As the government made the case for building residential flats on country parks due to a land shortage, it neglected to mention that it has huge reserves of vacant land left for building homes for local indigenous males under the New Territories Small House Policy, a local research team has said.

The comments came after Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said on Tuesday that parts of country parks should be built upon to provide housing for young people. The relationship between country parks and land for housing was like that of a “fish and bear’s paw”, he said, and one cannot have it all.

Country parks in Hong Kong. Photo: Wikicommons.

Liber Research Community, a group of independent researchers, published a post on Facebook on Wednesday drawing attention to public land already reserved by the government for the purposes of building houses. They said that, according to the one and only time the government released official figures on vacant public land – which was in 2012 – there were around 1201 hectares reserved for “Village Type Development”. That would equal the land area of around 900 football fields, even after discounting the slopes, the group said.

A picture posted by the group showed that there were 228.4 hectares of public land in Yuen Long, and over a hundred hectares each available in Tai Po, Sha Tin, Sai Kung, North District, and the outlying islands – all reserved under the New Territories Small House Policy.

False illusion
According to the group, the government deliberately omits this figure and says that there are only 392 hectares of land left for building residences, “creating a false illusion of land shortage while withholding the fact that the government owned 70% of land resources in Hong Kong”.

This amount of land would be sufficient to accommodate an additional population of 373,000 people, using the Planning Department’s residential density calculation method, they said.

Houses in New Territories.

Under the Small House Policy, male indigenous villagers who are descendants of a male line from a recognised village in the New Territories may apply for building a small house on their own land at zero premium, or on public land through a private treaty grant, once during their lifetime.

The group questioned the need to reserve such a huge amount of land for indigenous people, especially since most applications made under the Small House Policy nowadays are for building houses on the villager’s own private land. Only three to six hectares of public land would be applied for under the Private Treaty Grant and used for such purposes.

The group said that the government should examine the possibility of developing this land, rather than exploiting the city’s natural resources, such as its country parks. “Does the government really care about Hong Kong’s residential problems, or is it more concerned with Heung Yee Kuk’s land problems?” the group asked.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.