Villagers in last-minute court plea
Au Shiu-kum regards Tsz Tin Village, where she lived for 30 years and raised four children with her husband, as her home. But now, aged 76, not only has she been forced to move as the government takes back land for development, she has to resettle into a flat that is so small it's 'like a coffin'.
Au is one of six villagers from the orchard- and vineyard-dotted Tuen Mun settlement of 40 families who are objecting to what they say is insufficient compensation for losing their ancestral homes. On the eve of the Mid-Autumn Festival and ahead of a looming Monday deadline to leave, they are mounting a last-minute bid to fight a government eviction notice at the Court of First Instance.
Au's son, Chow Siu-kuen, 41, reluctantly accepted the Housing Authority's offer of a HK$3,700-per-month, 332-sq-ft rental flat in bustling Yau Ma Tei in exchange for their six-bedroom house with a garden on a 2,500-sq-ft plot for fear they and his three-year-old daughter would be left homeless.
'It is hard to say the housing arrangement is satisfactory,' their barrister, Adrian Leung, said yesterday. For the older Au, he said, moving into the flat was like 'asking her to sleep in a room like a coffin'.
The director of lands informed the villagers of the decision to use their land for redevelopment in 2007 and issued a clearance notice advising that they had to leave in July this year. The government offered HK$474 per sq ft as compensation for the land and, for some families, additional sums as further compensation.
The six villagers filed applications to review the clearance order and stop the government from demolishing their homes. Yesterday, dozens of villagers crowded into court for a hearing. Mr Justice Johnson Lam Man-hon will give his ruling by Monday, the last day on which the government has promised not to take action in the area.
The villagers say the Land (Miscellaneous Provisions) Ordinance section under which the government has told them to leave is inconsistent with the Basic Law and the Bill of Rights Ordinance.
While they have the option of a judicial review, they argue it is not adequate, and while the Lands Tribunal can deal with issues of compensation for land, it does not deal with the loss of their homes or disturbance.
'In any case in which the issue might arise as to the timing, the reasonableness of offers - housing, where are they, are they suitable - these need to be examined by a court,' said Philip Dykes SC, barrister for the villagers.
Benjamin Yu SC, for the government, said that when the chief executive in council decides to resume land, it must consider whether there is a pressing social need and whether it serves a legitimate aim. The government was not obliged to give ex gratia payments or offer relocation.
People accepted the housing offer for fear of being left homeless
A six-bedroom house on 2,500 square feet of land had to be swapped for a flat in Yau Ma Tei of, in square feet: 332