Wang Chau housing saga

Hong Kong lawmakers-elect urge chief executive to come clean on Wang Chau development plan

Petition by 28 pan-democrats and localists demands answers from Leung Chun-ying and calls for public consultation on controversial project

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 September, 2016, 4:07pm
UPDATED : Friday, 23 September, 2016, 5:56pm

Pressure is mounting on Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to come clean on his role in a controversial housing project in Yuen Long, as 28 pan-democrat and localist lawmakers-elect yesterday signed a joint petition calling for answers.

At the crux of the controversy is the government’s plan to prioritise the construction of 4,000 public housing units on a green-belt site instead of developing a nearby brownfield plot – an environmentally damaged agricultural area – in Wang Chau in Yuen Long.

The project was scaled down from 17,000 units after private exchanges with rural leaders who were accused of illegally occupying parts of the brownfield area and having links to triads. No consultations were held with villagers living on the green-belt site who will have to be displaced.

On Saturday, Leung’s office issued a statement saying that the chief executive had not personally lobbied rural leaders opposed to the project in exchange for support. This came after leaked documents suggested otherwise.

The statement also rejected suggestions that Leung’s “soft lobbying” had prompted a village leader to give him high-profile support. The office did confirm that Leung chaired one meeting on Wang Chau in June 2013, after which the work was handled by relevant bureaus.

Lawmaker-elect Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, who received a death threat over his campaign against powerful village business interests, said: “Leung has yet to answer several key questions, such as why did he chair [the meeting in June 2013] and does it mean that he is responsible for the significant change to the project made afterwards.

“The problem used to be one for the Housing Department or the Transport and Housing Bureau, but now it has been elevated to Leung’s level because of his chairmanship,” he said.

Chu is among 28 pan-democrats and localists who signed an open letter addressed to Leung and the development and housing ministers. The letter demanded answers from the officials and urged them to launch a public consultation on the Wang Chau project.

Pan-democrats Cheng Chung-tai and Pierre Chan did not sign the letter.

In a statement issued on Sunday, a spokesman for the Chief Executive’s Office said: “After the chief executive took office [in 2012], he’s been chairing cross-departmental meetings almost every week, to push forward and coordinate the work of more than 20 medium and long-term land development projects.”

It went on to say that since Leung chaired the meeting in 2013, the government’s goal had been to build 17,000 flats in Wang Chau. But the spokesman did not explain when it decided to give priority to the development of 4,000 flats on the green-belt site.

Chu said the pan-democrats or localists should seek to invoke the Legislative Council’s special powers to investigate the government’s decision-making process behind the housing plan.

The Chinese-language Apple Daily newspaper on Saturday cited documents showing the government carried out two rounds of “soft lobbying” with community leaders in 2013.

Speaking on a Commercial Radio programme on Sunday, lawmaker-elect Edward Yiu Chung-yim said housing minister Anthony Cheung Bing-leung should explain why he told the media earlier that the government would not normally keep records of informal contacts about development projects.

Lawmaker-elect Horace Cheung Kwok-kwan of the Beijing-loyalist Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong agreed that government officials “should make clarifications as soon as possible ... because society is concerned about it, and there were suggestions that the explanations of different officials seemed to contradict each other.”