Pro-Beijing lawmaker Leung Che-cheung has said that the government conducted three informal talks between 2013 and 2014 with Yuen Long district councillors over the controversial Wang Chau public housing plan. Councillors strongly opposed more people moving to the area, he claimed.

Initially proposed in 2012, the Wang Chau project initially included 17,000 public housing units. However, part of the project to build 13,000 units on a brownfield site – which included a car park operated by Ping Shan Rural Committee chairman Tsang Shu-wo – received opposition from rural leaders and was postponed. Government documents cited by Apple Daily recorded two informal talks in July and September 2013, before the Housing Department decided the construction of the 13,000 units was unlikely to proceed.

Leung, chairman of the Yuen Long district council at the time, said he first met with Housing Department deputy director Ada Fung Yin-suen, government engineers and transport officials at a meeting room of the council in mid-2013. District councillor Tang Hing-ip and three from the rural committee including Tsang were present. The meeting was set up by the Home Affairs Department.

Leung Che-cheung. File

Leung said on a RTHK programme on Monday that when they were introduced to the project, it still included 17,000 units with plans for some 50,000 people to move into Yuen Long. Those consulted in the meeting were against it, owing to concerns over increased traffic, employment for residents, and a demand for compensation in the form of land elsewhere.

“The district councillor for the area [Tang] cast strong opposition – ‘why would you move such a large population into the Ping Shan rural area?…’ – I have a deep recollection that he slammed the table and chair in opposition,” he said.

Project reduced

Leung said the second meeting was two to three months later. The government suggested building an expansion to the existing Wang Chau industrial area on the brownfield site to solve the issue of employment for residents mentioned in the last meeting. Leung said the people consulted still opposed it over concerns of increased traffic and land compensation, and it was unlikely the district council would pass it.

The third informal meeting, Leung said, took place two to three months before the housing plan was submitted to the Yuen Long district council meeting on June 24, 2014. The project was reduced to 4,000 units at the time.

“They [government officials] explained it was easier to build those 4,000 units. But as to whether the 13,000 units would be built in the future, I did not have a clear idea,” he said. “Of course, we thought only 4,000 would be built at the time.”

Leung Chun-ying. File Photo: GovHK.

Chief Executive involvement

The government admitted on Saturday that Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying was the chairman of a task force on the Wang Chau plan. It claimed there was only one task force meeting chaired by Leung on June 27, 2013, and Leung had never discussed the issue with individuals outside the government.

After the RTHK programme, Leung Che-cheung said the Chief Executive was not involved in the informal talks. He said that Leung Chun-ying met with several chairmen of district councils of the New Territories and chairmen of relevant committees in 2015. Leung said the Chief Executive had urged them to work with the government to build flats, but did not mention any specific projects.

The pro-Beijing lawmaker said the informal talks were “not ideal,” as public consultations were conducted for other housing projects in Yuen Long.

“The ideal practice is that, after they [the government] conduct the studies, they put the studies forward to the district council and let the district council act as a platform for public consultation,” he said.

Villagers protest outside government headquarters on September 14. Photo: HKFP/Stanley Leung.

Answers demanded

Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, the lawmaker-elect who put the Wang Chau plan at the heart of his election campaign, had criticised the government for failing to consult the non-indigenous villagers living on the greenbelt land where the 4,000 units are set to be built.

Chu is among 28 pro-democracy lawmakers who signed an open letter addressed to Leung Chun-ying, development minister Paul Chan Mo-po and housing minister Anthony Cheung Bing-leung. They demanded officials reveal all information related to the informal talks, feasibility reports of the plan, and urged them to restart a public consultation on the project.

A statement from the Chief Executive’s Office on Sunday said that “high-level, cross-bureaux coordination and facilitation are necessary in order to increase land and housing supply as quickly as possible.”

“Since the Chief Executive assumed office, he has chaired inter-departmental meetings almost every week to take forward high-level coordination work for 20 to 30 large-scale, medium to long-term land development projects. These development projects were highlighted in the Policy Address every year.”

It went on to say that the public housing supply target for Wang Chau remained at 17,000 units, but did not explain the reason behind the delay of the other units.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.