh at the credulity of planning department officials. You can safely regard it as a rule universally breached with impunity right from Day One.

But let's turn to the rights that are no rights. The Small Village House Policy was adopted by the government in 1972 as a temporary measure to relieve pressure for housing in the New Territories.

It allowed any male indigenous villager over the age of 18 to apply to build for himself once in his lifetime a 2,100 square foot house to a maximum of three stories within the boundaries of his village. This is called the 'ding uk' or house for the male descendant.

Note immediately its discriminatory nature. Women are excluded and so are Hong Kong's urban dwellers.

Note also that the 'ding uk' was never a right. It has no foundation in law, either Chinese or British, and specifically permitted the villagers only to apply. It never guaranteed that their applications would be satisfied. It was purely an interim administrative measure intended to complement later more comprehensive plans for the New Territories.

And now think of the scale of what is contemplated here. The Heung Yee Kuk, the New Territories lobby group with two functional constituency seats in the Legislative Council, estimates that 240,000 men at present qualify for the 'ding uk'. Take this times 2,100 square feet of floor space each and you get 504 million square feet of floor area implied in the 'ding uk'. This amounts to about half the total existing housing stock of Hong Kong, both urban and New Territories.

But it doesn't stop at even such ridiculous numbers. The 'ding uk' is an infinite entitlement. Assume that each of these 240,000 qualifying men has one son who survives to adulthood, which only assumes a static population, and within one generation the Kuk will lobby for another 500 million square feet of floor area, and then again one generation later.

It simply cannot be accommodated. It is lunatic even to consider the notion and government really has no choice but to put a complete stop to it. The longer we wait, the worse the problem will grow.

And we have excellent grounds on which to put a stop to it now. Very few of these supposed villagers live in their villages. Walk through the Sai Kung country park, for instance, and you will find that the habitable villages are populated almost exclusively by expatriates or Hong Kong Chinese of urban origin. To find the indigenous villagers, try Britain.

The more remote villages meanwhile are all deserted except for a few old people who live there to sell drinks to hikers on country park trails.

This outcome is the polar opposite of what was intended when the then District Commissioner for the New Territories, Dennis Bray, introduced the Small House Policy in 1972.

In his speech to the Legislative Council, he said: 'Town dwellers looking for weekend bungalow sites or a way into the new towns will be disappointed in this policy ... This policy is for people who need to live in the country now.'

Well, they don't live in the country now and they don't need to. It is the town dwellers who live in the country now and not just in weekend bungalow sites but in permanent homes.

The purposes of the policy have thus been obviated. It was intended as a temporary measure to relieve the housing demand of indigenous villagers and for a time it did so. It no longer does. It should be scrapped now.

Let's make it plain what we really have here. It is a straightforward hold-up of the public treasury by strident lobbies of ex-villagers who believe they can cow spineless bureaucrats into giving them financial concessions to which they are not entitled.

If they succeed, and they are certainly right about the spinelessness of the bureaucrats facing them, they will destroy our country parks with a singularly ugly development sprawl for which the rest of us must then pay a very steep additional bill in road and service connections.