The men vying to become Hong Kong's next leader ventured into New Territories politics yesterday, and came out with diverse plans that they hope will ensure the support of the powerful Heung Yee Kuk.
In a meeting with more than 1,000 village representatives, former chief secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen proposed relaxing the height rule on village houses to allow more people to live on each plot of land.
At the same event, former Executive Council convenor Leung Chun-ying said the restricted area along the border should be developed as a new business centre with visa-free entry for mainlanders.
Recent government policy decisions have strained relations between indigenous villagers and the administration, among them plans to absorb into country parks enclaves of land owned by villagers and a crackdown on illegal structures added to village houses.
Yesterday Tang called for better land use in rural areas in the face of strong demand. He suggested the government consider relaxing the three-storey height limit on village houses. 'If we are to fill multi-storey village houses, each villager would not have to have a separate house that occupies one piece of land,' Tang said. He said the height limit could be relaxed to allow six- or nine-storey buildings, and floor sizes could be expanded, so several villagers could live in the same building and have a home on the same plot of land.
Indigenous villagers are now restricted to building houses no more than 8.23 metres high, with each floor 700 square feet in area. Each eligible indigenous villager is entitled to a plot of land, but sometimes they wait years to obtain it.
'I think we can use a new approach and new thinking to make better use of the land,' Tang said.
Leung agreed the height limit on village houses was not the most efficient use of rural land, but he did not offer any solutions, instead calling for deliberation on suggestions. He did propose improving income in rural areas, saying that the government should develop the restricted border zone to become a new business centre offering restaurants, entertainment and financial services.
'If you are asking for new thinking, this is the new thinking,' Leung said.
Kuk chairman Lau Wong-fat said after the meeting that he was good friends with both Tang and Leung, and their plans met his expectations. He said he felt the meeting helped the two better understand rural issues.
The kuk will have 28 representatives on the 1,200-menber Election Committee that will select the next chief executive in March.
Neither Tang nor Leung have declared their candidacies. But Leung said yesterday he hoped to make an announcement soon.