No eviction for Wang Chau villagers before Lunar New Year, but further compensation unlikely, officials say
Housing Department is tabling proposal to Legco for controversial project, but lawmakers want better scheme to help those affected
Residents of squatter villages affected by a controversial housing project in Wang Chau will not be evicted before the Lunar New Year, but occupants of about 80 homes ineligible for compensation could be left without shelter once plans are completed.
The reprieve was announced by Ada Fung Yin-suen, deputy director of the Housing Department, during a hearing at the Legislative Council’s panel on housing on Monday afternoon.
Lawmakers were asked to endorse the government’s plan to table the HK$2.4 billion preliminary construction cost to Legco’s Finance Committee.
The funding will be used to level hillside land in Wang Chau, Yuen Long, and to build retaining walls and slopes as well as other public facilities such as an underpass and a footbridge.
The infrastructure is needed to prepare for the construction of 4,000 flats in the first phase of a controversial public housing project on a 5.6-hectare green belt site.
The project has drawn heavy public criticism since the government admitted in September last year that it had shelved original plans to develop a nearby 33-hectare brownfield site.
Brownfield sites generally refer to deserted agricultural or rural land used for activities such as open storage. The area in question could have yielded 13,000 more flats.
The decision not to use the brownfield site came after informal discussions with rural strongmen.
At least 180 households – or some 400 people – living in three villages on the green belt site were earlier ordered by the Lands Department to leave by January 2018.
“Land resumption won’t take place before the Lunar New Year in 2018 as the timetable was compressed after a review,” Fung said at the panel meeting on Monday.
The first day of the Lunar New Year is on February 16, 2018.
In August, villagers warned of a “bloody fight” if officials forced them out.
“Residents of non-domestic use structures are not eligible for public housing. People in need of housing due to evacuation will be sent to temporary shelters,” chief estate surveyor of the Lands Department Lily Chiu Lee-lee said.
Under existing regulations, about 50 households in structures that are registered but not under domestic use and 30 households in squatter homes are ineligible for relocation to public flats or an ex gratia subsidy of up to HK$600,000. Officials did not specify how many in this group have been contacted.
Chiu said by the end of October, the department had met 110 of the 180 households, of whom only eight agreed to move into public housing flats nearby.
Eligibility checks are still being conducted on 73 households and about 70 are not yet in touch with authorities.
Lawmakers from the Legco panel said they were unlikely to approve the budget proposal if the government could not roll out a better relocation and compensation scheme.
Addressing housing officials, pro-establishment legislator Leung Che-cheung said: “If you can’t provide a good solution, I will personally oppose your proposal.”
Shiu Ka-chun, a lawmaker representing the social welfare sector, said the government was pushing villagers into temporary shelters that were “like refugee asylums”.
Fung and Chiu said no further compensation would be possible as the government currently had no plans to review its 35-year-old policy.
Officials intend to table the budget proposal to the Public Works Subcommittee in December and the Finance Committee in early 2018. Democrat Wu Chi-wai asked if a new compensation scheme could be submitted to the subcommittee.
“I can’t promise anything before a detailed discussion, but any plan should be negotiable,” Fung said.