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Wang Chau housing saga

Rural elder calls for brownfield site exchange scheme amid Yuen Long development controversy

Daniel Lam Wai-keung, vice-chairman of powerful rural affairs body Heung Yee Kuk, said landowners could be offered new sites in exchange

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 September, 2016, 8:15pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 September, 2016, 4:32pm

As the government is set to start long-awaited studies on developing the city’s sprawling countryside brownfield sites, a rural elder has called for officials to consider exchanging land with the owners of the sites.

But land experts said the suggestion was not practical as it would be unfair to other affected property owners and that land exchange often involved prolonged discussions which would stall development projects.

A heated debate over brownfield development was triggered after the government’s controversial move to defer a plan to develop public housing on a brownfield site in Wang Chau, Yuen Long, and prioritise another public housing development project on a nearby greenbelt site, which will see three villages displaced. The public has criticised the government, which made the decision after secret meetings with rural strongmen who have vested interests in the brownfield site, for succumbing to pressure.

Housing controversy exposes rift between Hong Kong’s leader and finance minister

Newly-elected lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, who has been fighting to reverse the government’s decision, is now under police protection after receiving death threats.

In a programme on Commercial Radio yesterday , Daniel Lam Wai-keung, vice-chairman of powerful rural affairs body Heung Yee Kuk, said landowners had a right to express their opinions.

“Some people with other purposes have blown things out of proportion,” said Lam.

He said owners of brownfield sites – agricultural land legally or illegally developed into open spaces for operations such as garages, car and container storage and recycling fields – had invested resources to develop the land, and the government should consider giving them other sites in exchange for using the brownfields.

But Lee Wing-tat, chairman of think tank Land Watch, said the government had no land exchange policy when resuming land and that in past development projects, displaced property owners only received compensation.

“This suggestion is not very practical, unless there is a huge policy change,” said Lee.

Lee added that brownfields were often divided into parts owned by different people and that to discuss with each owner about land exchange would be a long and complicated process.

Yuen Long residents fear eviction as government mulls public housing project

The Lands Department told the Post that it had granted 20 businesses that had been occupying the Wang Chau brownfield site illegally short term tenancy contracts on a quarterly basis and that it would pursue the rental these operations should have paid during the illegal occupation period.

According to the department, the contract rental ranged from HK$7,010 to HK$129,080 per quarter, which equals HK$8.8 to HK$157 per sq ft.

Commissioner of Police Stephen Lo Wai-chung said yesterday that officers, who earlier arrested six people involved in Chu’s death threats, had been investigating “in full force” into potential triad links.

Regarding a plan to use lawmakers’ power and privileges to investigate whether the government had made any secret deals with rural leaders, pro-Beijing lawmakers Starry Lee Wai-king, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, and Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, of the New People’s Party, both said such a move would be unnecessary.