Paul Chan

Hong Kong's land crisis justifies small-house review

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 October, 2012, 10:54am


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Hong Kong's chronic land shortage justifies a review of the small-house policy for indigenous villagers in the New Territories, the development minister said yesterday.

It is the first time the new administration has touched on the sensitive issue.

"Under our current priority to make efficient use of land resources, I agree there is a need to review the small-house policy," Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po wrote in a newspaper column.

"This will inevitably involve issues of law, environment and land planning. It needs to be done cautiously, in discussions with different stakeholders and the public. It cannot be resolved by simple talks or within a year."

Land supply figures released this week show the government has reserved more public land for small houses than for urban housing - 932.9 hectares as opposed to 391.5 hectares.

Responding to calls for vacant sites zoned for village houses to be used for other types of homes, Chan said it was not always feasible, as many sites were fragmented and scattered around existing villages, without roads or sewerage.

However, an examination by the Post of a government map found a number of such sites were conveniently located on the fringes of new towns.

In Sha Tin, a vacant site of about 13,000 square metres lies next to the Yu Chui Court subsidised housing project. That is larger than a public housing site in Kowloon City with 860 flats.

There was also a 15,000 square metre site near the Tai Po Industrial Estate, and sites of 6,000 square metres and 4,000 square metres in Po Sheung Tsuen, Sheung Shui, in North district.

The small-house policy, introduced in 1972, gives male indigenous villagers the right to build a house, usually of three storeys on a 700 sq ft site, close to their ancestral homes, or if that cannot be found, on government land. While intended as a temporary measure, no end date for the scheme was set, and it has been criticised as discriminatory and open to abuse for profit.

Tung Chee-hwa's administration began a review of the policy, including the possibility of allowing buildings with more floors, but it was later shelved.

"Super-seat" lawmaker James To Kun-sun said the policy must end and the government should not reserve land for future generations of villagers when urban residents have a housing problem.

Executive Councillor Barry Cheung Chun-yuen agreed on the need to review the small-house policy, but he said the principle was not to extinguish rights.

"The existing operation is not sustainable," he said.

More than 10,000 applications for village houses are pending.