Heung Yee Kuk leader faults lack of action on small-house policy
Rural leader says he is 'disappointed' in Leung administration's failure to discuss review of policy or address New Territories land shortage
Heung Yee Kuk chairman Lau Wong-fat expressed disappointment at the lack of action by Leung Chun-ying's administration's on reviewing the New Territories small-house policy, despite his election pledge to tackle it.
"I was disappointed. There was no meeting [with us on the policy]. No working group was set up," he said in an interview with the South China Morning Post.
"It's already more than a year after his appointment. The policy is apparently not his priority."
Lau said neither Leung nor Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor had approached him to talk about the policy, under which every male villager on reaching the age of 18, can apply to build a three-storey house of no more than 2,100 sq ft on ancestral land or government land bought for about two-thirds of the market value.
It was introduced as a temporary measure in 1972, but no end date for the scheme was set and it has been criticised as discriminatory and open to abuse for profit.
Lam, who was the development chief in the last administration, has repeatedly warned that there is limited land to satisfy the infinite demand from villagers. Before her appointment as chief secretary, she proposed ending the policy.
Leung pledged during his election campaign in 2011 that the problem would be "settled" in his tenure. "At least solutions should be raised and explored in my tenure if I'm elected," he said.
Lau questioned the government's determination to cope with the land shortage for village houses, in contrast to its quest for land for urban dwellers. But he said he was open to discussion on the future of the policy after 2047, when the 50-year lifespan of Hong Kong's "one country, two systems" arrangement ends.
"I'm flexible to any suggestion, as long as they are not threatening villagers' interests," he said.
The rural leader, who will turn 77 next month, floated an idea to make better use of resources by reducing the amount of land occupied by village houses. He said Hong Kong could draw lessons from the redevelopment of urban villages in Shenzhen, where villagers are allowed to build residential blocks as tall as 30 storeys under certain conditions.
"Raising the three-storey houses to six storeys is not impossible. The safety issues can be worked out by engineers," Lau said, citing another option.
"If 1,000 sq ft per storey is safe, then each family will only take two storeys. Six storeys will be able to accommodate three families, meaning one house will become three."
Despite development chief Paul Chan Mo-po's earlier remarks that the policy warranted a review, a Development Bureau spokeswoman declined to say if one had begun.
She said the issue required careful study of land, the environment and the law. The bureau could not provide an update of how many village houses were approved this year. The policy was re-examined in 2005, when the then Housing, Planning and Lands Bureau set up an interdepartmental panel to look into it, but it yielded no results.