The small-house policy has disrupted land supply, spoiled the environment and created a lack of equal opportunity. Short of the political will to scrap it, the government's hand will be forced only by pressure of the demand for land. Meanwhile it should be alert to any organised attempt to pervert the policy itself, rather than leaving itself open to the claim of turning a blind eye that has been levelled at development minister Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor. Lam told lawmakers last week she sees no need for an investigation of a questionable land deal in Wong Chuk Yeung in a Sai Kung Country Park enclave where, as this newspaper revealed, villagers have agreed to sell their land and building rights to a developer in return for HK$500,000 or a free flat in the development. This is a violation of the policy that allows adult male indigenous residents to build a three-storey house once in a lifetime in their villages, but bans prior agreements on the sale and disposal of their interests. Lam said officials would be 'alert and sensitive' in dealing with any small-house applications in the village, but a probe was not yet justified because the government had not received any small-house applications from villagers [acting in collusion with the developer]. 'We will not spend our limited manpower and resources in probing this case,' she said. This raises some questions. What does it take to spur the government into meaningful deterrent action against exploitation of a privilege that has outlived its justification? Lam herself effectively admitted earlier this month that the policy is unsustainable because the government is struggling to find suitable land to meet record levels of demand from villagers to exercise their right. That is no wonder when it encourages privileged property investment and speculation. The latest abuse is an egregious example that makes nonsense of the government's claim that the primary objective of the small-house policy was to maintain the cohesiveness of the village clan. The indigenous residents of Wong Chuk Yeung have, after all, long since moved out and scattered - some to Britain. In fact the objective when the policy was introduced in 1972 was to temporarily fix a housing shortage and improve hygiene and sanitation in the New Territories. That reason hardly applies now, or justifies attempts backed by the powerful rural representative body, the Heung Yee Kuk, to turn it into an inalienable right to build houses. The policy is not only outdated and unsustainable but discriminates against women and all urban residents. It no longer has a place in Hong Kong. If it continues it will place increasing pressure on sustainable land-use policies. The Wong Chuk Yeung affair is a reminder that if the city is to have balanced, planned development, the policy must be brought to an end. Putting it off only makes it politically harder.