Ministers invite new lawmakers to meet over Yuen Long public housing rumpus

Invitation by development and housing chiefs to Eddie Chu Hoi-dick and Yiu Chung-yim deemed as political move by analyst

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 September, 2016, 11:31pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 September, 2016, 3:02am

Two newly elected lawmakers will grill the housing and development chiefs in a meeting on Thursday on the transparency of a housing project in Yuen Long which they claim has been scaled down due to pressure from rural leaders.

The meeting invitation was extended by Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po – who will be joined by Secretary for Transport and Housing Anthony Cheung Bing-leung – to Eddie Chu Hoi-dick and Yiu Chung-yim after they were elected last week.

The duo have been critical of government land policy, with Chu accusing officials of “colluding” with rural forces and triads.

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A political analyst said the exclusive meeting for the duo was a rare move and would serve to protect the public image of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who may seek re-election.

The area in question is a plot of land in Wang Chau, Yuen Long, where the government will clear three villages to build 4,000 public housing flats.

A spokesman said on Tuesday that this is just the first phase of a 17,000-flat project. The rest of Wang Chau would be developed “according to priority”.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying denied that the move to focus first on the 4,000 flats was bowing to pressure from rural leaders.

Chu, who won a landslide victory after an election pledge to take on rural forces, said yesterday he would question the ministers on the decision.

He has been facing death threats over his rural campaigns.

“I don’t know whether there is any deal made under the table with the rural leaders,” Chu had said in a protest with villagers outside the government headquarters in Admiralty.

“Why does it not want to develop the brownfield first but turn to the villages instead?”

He called on the ministers to disclose records of consultation with rural leaders over the project.

In 2013, the government announced it would develop a 33-hectare site in Wang Chau to build 17,000 flats. The site covers three villages and a brownfield area, including car parks and garages.

But in 2014, the Housing Department informed the district council of a smaller plan, involving a 5.6-hectare area which three villages occupied, to build only 4,000 flats.

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There was no mention of the original scheme.

According to district council chairman Leung Che-cheung, who has close ties with rural leaders, officials met the Ping Shan Rural Committee before the 2014 district council meeting, and rural leaders had expressed reservations about the big project.

Tsang Shu-wo, chairman of the rural committee, objected to the bigger scheme, which would affect his car park business.

The key is the timing as Leung is expected to seek re-election [in March] so his public image is at stake
Political scientist Ivan Choy Chi-keung

A government source told the Post on Wednesday that it was “reasonable” to develop the village area first because infrastructure had already been planned there. For the brownfield site to be inhabited, it would take longer to ­assess the possible impacts.

Political scientist Ivan Choy Chi-keung said the Leung administration has taken up the issue more swiftly than others because housing was one of his key policy areas and any mishandling could be seen as proof of his incompetence.

“The key is the timing as Leung is expected to seek re-election [in March] so his public image is at stake,” Choy said.

“Taking on a group of New Territories villagers does not contradict much of his interests and can help him score points among the public.”

Yiu, the other lawmaker-elect to join the meeting, said he would urge the ministers to take law enforcement actions against Tsang’s car park, part of which had unlawfully occupied government land.

Tsang could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.