Find the will for a new village way
Leung Chun-ying and Henry Tang Ying-yen offered what looked like policy proposals in developing the New Territories when they met rural leaders on Saturday. But both men seemed more eager to please the powerful Heung Yee Kuk, which represents villagers' interests, than seriously address the real issues, which have to do with land rights and village houses.
The present administration has been relatively tough with the kuk in its stance on absorbing enclaves owned by villagers into country parks, and on policing illegal structures on village houses. That's the right direction. The city cannot have a law for urban areas and another in the New Territories.
But that puts both men in a tight spot. The kuk has 28 votes on the election committee, so the two chief executive hopefuls cannot afford to antagonise them. Tang's offer of relaxing the long-standing three-storey height limit on village houses must be music to the kuk's ears. But without proper planning for roads and other infrastructure, allowing multi-storey houses in villages would only make things worse. Leung bypassed the issue, focusing on developing a restricted border area into a business centre.
The lack of development planning and confused zoning for village houses has turned large swathes of the New Territories into eyesores. Illegal use of land as depots for car storage or dump sites has made matters worse.
Better development and zoning plans - along with protection of country parks - are the only long-term solutions. They should help boost property values and ease land supply, despite some restrictions on villagers' activities. Urbanites and villagers should therefore support them. But we need a government with the will and vision to carry them through.