My Take

Small-house moves worthy of Machiavelli

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 January, 2013, 3:04am

Perhaps town and country just don't get along. This may be why urbanites like yours truly are always picking on the Heung Yee Kuk, the powerful rural body that represents indigenous villagers in the New Territories.

After I wrote another rant on the government's small-house policy last week, two readers wrote back with far more sophisticated analyses.

One has worked for a long time on assignment in hundreds of villages. Due to the topic's sensitivity, I cannot disclose the person's identity. The other is the Southern District councillor and city planning advocate Paul Zimmerman.

Both argue there is no real hope of reversing the policy, which gives every indigenous male villager over the age of 18 the right to build a three-storey home in his village - to the detriment of development planning across the New Territories.

My reader believes the government is only using the policy as a convenient lever to get the kuk to play ball on other issues. This is almost Machiavellian - and not necessarily in the public interest. Ever wonder why the kuk and NT villagers suddenly dropped their violent opposition to the government's professed crackdown on their illegal structures? It can't be a coincidence that once Leung Chun-ying took over as chief executive, the government has softened its line on reviewing the small-house policy.

The reader wrote: "The kuk will be banking on the tortuous legal process which will stretch out enforcement (against illegal structures) for a decade or more and which they hope may be later quietly downsized, and the government will be able to show continuity of intent and action without incurring the usual violent villager protests."

Meanwhile, Zimmerman argues the least bad option may be for the policy to drag on until the supply of land runs out. Development chief Paul Chan Mo-po has estimated there are about 933 hectares left of rural land originally earmarked for the building of small houses. Once it is used up, the government can simply say there is no more land. This would dispense with the need to compensate male villagers, which would be required if the policy were formally scrapped.