Backing for taller village houses rises

Government advisers say three-storey policy wastes land, but critics say demand will never be met while indigenous right to build remains

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 October, 2012, 12:55pm

A rising chorus that includes government advisers is calling for the three-storey height limit on village houses to be raised as a way to cope with a land shortage.

One rural leader suggested the small-house policy be changed to legalise unauthorised structures - the target of an ongoing government crackdown.

Critics warned that if officials altered the policy instead of ending it, the city would be heading in a "dangerous direction".

The latest comments on the long-debated issue came a day after Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po wrote in a newspaper column that an appraisal of the four-decade-old policy was necessary but would take a long time.

A way out of the problem would be to change the three-level format to multiple storeys, said Marco Wu Moon-hoi, a member of the Long Term Housing Strategy Steering Committee, picking up on an idea explored in the early 2000s.

"The three-storey rule does not utilise land resources efficiently," Wu, who advised Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying during his election campaign, said yesterday.

"Small houses have a different historical background and legal issues … There has to be discussions with indigenous villagers to reach a win-win solution."

Fred Li Wah-ming, also on the steering committee, agreed. Li said the government could subsidise construction of the taller residences in exchange for villagers surrendering their rights to build a small house.

The existing policy gives male indigenous villagers the right to build a three-storey house on a 700 sq ft site close to their ancestral homes. Critics say the law is discriminatory and open to abuse for profit.

Junius Ho Kwan-yiu, chairman of the Tuen Mun Rural Committee, said he would welcome a review of the policy, hoping it would cut the waiting list of small-house applications.

"But any change must not reduce the home size to which we are entitled," he said.

Ho said top leaders of rural body Heung Yee Kuk were "ambivalent" about the crackdown on illegal structures. He told 300 villagers at a seminar not to comply with a scheme to register their infringements as it ran against the legal right to remain silent in a criminal procedure.

Ho also urged officials to let villagers submit building plans to legalise their illegal structures, such as rooftop glass houses.

Lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan, of the Labour Party, said going high-rise would not satisfy the unlimited demand for village houses unless officials drew a line to stop the policy.

Professional Commons member Albert Lai Kwong-tak also warned that such a change would be dangerous. "It will open the floodgates [to more problems]," he said.

Meanwhile, housing minister Anthony Cheung Bing-leung said the redevelopment of the old airport site at Kai Tak was being reviewed. He would not say if a planned stadium would be dumped for more housing space.