Around 300 indigenous villagers from Sai Kung, New Territories took part in a demonstration on Sunday to oppose the government’s plans to fold agricultural land near the villages into green belts and conservation zones.

Residents gathered near Ko Tong Ha Yeung village on Sunday, voicing their opposition towards the proposal and chopping down trees in protest. They said that the move would affect their rights under the small house policy and restrict farming, RTHK reported.

The villagers’ protest on Sunday. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

Ho Wai-shing, a representative of the villagers, said that the Planning Department and the Town Planning Board announced in April that 54 enclaves surrounded by country parks will be listed as green belts or conservation zones.

Enclaves refer to private lands or government lands adjacent to country parks but not included in country parks.

See also: Sha Tau Kok villagers chop down hundreds of trees to thwart conservation zoning plan

The government’s plans involved around 2 million square feet of farmland across four villages in Ko Tong, Sai Kung, Apple Daily reported.

Ho said that this would mean the farmland cannot be freely used for development, and villagers would not be able to apply for small house policy rights with this land. Ho added that it was a suppression of the villagers’ living space and changing the land use would mean indigenous villagers would lose a place to live.

Residents also said that they will commence farming on the land, as they were displeased that in the event the plans are implemented, they would have to apply before being allowed to farm.

‘A lie,’ says Zimmerman

The demonstration was opposed by District Councillor Paul Zimmerman, who was surrounded by dozens of villagers after getting off his vehicle. The protesters demanded that Zimmerman leave and the police had to separate them.

See also: Explainer: Hong Kong’s divisive Small House Policy

Zimmerman said that the villagers were only against the plans because they wanted to make money under the small house policy. He also said that the land adjacent to the country parks should not be subjected to reckless destruction, and expressed support for the government’s plans to incorporate enclaves into country park so as to properly protect the land.

Paul Zimmerman at the protests.

“Legitimate farming is always allowed on farm land even when the land is zoned for conservation uses, and even when it is inside the country park. So why this ridiculous destructive behaviour? Simple. They don’t want to farm. That is a lie. The Heung Yee Kuk destroys the land because they want to fill up the Country Parks with small houses,” Zimmerman said on Facebook.

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 to build a small house on their own land at zero premium, or on public land through a private treaty grant, once during their lifetime. This right is non-transferable, in theory.

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.