Divisions among villagers over new towns give ministers hope
With villagers affected by plans for new towns divided, the government may find this an easier battle to win than national education was
Yesterday's chaotic scenes over government plans to redevelop nearly 800 hectares of land in the northeastern New Territories may have handed hard-pressed government officials a chance to balance the account after losing the first big battle of the new administration, over national education.
Development secretary Paul Chan Mo-po must have quickly seen that there were almost as many vested interests at yesterday's public forum on the plans as there were colourful banners on display.
And, fresh from the national education climbdown, his colleagues in the new government must surely have looked on and smelled an opportunity to employ the time-tested tactic of divide and rule.
Start with the villagers. There are those who refuse point blank to accept the development project because it will wipe out their homes. Then there are those who are more than willing to offer their land - at a price.
Splits in the crowd were clearly illustrated when North District councillor Hau Chi-keung, one of the big land owners in the area, was booed when he voiced support for the government's scheme. "It is my right to sell everything - even my ancestors' temple - if there is a good price,'' Hau said.
Another man, who identified himself only as the representative of Sheung Shui Heung villagers, said they would happily offer their land to the government, as it is currently excluded from the development project.
Next, a woman from TinPing Shan village in Sheung Shui said they would rather their land were bought by the government than face pursuit by property firms, who might use tricks to force them away.
There are a significant number - farmers and those opposed to the perceived "mainlandisation'' of Hong Kong - who are four-square against the plans. But do they have the same force of unity that the anti-national-education movement had?
One participant questioned the need for the government to take farmland to build homes. "The population in Hong Kong is shrinking after the zero quota on mainland births was imposed. It is questionable whether so many homes are still needed for Hongkongers, or whether they are built to serve mainlanders," he said.
Roy Tam Hoi-pong, president of the environmental organisation Green Sense, said it was wrong for the government to use farmland to build homes to serve locals' need while sites in Tseung Kwan O were sold to property developers to build luxury homes for mainlanders.
Meanwhile, activists questioned the government's thinking behind the plan to promote social and economic integration with Shenzhen, claiming it was not for the benefit of Hongkongers but for mainland visitors and investors.
Chan roundly rejected that assertion. "It is a scheme that serves Hongkongers, is directed by Hongkongers and handled by us,'' he said.
He said the government would listen carefully to people's views and be flexible in planning the project, which is intended to provide 53,800 homes for 152,000 people in Ta Kwu Ling and Ping Che, Fanling North and Kwu Tung North.
"We aware that there are some people who farmed in the affected area but are not eligible to receive compensation. We are working with the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department to find new sites for them to farm, and we will consider whether we can offer some compensation to them," Chan said.
The big property developers, too, have a stake in this. They bought up land the government now wants to develop along more social lines, and are not content with out on potential profits from their investments. All are opposed to the plans.