So many unanswered questions about Wang Chau housing development

Government needs to say clearly what it plans to do with the New Territories site to dispel suspicion over its actions

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 September, 2016, 12:52am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 September, 2016, 5:56pm

The way the Lands Department has been granting short-term leases to those who illegally occupy government land may seem like a minor example of maladministration. But at least in the case of the government’s public housing development plan in Wang Chau, Yuen Long, this rental practice called “regularisation” could have an adverse impact on housing and planning in the New Territories.

The history of the Wang Chau development plan is complicated. So far, top officials from Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and transport and housing chief Anthony Cheung Bing-leung have declined to reveal how they have come to radically scale down the development from 17,000 public flats to just 4,000.

The government now claims the 4,000 flats are just the first phase of the overall development, while the 17,000 target is still in force. However, many people familiar with the project said this was the first time they had heard of the phase-in development plan, leading to accusations that the government is trying to come up with any excuse to cover up God-knows-what.

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One major issue – which we now know thanks to legislator-elect Eddie Chu Hoi-dick and the subsequent admission of the Lands Department – is that there are some 20 tenancy agreements granted under regularisation. These leases cover about 1.2 hectares of public land, straddling the 3.8 hectares that are being earmarked for the original Wang Chau development plan.

This makes it look like the department is helping those illegal occupiers of public land – some of whom are rural bosses with alleged triad connections – to establish facts on the ground and continue their business, thereby forcing the government to scale back development as a result.

That, at any rate, is what Chu and his supporters allege, and it’s not unreasonable. Here is the best case I can make out for the government. Given the 4,000 projected flats are just the first phase and that all the “regularised” leases are short term, there should be no problem for the next phase of building once the leases expire and the occupiers are gone.

This is the most charitable interpretation for the government. But to be convincing, officials need to present a serious and concrete timeline for the whole development. So far we have not seen it.