Hong Kong makes HK$550 million pledge to better compensate villagers forced to make way for new towns
Government says move is part of its ‘people-oriented philosophy’ and more than 8,000 households stand to gain from enhanced resettlement measures
Up to HK$550 million (US$70 million) of Hong Kong taxpayers’ money will be spent in the next two decades on more generous rehousing and compensation terms for northern New Territories villagers forced to make way for new town developments.
Secretary for Development Michael Wong Wai-lun said the move was part of the government’s “people-oriented philosophy” and that more than 8,000 households would benefit.
For instance, those who opt for the government’s ex gratia compensation will just need to prove they had lived in their home for two years continuously, instead of 10 years, while the maximum allowance offered to them will double from the current HK$600,000 to HK$1.2 million.
“We completely understand the concerns of those who are affected as a result of development and clearance exercises … therefore, with the new administration’s people-oriented philosophy, we hope the enhanced measures can pragmatically take care of different people’s needs,” Wong said at a press briefing on Thursday.
Providing more affordable flats for Hongkongers has been a priority for Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor since she took office last July, and her government has ramped up efforts to seek new sources of land. A public consultation on 18 options to boost land supply is under way.
Officials had previously identified three northern New Territories sites as new towns – Hung Shui Kiu in the western part, and Kwu Tung North and Fanling North in the eastern part – to be ready from 2023 onwards.
These three areas cover 760 hectares of land and building flats there would likely displace about 3,100 people, mostly non-indigenous villagers. These are people whose villages were established only after the New Territories were leased to Britain in 1898.
Wong said compensation and rehousing terms – currently decided on a project-by-project basis – would now be streamlined and applied across the board.
A household living in a 430 sq ft licensed structure for 10 years, for example, would receive compensation of HK$290,304 under the new arrangements, compared with HK$193,536.
And those who had lived in the licensed structure for at least seven years would not need a means test to apply for subsidised flats by the Housing Society, the second-largest provider of public housing.
Under the current criteria, residents who have lived for at least two years in the licensed structure can apply for Housing Authority homes, but they must meet income and asset limits.
Wong said the changes were based on feedback from a variety of stakeholders.
“We hope that the new enhancements are an appropriate response to society’s demands and those who are affected.”
Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting urged officials to rehouse affected villagers in the same district as their original homes.
New Territories West lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick echoed Lam’s view, adding that the new measures only provided slightly better treatment for non-indigenous villagers.
“Currently, if the villages of indigenous residents are demolished, the government would assist them in relocation so that their groups can live together.”
Wong said the measures were to “help remove barriers for clearance exercises for upcoming new developments” but this was not its only consideration. It has faced protracted stand-offs with affected villagers in the past as both sides negotiated resettlement terms.
Once the Legislative Council’s financial committee approves the measures in July, the enhanced compensation terms will be backdated to the day of the announcement, May 10, 2018.
Lawmaker and North District councillor Lau Kwok-fan welcomed the move.
“All [new towns] and public works projects will follow this new mechanism and I personally believe this will alleviate concerns and anxiety of villagers and speed up land resumption and development,” Lau, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said.
He cited how after 10 years the government was still unable to take back the land it needed to develop the northeast New Territories.
“A major reason is they were never able to reach a consensus on rehousing and compensation with villagers, causing things to drag on and on,” Lau said.
But residents the Post spoke to were not impressed.
Lee Siu-wah, 45, who has lived in Kwu Tung his entire life, said the measures would only be a boon for those who wanted compensation for moving out.
“If I wanted to live in public housing or wanted money, I wouldn’t have protested all this time for 10 years,” Lee said, adding that officials had never consulted villagers directly on its plans.
He hoped authorities would still consider redeveloping the village in the area.