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Hong Kong housing

Hong Kong government must scrap the small-house policy

Research, which shows nearly a quarter of villas built for indigenous villagers may be the result of dodgy deals, should spell the end of the archaic practice

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 January, 2018, 3:46am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 January, 2018, 5:09am

The much-criticised small-house policy has made headlines for the wrong reasons again. According to a land-use concern group, land rights for nearly a quarter of villas built for indigenous villagers in the New Territories are suspected to have been sold to developers through questionable deals.

The allegation is serious and will have profound implications if found to be true. The authorities should look into the matter and follow up accordingly.

The Liber Research Community is to be commended for its hard work. The study has its limitations, but it does give a rough idea of how rampant abuses may be.

The group combed through records of tens of thousands of small houses built over four decades and mapped out some 9,800 villas suspected of being the result of doubtful deals.

Thousands of Hong Kong’s small houses illegally sold to developers

The assessment took into account criteria such as the number of units grouped together and whether they were built in the same design and managed as a residential neighbourhood.

This is not the first time the trading of land rights has come under the public spotlight. In 2015, 11 villagers and a property developer were jailed for defrauding the government in a housing scam linked to the small-house policy.

The Heung Yee Kuk, the statutory body representing the interests of indigenous villagers, said the study could not prove anything and was unfair. But given the room for abuses and the lucrative returns, it would seem premature to dismiss the findings at this stage.

Rural chief refutes claims villagers abused small-house policy

Introduced by the colonial government in 1972 as an interim fix for rural housing, the policy that allows all males born of indigenous origin to build a three-storey villa, with a maximum floor area of 2,100 sq ft, appears to be too good a deal in today’s context.

More than 42,100 villas have since been built, taking up 224 hectares of land in the New Territories. The policy is simply unfair, unjustified and unsustainable.

Previous governments have repeatedly pledged to review the policy but little has been done.

Regrettably, the issue does not seem to be on the agenda of the incumbent government. Now that the study has given fresh impetus for investigation, the government should also review the archaic policy and bring it to an end.