NT small house review necessary, but not easy: Chan

Updated: 2012-10-20 07:55

By Kahon Chan(HK Edition)

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Development Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po agreed on Friday there is a need to review the New Territories small house policy as part of the effort to make optimal use of land. But he also noted it would not be easy to alter the privileges granted to indigenous villagers.

The city's small house policy was introduced in 1972 under the colonial regime. Every man, aged 18 or over, who is a descendant of a recognized clan, is eligible to build a three-story house once in his lifetime on a land grant from the government.

The policy has gone under constitutional protection after the handover. Article 40 of the Basic Law stipulated that "lawful traditional rights and interests of the indigenous inhabitants of the New Territories shall be protected" by the city.

Chan published an article statement on Friday in a local newspaper to clarify that the 2,154 hectares of residential land reserve shown on the city's map cannot blindly be converted into residential homes.

For instance, about 1,200 hectares of government land have been reserved for the mounting demand of villagers.

As of January, over 10,000 applications were still sitting on the desk of the Lands Department, pending approval.

Distribution of these plots was never pinpointed, but Chan assured in his written article that they are sparsely distributed across the city and presented big challenges for infrastructure.

He agreed with the need to review the small house policy, but warned the task should not be taken lightly.

"That review will inevitably involve complex issues such as law, environment and land planning. It will require cautious examination and dialogue with both stakeholders and the public. It absolutely will not be tackled by a few words or in a short time," he wrote.

The small house situation was named by Chan's predecessor Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor as one of her biggest regrets while in office. Though she later clarified that it was her personal view to fix a deadline for applicants, she still had hoped to initiate an in-depth evaluation before she left office.

Leung Fuk-yuen, the rural head of Sap Pak Heung, said the constitutional right of villages must be guarded. "Lands in the New Territories belong to the people there, who have settled for generations. Or else why would there be (the article in) Basic Law?" said Leung.

He said the government could boost residential land through rezoning private farmlands, many of which are owned by developers.

Chan also wrote that the remaining 900 hectares of land, reserved for housing needs of the population at large, was also inflated by motorways and lands that occupied by short-term leases, as well as "fragments" that are smaller than 0.05 hectares and unsuitable for building homes.

In the end, the usable plots designated for residential or mixed uses added up to only 391.5 hectares.

Less than 20 hectares are listed for auction, while many of the rest were "irregular" or narrow slots that sat next to existing buildings.

Chan also noted most residents do not want to see new neighbors rising next to their buildings.

"Many district councillors have expressed concern over building homes like 'filling every gap with needles'," he said. "In reality, it is impossible to build a lot of homes on these 'vacant plots'."

While some solutions to the land shortage will yield little outcome - like moving facilities to caves - he said the public might need to make some uneasy choices on reclamation and exploitation of rural areas.

"The current administration is determined to increase land supply to fundamentally reverse the loss of balance between demand and supply," he wrote. "We will fight to add every inch of land in this uphill battle."


(HK Edition 10/20/2012 page1)