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Living heritage of Hong Kong

Convert abandoned Ma Wan Old Village into social housing for 430 families, former Hong Kong planning chief urges

  • Ling Kar-kan, now director of PolyU design institute, presents study findings, calling on authorities to amend and speed up stalled development plans
  • Residents of fishing settlement mostly gone or relocated after deal between government and Sun Hung Kai Properties
PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 November, 2018, 7:01am
UPDATED : Monday, 26 November, 2018, 9:09am

An old fishing village abandoned for two decades should be turned into temporary housing for the poor, Hong Kong’s former planning chief has urged amid the struggle for land in a space-starved city.

According to Ling Kar-kan, the Ma Wan Old Village, a 200-year-old island settlement tucked under the busy Tsing Ma Bridge, can house at least 430 families waiting for public housing.

Ling was presenting findings from a study by Polytechnic University’s Jockey Club Design Institute for Social Innovation – of which he is director – last week.

Since 1997, hundreds of villagers have moved out or were rehoused on the northern part of the 97-hectare Ma Wan island when Sun Hung Kai Properties (SHKP) reached a deal with the government. The plan was to develop a luxury residential estate, now known as Park Island, and a publicly funded nature park, leaving behind a deserted town, with its derelict low-rise houses.

Land disputes have put second-phase development plans to turn that part of the island into a tourism and cultural heritage site on hold for more than 20 years.

Ling called on the government to take charge by reworking an agreement with SHKP to determine the plot’s future.

“Now is the time to relaunch this development, as I believe the government has more or less settled most of the ownership issues,” said Ling, who retired as Hong Kong’s director of planning in 2016. “If any action is needed, it requires the government’s lead.”

Does Hong Kong need more commercial, retail, tourism facilities or more transitional social housing?
Ling Kar-kan, former planning chief

“Does Hong Kong need more commercial, retail, tourism facilities [as agreed on 20 years ago], or do we need more transitional social housing? The answer is obvious,” he said.

SHKP had planned to conserve the old town and turn it into a place where people could enjoy music, arts and seafood by the coast.

Under a proposal by Ling’s institute, refurbished village houses and new prefabricated modular units could provide some 215 homes for 430 households – comprising families or single people – over several years while they wait for public housing.

Parts of the town could also be converted into a “vibrant community”, with an artists’ quarter, elderly campsite, waterfront guest houses, shops and restaurants.

Plan to cut off-peak ferries from Ma Wan to Hong Kong Island rejected

With Hong Kong’s skyrocketing property prices, transitional social housing has emerged as a method of short-term alleviation for some 210,000 people living in cramped, squalid subdivided homes, as the wait for public flats stretches to more than five years – the longest in nearly two decades.

But supply of such temporary homes has not kept pace. By the end of the year, there will be only about 240 shared temporary flats across the city.

In a bid to boost supply, the government is set to launch a HK$1 billion scheme next year to support non-profit organisations in converting some 850 vacant public sites for community uses. But not all of them are fit for social housing.

Low-income families in Hong Kong to ‘receive more housing help from government’

In a statement, a Lands Department spokesman said it was still handling eight cases on Ma Wan and land clearance had not been carried out.

He said negotiations with SHKP were under way on development plans and authorities would consult Ma Wan residents and various stakeholders “at an appropriate time”.

Ma Wan Park Limited, a company under SHKP that manages the nature park, said it was open to the proposal and would “pay close attention to the situation, [as well as] the government’s intentions and cooperate correspondingly”.

Ma Wan residents the Post spoke to were receptive to the idea.

Ma Wan rural committee chairman Chan Sung-ip said: “The government should expedite the development plans, whether it’s for transitional housing, a park, or both.”

Ho Luen-cheung, one of a handful of people who had yet to leave the decrepit village, said the abandoned land would then be “put to good use”.

“They say there’s no land in Hong Kong, but look at all that we have here – it’s just been wasting away,” the 65-year-old said.

Ho, who lives in a licensed squatter hut on private land, has refused to hand over his plot to SHKP because they could not guarantee how soon he would be given a new village house in exchange.

Waiting time for a Hong Kong public housing flat longest in 18 years

Two other sites identified by Ling’s institute for transitional housing include a vacant primary school in Stanley and an open-air area now used as a temporary construction office alongside a car park, underneath a flyover in Sham Shui Po.

A more detailed development scheme for the three sites would be released by next May so NGOs can use the information to seek government funding in plans to convert the spaces for social use.