Leung Chun-ying

Emotional CY Leung says he made decision to scale down controversial housing project

Follow the latest updates from Wednesday’s press conference, where both officials are expected to clarify their role in the scaling down of a Yuen Long housing project

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 September, 2016, 3:15pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 October, 2016, 2:38pm

4.29pm - C Y Leung leaves conference

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying teared up as he thanked his colleagues in the government for their effort in providing housing and land for the public.

As soon as he said the last word, he stood up and left.

4.25pm - final question to the chief executive

Taking his last question before ending the press conference, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying appeared emotional as he said, in a shaky voice: “I have to thank my colleagues because it was a toiling task for them, to every little achievement.”

He was saying that the Wang Chau plan “is a good opportunity to show the government’s determination, and the difficulties faced by it in boosting housing supply”.

4.22pm - C Y Leung to leave conference

The host of the press conference announces that Leung Chun-ying will leave after taking a last question because he has to go to the airport to welcome Hong Kong’s Paralympic athletes.

4.21pm - on giving preferential treatment to rural landowners or developers

Leung Chun-ying denies he paid special attention to the Wang Chau development because it was related to rural or developers’ interests.

Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah also rejected speculation that he was pulled into the saga by his boss, Leung Chun-ying. “My [steering] committee [on land supply] has [been] working for a long time. We have done a lot in [finding sites for housing]. When we are asked to follow up [a project], we will do it.”

4.20pm - on public consultation

Director of Housing Stanley Ying Yiu-hong dismissed the suggestion that the government did not consult the public before deciding to relocate villagers and build housing on the green-belt site.

“We value public opinion, but it cannot replace our professional analysis,” Ying said. “To implement stage one, we went through [four] procedures: consulting rural leaders, consulting Yuen Long District Council and publicising the relevant documents, consulting the town planning board where people submitted their petition and we discussed them, and the project was gazetted.”

Ying is also the Permanent Secretary for Transport and Housing (Housing), a top civil servant under Anthony Cheung.

4.17pm - on district councillors

Cheung was asked why even district councillors were unaware that Wang Chau will be developed in stages.

The housing minister argued that when officials discussed the project in the district council, the documents already mentioned that they are discussing “the first phase of Wang Chau plan”.

“We had said that the remaining parts of the project is under an ongoing study,” Cheung said.

4.14pm - on steering committee’s involvement

Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah argued he had not issued a statement to contradict that of his boss, Leung Chun-ying, the other day. Tsang said at that time, he was answering media enquiries that asked him if his Steering Committee on Land Supply had recommended developing Wang Chau in phases.

“The answer is either yes or no. And it is a matter of fact that my committee had not made the recommendations,” said Tsang.

4.00pm - on lobbying for the project

Chief Excutive Leung Chun-ying and housing minister Anthony Cheung Bing-leung said they did not take part in lobbying for the Wang Chau project.

Cheung said: “I didn’t take part in the [formal or] informal lobbying, because it is the job of the professional technocrats from the housing department. Sometimes the assistant director of housing would lead the effort.”

He also said that the government would launch a new feasibility study on the second and third phases of development in Wang Chau. The study would take two years with the objective of building public housing on the brownfield site, he added.

“If we insisted on launching the three phases in one go, I am afraid that we could not start the project until this day, and the public housing won’t be available in 2024/25,” Cheung said.

3.57pm - Leung Chun-ying on bowing to pressure

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying denied he had backed down in face of opposition by developers or rural force.

He stressed that addressing housing problem was the top priority of his government.

“If we had avoided conflicting some interests, we would not have seen that the housing price in Hong Kong had fallen some 8 per cent while that of elsewhere in the Asian region had risen by 5 per cent [in recent years].”

He hinted that he might anger some people because of his housing policy.

“With increasing land supply, property prices become lower and rents drop. Whether some people may not like me because of this, you can tell.”

Leung said most of Hong Kong’s social problems were because of land shortages and his government would not stop finding more land for housing.

3.50pm - Secretary for Transport and Housing Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung

Secretary for Transport and Housing Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung revealed for the first time that there were four closed-door meetings between the housing department and rural strongmen including Tsang Shu-wo, and district councillors - in July and September 2013, and twice in March 2014.

Cheung said in the meetings on July 16 and September 5, 2013, “five rural leaders expressed strong opposition against building 17,000 units in Wang Chau, citing various concerns”.

Then, as the Housing Department met the five people again on March 12, 2014, only the first phase of 4,000 units were discussed, Cheung confirmed.

3.49pm - Acting Secretary for Development Eric Ma Siu-cheung

Acting Secretary for Development Eric Ma Siu-cheung said the issue of brownfield land needed to be dealt with carefully. Making use of the land for other purposes could have implications on the existing operations on these sites, which plays a “big supporting role” in logistics, waste recycling, car repairs, and the construction sectors.

Ma noted a consultation was being conducted, including the feasibility of moving the existing operations on brownfield land into multi-storey buildings. Ma also said: “The Planning Department will conduct a survey of the brownfield sites in Hong Kong next year.”

3.40pm - Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah

Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah reiterated that he did not decide on developing Wang Chau in stages because, as chairman of the steering committee on land supply, “my concern was whether there was enough land to reach the government’s housing goal ... On the Wang Chau project, my concern is whether the problems would affect the achievement of the plan’s target”, Tsang said.

3.35pm - Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying confirmed that he decided to develop Wang Chau in stages in a meeting with three of his top ministers on January 27, 2014.

“In the meeting, [officials] from the Transport and Housing Bureau reported that because of strong opposition from community representatives ... the bureau would recommend building the first phases first while not giving up on the ultimate goal of 17,000 units,” Leung recalled.

“We support the recommendation ... and it was my decision. As the chief executive, it is my job to decide.”

3.35pm - Opening remarks

During his opening address, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said the Wang Chau and Queen’s Hill development sites were identified in 2013. Both sites could provide land for more than 20,000 public rental and home ownership scheme units.

As for the Wang Chau site, the decision was to increase the plot ratio to six.

“This could allow more units to be offered to meet the housing needs,” said Leung, adding the plan was to offer some 4,300 units in 2023-24, with the rest 12,700 units to be completed in later phases.

Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah and transport and housing chief Anthony Cheung Bing-Leung looked stern as the chief executive delivered his opening remarks.

Cheung was mainly looking down on his notes, while Tsang scanned the room.

3.30pm - Facebook Live video

This afternoon at 3.30pm, all eyes will be on a press conference on the controversial Wang Chau housing project, where the two top men in the government – who are likely to be rivals in next year’s leadership election – will sit side by side and clarify their roles in the saga.

The conference was intended to be a show of unity, but with the latest revelation that both officials made a collective decision to scale down the project after coming under pressure from rural leaders, they are being urged to come clean.

The last time Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah attended a press conference together was in 2013, where they briefed the media on the first meeting of the Economic Development Commission.

While it has been an open secret in political circles that discord exists between Leung and Tsang, the housing project opened a can of worms. On Saturday, Leung was first forced by a media report to admit he chaired a task force on Wang Chau in 2013, a month before officials were said to have “soft lobbied” rural leaders for support.

Leung immediately faced queries as to whether there was “collusion” between the government and rural forces and why he wanted to take the project into his own hands.

But Leung was quick to bring Tsang into the controversy, saying it was the financial secretary’s Steering Committee on Land Supply that followed up detailed issues regarding the project.

Tsang hit back by saying his committee did not decide that Wang Chau should be developed in phases.

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, meanwhile, said she was not a member of either panel, but later was revealed to be party to the collective decision.