Another land development scheme in Yuen Long has sparked controversy, with one land policy civil group calling it a “free giveaway” for indigenous villagers to build small houses.

The government relaunched a scheme in November 2014 to start engineering works at the Ha Mei San Tsuen Village Expansion Area, after the plan was shelved for 12 years. In documents given to the Yuen Long district council, the Civil Engineering and Development Department said it had consulted the representative of the village and the Ping Shan Rural Committee, and received support.

Explainer: Hong Kong’s Small House Policy

The district council then approved the plan in December 2014. The Legislative Council failed to discuss the proposed HK$70 million of funding in its last term owing to a full schedule, but it expected to discuss it in the upcoming term, a front page Ming Pao report said on Monday.

Ha Mei San Tsuen
Entrance to Ha Mei San Tsuen. Photo: Google maps.

Under the Small House Policy, any male indigenous villager who is descended through the male line from someone who was a resident in 1898 of a recognised village in the New Territories may apply to build a small house once in their lifetime. It can be a maximum of three storeys in height and 700 square feet on each floor – it must be built on their own land at zero premium, or on public land through a private treaty grant.

As many indigenous villagers do not have their own land to build small houses, they rely on public land granted to them by the government.

The Ha Mei San Tsuen Village Expansion Area was taken over by the government in 1999, according to official documents.

But the government stated in 2002 that the small house expansion plan would be stopped until a review on the Small House Policy was completed – which has yet to be finished. The project would provide space for 70 small houses.

Ha Mei San Tsuen Wang Chau
Ha Mei San Tsuen Village Expansion Area, on the west of Wang Chau. Photo: Google maps.

Tsang Shu-wo – ex-officio district councillor and chairman of the Ping Shan Rural Committee – “thanked” the government for carrying out the Ha Mei San Tsuen project, according to the minutes of the district council meeting in December 2014.

Tsang was quoted in the minutes as saying that he “hoped that the bureau would give a green light to more applications for expansion areas in the future, so as to allow village residents to build small houses on undeveloped land and help resolve the housing problem in Hong Kong.”

In a Ming Pao column on Sunday, Chan Kim-ching – member of the land policy group Liber Research – said that the two hectares of land was a “free giveaway” for indigenous villagers ahead of the Small House Policy review.

“This would be a time-bomb that the next Legislative Council should closely monitor,” he wrote.

The approval of the plan came after the government held an informal meeting with Tsang over a public housing development plan in Wang Chau, Yuen Long in mid-2013. Tsang runs a car park on a piece of land – partly owned by the government – that the government had planned to take back.

Tsang Shu-wo Leung Che-cheung
Tsang Shu-wo (left) and Leung Che-cheung (right).

Pro-Beijing lawmaker Leung Che-cheung, also Yuen Long district council chairman at the time, revealed on a radio programme on Monday that as compensation losing the land, Tsang had requested a village expansion area for building small houses in exchange.

Leung did not say if the request was approved. The development of the car park was eventually excluded in the proposal submitted to the district council in June 2014.

But Leung said the Ha Mei San Tsuen project, to the west of Wang Chau, was unrelated to the development of the car park.

“The timing may be coincidental, but Wang Chau’s residents would not benefit from it,” he said.

Chan Yuet-lun, village head of the Ha Mei San Tsuen, told Ming Pao that he has been asking the rural bodies Heung Yee Kuk and the Ping Shan Rural Committee to relaunch the project since it was shelved in 2002. He claimed that it was not suddenly relaunched or related to the Wang Chau public housing plan, but was a result of many years of campaigning.

Meanwhile, projects for village expansion areas in Pai Tau Village and Sheung Wo Che Village will also be relaunched, according to documents given to the Legislative Council’s Finance Committee.

Lawmaker-elect Eddie Chu Hoi-dick questioned the reason why only Ping Shan and Sha Tin Rural Committees were able to push forward the relaunch of the projects, whilst many indigenous villagers did not have enough land to build small houses.

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.