A Post investigation into village houses offered for sale as part of a managed estate hints at more abuse of the long-criticised Small House Policy.
The policy is intended to give male indigenous villagers in the New Territories the right to build a house close to their ancestral homes. It was created in the 1970s to improve rural housing and the cohesion of rural communities, but conversations with estate agents selling homes on one new estate offer further evidence that it is being abused for profit.
The investigation also hints at pitfalls for buyers, who could end up paying millions for homes that lack essential infrastructure.
The Post, posing as a potential buyer, spoke to agents offering homes at The Parkland development in Ping Yeung, Ta Kwu Ling, which they say is made up of 33 village homes, some of which are divided into one- or two-storey flats.
Records of land transactions for the site indicate that the homes were never intended to be occupied by villagers. Instead, 'dings' [indigenous male villagers entitled to a small house grant] exploited their right to build a small house for a quick profit.
Land records show that two companies bought six lots from the villagers managing the sites, all surnamed Chan, at a cost of more than HK$5.4 million from 1997 to 1999.
The lots were then divided into small sites and sold to villagers, most of whom were also surnamed Chan, some just a few weeks later, others over several years.
In 2007, most of the villagers applied for and were granted building licences under the SHP by the Lands Department, which issued a certificate of compliance, essential for the sale of a village house, for most of the homes in 2010.
The owners of at least six of the homes had sought permission to sell their village homes within a year of their completion.
While one owner paid the government HK$660,000 to secure the right to sell, the price the homes went for gives a clue as to the profits made. With flats selling for almost HK$3 million, indications are that a whole house would go for around HK$7 million.
The fact that only 22 of the 33 houses have been built, with just 16 given a certificate of compliance, also indicates that the villagers had no intention of living there.
'You can reserve [the house] first and move in a few months later when all application processes are completed,' an agent from Chosen Property Agency told the Post.
And while there are healthy profits for developers, buyers who take the plunge at The Parkland face doubts over access to the site and the power supply. Critics say the problems show the dangers of using homes built under the SHP, which are treated by the government as individual homes - to make up an estate.
'It is a serious abuse of the policy. In fact, it is illegal to sell small houses before they are built,' town planner Dr Ng Cho-nam said. 'The victims are buyers, who are exposed to the risk of buying unapproved houses with poor planning. They may end up buying a house without a right of way or a proper sewage system.'
He called for a review of the SHP and for planning controls on village house developments, to ensure estates are planned with basic infrastructure and amenities.
'It is not unreasonable to impose controls, as the approval process for one house is now being abused for the building of a whole estate,' Ng said.
But Yu Wah-sang, a director of Richery Honour Development, one of the developers, said the estate complied with all legal requirements.
Chan Shung-fai, a Northern district councillor and chairman of the Ta Kwu Ling rural committee, said the trend of outsiders buying land in the district was worrying.
'Developers saw the opportunity to reap profit here after the government announced new development plans [for an area near the site of The Parklands],' he said. 'But these small house developments can be as bad as squatters, as they often lack planning, and land conflicts can hold back the development for years, leading to security problems.'
Lawmaker Lee Wing-tat of the Democratic Party urged the incoming government to review the policy and study options for ending it entirely.
The Post reported last year that villagers in Wong Chuk Yeung, Sai Kung, had sold their building rights to a developer and helped it lodge applications to build small house in return for cash or a free flat.
The price, in Hong Kong dollars, that a single-storey flat sold for in The Parkland development, Ping Yeung