New Territories villagers fear way of life will be lost with homes

Minimal compensation and, for the lucky, a public flat await those who will be displaced if two controversial new towns get approval

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 June, 2014, 12:27pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 June, 2014, 8:32pm

When Kwu Tung North villager Ko Tat-ze’s husband died four years ago, she drew comfort from the fact that he would be laid to rest according to his final wish.

“Before his death, he reminded everyone that his roots were embedded in this village; that he was born here, raised here and that he would die here,” the 60-year-old says.

“When I go, I want to die in this same village too. I know for certain I will meet him again.”

But the prospects of Ko getting her wish are becoming slimmer as the government ramps up preparation work for Kwu Tung North, among several other villages, to make way for the development of two new towns in the northeastern New Territories.

Their woes help explain the high-profile protests outside the Legislative Council building last week and threats of more demonstrations tomorrow. But the likelihood is growing that thousands of villagers will have their homes razed to the ground as early as 2018.

Because their villages were established after the New Territories were leased to Britain in 1898 they are considered “squatters” and are not entitled to have their villages relocated when developers move in. The most they can expect is a public flat and HK$600,000 per household.

The uncertainty of what is to become of Ko’s village lingers over her and other villagers like a dark cloud. Ko says she is constantly uneasy and can never get a good night’s sleep.

“I really just want to stay here. I don’t want to move,” Ko pleads. Teary-eyed, she reminisces about the good old days when her hens used to lay 20 eggs in a batch, pigs roamed the village and ducks grew as big as geese.

Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po claims the dual-town project will offer 36,600 subsidised flats and 24,100 private homes at a time when the city is badly in need of housing.

Displaced villagers who qualify for public housing will probably be able to relocate easily, but those who do not will have to find a new place to call home.

Opponents say it is unfair to make them give up their homes.

“The government says it is trying to build homes for the next generation, but what about our homes?” Li Yin-fong, who has lived in Kwu Tung North for some 20 years, asked.

She is baffled as to why nearby indigenous villages - established before 1898 - and the 170-hectare Hong Kong Golf Club in Fanling escaped inclusion in the plans.

Unlike indigenous villagers shielded by rural interest groups under the powerful and moneyed Heung Yee Kuk, Li says non-indigenous residents have no bargaining power and are thus easy prey for the government.

“We are all Hongkongers. Why do we deserve this treatment?” she asked. “The development plan is unfair. Even my children know the government is not doing this project for them.”

The touted economic benefits have also been dismissed as a farce. “First of all, I won’t even qualify for public housing,” another villager, who gives her name as Big Sister Kuen, says.

“Sure there will be employment opportunities for the young; as cleaners, security guards or in retail. We will just become another Tseung Kwan O or Ma On Shan.

“The young could have had good lives that were self-sustaining; now they will have to work for HK$10,000 a month and struggle to pay the rent. This is not development - it is regression.”

Granny Yuen has been a resident of the village for 50 years. The 60-year-old says she has sustained herself by growing her own food. “I have never asked the government for anything, not even a single dollar. What we have here in this village we built with our own hands,” she said.

“All we ask is that we can live the way we’ve lived all along.”