Government must stand up against the Heung Yee Kuk for the public good

Rather than appeal, this administration should back the High Court ruling that upset plans to build homes for indigenous villagers on the fringes of country parks under the so-called small-house policy

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 December, 2017, 2:24am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 December, 2017, 2:24am

The government has three weeks left to decide whether to appeal against a High Court ruling that overturned an approval by the Town Planning Board to build small village houses in three country park enclaves.

Its reaction would be a good indication as to whether this administration is still beholden to the powerful Heung Yee Kuk, the rural body that represents New Territories villages, or has the courage to stand up for the public good.

Hong Kong’s court rejects development plans in country parks

The so-called small-house policy that enables indigenous male villagers to build homes on plots of land assigned by the government is controversial enough without encroaching on country parks.

The TPB decision now being overturned would have enabled such an encroachment in three enclaves: Hoi Ha and Pak Lap in Sai Kung, and So Lo Pun in Plover Cove Country Park.

The successful judicial review launched by green activist Chan Ka-lam has done the public a big favour by exposing the cavalier manner in which the board had made its decision.

The judge ruled that the board based its 2014 decision partly on an inaccurate map for coastlines and high tide areas, even though the problems were pointed out to the board at the time.

The court also found that the board failed to verify the genuine housing needs of villagers. Instead, it relied on dubious figures provided by village representatives.

Last month’s ruling is not the final word, though. The government can still appeal. Even if it doesn’t, the plan being thrown back to the board can be revised, this time without making all the obvious mistakes.

Since the previous administration of Leung Chun-ying, the government has been eyeing the fringes of country parks for housing development. It needs land to meet the demands of villagers and developers who are often behind such deals, as well as for public housing.

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This has been fiercely resisted, especially by green groups. But at least in the case of public housing for low-income families, it may be argued that it’s a small sacrifice to build on the fringes of country parks with low ecological value and low usage by visitors.

It’s quite indefensible to do so for small village houses, a colonial-era policy that has proved to be a bonanza for villagers and their developer friends, but is widely recognised as being highly inefficient for land planning and detrimental to the environment.