Elderly livelihoods at stake as Hong Kong government eyes brownfield development sites
Hundreds of indigenous villagers in Hung Shui Kiu face losing vital rental income as a result of new town plan
At least 400 elderly indigenous villagers in Hung Shui Kiu could lose their livelihoods under a government plan to resume their land to build a new town.
Tang Kwan-shing, chairman of the New Territories Open Storage Operators Limited, said some of the 190-hectare brownfield sites in the 714-hectare Hung Shui Kiu new development area were ancestral land collectively owned and rented out for industrial businesses.
He added that many co-owners, especially elderly villagers, lived off the divided monthly rental income made from the sites.
“The elderly do not have a pension and they rely on this monthly income to survive,” Tang said. “If the government takes away their land, they will have nothing.”
Tang owns an agency that manages about 800,000 square feet of brownfield land near Ha Tsuen village, which would be affected by the development plan.
His agency leased the land from around 4,000 co-owners, including 400 aged 60 or older, at 70 cents per sq ft then rented it out at market prices for operations such as container yards, recycling fields or warehouses.
The agency would take 30 per cent of the rental income while the remaining would be divided among the co-owners, with the elderly receiving a larger share.
Rents in Hung Shui Kiu range between HK$2 and HK$10. Assuming an average rent of HK$5 for the land Tang manages, his agency would earn almost HK$640,000 per month while each co-owner, depending on age, may receive HK$800 to around HK$1,300 per month.
It was unclear how many of the 190-hectare brownfield sites were collectively owned and how many elderly in total would be affected.
The government’s compensation policy, which applies to Hung Shui Kiu, states that owners of agricultural land affected by new town development plans may be offered a payout of HK$1,034.40 per sq ft.
The compensation policy is adjusted every six months by the Lands Department.
Assuming all the brownfield sites that Tang is involved in are agricultural land, the government may need to pay some HK$830 million in compensation, with each co-owner to receive about HK$207,000.
Tang said the estimated compensation payout would simply not be enough to support elderly villagers for the rest of their lives.
Ha Tsuen village chief Tang Yuk-kwan, who is involved in a 100,000 sq ft collectively-owned piece of land, urged the government to raise compensation levels to at least HK$1,500 per sq ft. He said the public should not demonise indigenous villagers as bullies, and that many of the affected landowners were ordinary citizens.
But Roger Nissim, an adjunct professor at the University of Hong Kong and former senior lands official, said if the villagers were not happy with their compensation, the system allows them to appeal their case to the Lands Tribunal.
“If they think the land is worth more, prove it,” Nissim said.
Dr Ng Cho-nam, a geography associate professor at HKU, said disorganised and polluting brownfield operations in Hung Shui Kiu had worsened the local environment and affected property prices.
“The villagers are paying a price,” said Ng. “[If they oppose the development plan], it will be a lose-lose situation.”
Ng said a new town would tidy up the local environment and provide infrastructure, meaning property prices would go up, benefiting indigenous villagers whose villages were not affected by the plan.
Urban studies professor Yip Ngai-ming of City University said many brownfield sites might have been seriously contaminated by all sorts of unregulated industrial operations. He said even if the government did not resume the land, villagers would find the property’s value would decrease due to pollution, and would face hefty costs to clean it up for redevelopment.
He added that the government could try to encourage villagers to actively participate in planning by offering incentives, such as setting up long-term investment funds with the compensation payouts, for the affected villagers.