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Hong Kong housing

Hong Kong rural authority chief refutes claims villagers abused city’s small-house policy

Kenneth Lau Ip-keung says research findings are unfair and unsubstantiated

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 January, 2018, 9:46pm
UPDATED : Friday, 05 January, 2018, 10:42pm

Hong Kong rural authority head Kenneth Lau Ip-keung on Friday rebutted research findings that indicated villagers had been abusing the government’s small-house policy.

He called the study by the Liber Research Community unfair and unsubstantiated, and said officials should work on reforming the policy rather than pointing the finger at rural residents.

Hong Kong’s small-house policy allows indigenous male residents of old villages in the New Territories to build a village house once they reach 18 years old. Entitled villagers can obtain land from the government for the house by paying a discounted or zero land premium. But the policy has drawn much criticism in recent years over cases in which it was being abused for profit.

The study found that close to a quarter of all small houses built over the last four decades were suspected to have been illegally sold to developers through secret contracts.

But Lau, the chairman of the Heung Yee Kuk, a government-recognised advisory body on rural affairs, said “the study just jumped to that conclusion from the land ownership and building designs”.

He accused the community of putting forward unsubstantiated claims.

In many cases the houses were resold legitimately only after the required land premium had been paid to the government, he said. Since the small-house policy took effect in 1972, the total sum paid to the government in premiums was over HK$13 billion, he added.

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Lau, a major landlord who has declared ownership of 14 pieces of land, urged the research organisation to spend more time studying abuses of public housing policy instead, arguing that many owners of government-subsidised flats in urban areas also resold their properties.

The study said many villagers were found to have resold their right to rural land to companies connected with property ­developers, which then built housing estates on the sites. But Lau blamed the small-house policy itself for the situation.

“The policy is not up to date or helpful,” he said. Villagers who held the right to land under the policy should also be allowed to raise funds through banks or other private channels to buy private land to build houses, he said, something the policy did not allow them to do.

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Another rural leader, Hau Chi-keung, also defended the villagers.

He said on a radio show that the fact many houses had been found to have similar architectural designs did not mean developers were involved, but merely demonstrated unity among villagers.