The government can consider offering financial support to villagers to buy land for building small houses, New Territories leader Kenneth Lau Ip-keung has said.

Kenneth Lau Ip-keung
Kenneth Lau Ip-keung meeting the press. screenshot.

Lau, chairman of the Heung Yee Kuk rural group, led 15 New Territories leaders to meet Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po on Monday. He told reporters that under “the current implementation of the Small House policy… indigenous people of the New Territories are lacking funds to buy land in order to build small houses”.

“We have suggested a preliminary framework to the government today,” Lau said, “and we will present a proposal in due course.”

The Heung Yee Kuk is a statutory body made up of representatives of the Rural Committees in the New Territories. Under the Small House Policy, male indigenous villagers who are descendants of a male line from a recognised village may apply to build a small house of up to three storeys high, on either their own land at zero premium or on public land through a private treaty grant, once during their lifetime. The right is non-transferable.

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

Financial subsidies would “preserve the character of New Territories villages and their culture [and are in-keeping] with the spirit of Small House policy.”

A small house village in New Territories.
A small house village in New Territories.

Unauthorised constructions

Previously, villagers were able to report any unauthorised building works in the construction of homes under the policy directly to the Buildings Department. As the voluntary scheme ended at the end of 2012, Lau suggested a categorised approach to address the issue of unauthorised building works that have yet to be reported.

“I hope that the government can grant a grace period for these villagers to continue reporting,” he said.

For village houses and ancestral houses that are taller than the mandated three storeys, Lau said “their lease did not specify a height limit, and they have existed for decades” – during which, it was unclear whether laws regarding unauthorised building works were enforced or not.

“Heung Yee Kuk hopes the government can suspend the enforcement of related laws, and consider solving the problem by asking owners to pay land premiums” said Lau.

eddie chu
Eddie Chu. Photo: Stanley Leung/HKFP.

Collusion or cooperation?

Lau also responded to the issue of death threats recently received by incoming lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick. He said he “believes that New Territories leaders would not resort to these methods to intimidate those expressing their views about New Territories development – we are very open people.”

Last Thursday, Chu – who is known for his activism on rural affairs – reported “credible death threats” to the police and received protection shortly after winning a seat in the legislature.

Stanley is a Media and Communications graduate from Goldsmiths College in London. He takes particular interest in visual journalism, having produced photographic and video work on a number of social and political issues. He has also interned at the current affairs service of RTHK’s TV division.