Hong Kong housing

Hong Kong rural body chief calls for calls for shift in land use policy to allow for more housing

Heung Yee Kuk chairman Kenneth Lau’s call prompts debate on the need to review city’s small-house policy

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 May, 2018, 11:03pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 May, 2018, 1:04am

The head of an influential Hong Kong rural body called for village land in the New Territories not covered by the small-house policy to be released to build public houses or high-rise village houses through public-private partnerships at a seminar on Saturday.

Chan Kim-ching, founder of the Liber Research Community, a local NGO focusing on land and development policies, told the Post that Heung Yee Kuk chairman Kenneth Lau Ip-keung’s suggestion touched on a critical issue about the need to review the city’s small-house policy.

“If [Lau] is talking about building village houses outside the village environs, it will be an extension of the current small-house policy. So the government should review the whole small-house policy including if the policy itself is necessary to exist,” Chan said.

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It is estimated there are around 930 hectares of land set aside for village-type development in Hong Kong. The land for building small houses is confined to areas within recognised villages, according to the small-house policy approved in 1972. The government allows each male ­indigenous villager in the New Territories to build one small house – which has at most three storeys and a limit of 700 sq ft for each floor.

Stanley Wong Yuen-fai, chairman of the Housing Authority’s subsidised housing committee, who was also at the seminar on Saturday, said there was not much potential in the village-type land for large public housing because such land is usually scattered patches in between village houses or slopes.

Lau disagreed, citing the example of a village in Sheung Shui called Tin Ping Shan Tsuen, saying that the land there outside the village environs was around 300,000 to 400,000 sq ft. “The space is quite sufficient for building public houses,” Lau said. He was not certain about how much such land was available in total in the New Territory. “You need to get the map and check, but I believe there’s more space like this,” Lau said.

In terms of Lau’s suggestion to build public houses in partnership with the government, Chan said it would be an extension of the rights of indigenous villagers. “There’s no public interest for the government to develop public houses with private owners by sharing profits with them. The government can get land by reclaiming, including the land in the New Territories,” he said.

Responding to public concerns about possible collusion between officials and businessmen in such developments, Lau said he was not worried as the villagers would build small houses using their own money, and if it is for public housing then the rent will be cheap.

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He also said Hong Kong should learn lessons on urban-rural integration from mainland China.

Some 100 villagers attended the seminar held at the Heung Yee Kuk, the statutory body representing the interests of indigenous villagers, on Saturday.

Before the seminar, around 10 members of the Labour Party protested outside the Heung Yee Kuk, urging the government to review the small-house policy and stop giving more indigenous male villagers with the right to build small houses, so the land can be used for public housing.

Steven Kwok Wing-kin, chairman of the Labour Party, presented a petition to Stanley Wong Yuen-fai, who received it without offering any comment.

The seminar was held as debate rages on how best to use land in space-starved Hong Kong. In 2017, the government set up a special task force to deal with the land issues, offering 18 options to ease the city’s rising demand for homes, offices, and public spaces. The public consultation, which started on April 26, will last five months.