The chief of the powerful rural affairs body has softened his opposition to the idea of scrapping in 2047 a policy that allows male indigenous villagers in the New Territories to build three-storey houses.
Heung Yee Kuk chairman Lau Wong-fat expressed willingness yesterday to consider abolishing the decades-old policy in 2047, which would mark 50 years after the handover.
The day before, Lau was confronted by about 200 angry villagers who accused him of siding with the government in its crackdown against illegal structures on village houses. Lau had encouraged rural residents to register their unauthorised installations.
Lau's softer stance deviated from his defiant position in June, when he criticised as "inappropriate" then development chief Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor for mentioning the 2047 proposal.
Asked yesterday if he agreed with the idea, Lau said on radio: "Yes. We should figure out how to resolve the problem in the 30-odd years to come. We would consider win-win solutions."
He said solutions floated by villagers in the past included offering to buy off the rights to a small house, turning the three-storey houses into multi-storey blocks, and giving 18-year-old male villagers a certificate letting them exercise their right later.
The kuk chairman was invited to comment on the policy on radio after David Akers-Jones, a former secretary for the New Territories under the British, said on Tuesday that the government should "bring a stop" to the policy, in place since 1972.
Lau said: "According to the Basic Law, the capitalist system in Hong Kong will remain unchanged for 50 years, and that will be until 2047."
Kuk vice-chairman Cheung Hok-ming, who is also an executive councillor, said both the government and the kuk had agreed it was time to review the policy.
Junius Ho kwan-yiu, a member of the kuk executive committee and critic of Lau, said: "I think it's his personal opinion only. How would you feel if someone told you the capitalist system will end in 2047?"
But Ho did not object to terminating the policy. He said it would end anyhow when there was no more land to build on.
Only villagers who owned a piece of land should be entitled to the right, he said.
Malcolm Merry, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong, said ending the policy in 2047 was not a solution.
"It appears to be a concession, but it's going to cause a lot of trouble. Land will run out before 2047, and the kuk could press for more land, say from country parks.
"If it's indefensible now, why should we wait?"