Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has said that he made the decision to conduct the controversial Yuen Long housing project in separate phases, after the housing bureau suggested it to him. Leung turned emotional as he left a press conference on Wednesday, hailing the work of the government to provide more public housing.

He said he chairs weekly meetings with the three top government officials – Chief Secretary, Financial Secretary and Secretary for Justice – and housing is one of the issues discussed. In a meeting on January 27, 2014, the Transport and Housing Bureau reported to him that rural leaders strongly opposed building 17,000 units in the Wang Chau area.

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Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying at the press conference on Wednesday. Photo: NowTV screenshot.

He said the relevant departments suggested it would take time to handle the brownfield site – a piece of land for the potential 13,000 units which had been turned into a car park by a rural leader. Therefore, the Housing Bureau suggested building Phase One – involving 4,000 units- and delaying the other two phases of 13,000 units.

“The meeting was aware of these considerations, I was aware of the difficulties in pushing this project, I support the departments to work towards this general direction,” Leung said. “This was my decision – the decision to carry out the public housing programme in phases. Because as the CE, the Chief Executive of the government, I have to take charge.”

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Leung maintained his position that the government had not abandoned the plan for the 13,000 units.

CY denies collusion 

There were four informal meetings – three with rural leaders and one with two pro-democracy district councillors – over the project. According to Leung, the decision to delay the second and third phases was made after two “soft lobbying” sessions with rural leaders.

He denied that his decision was influenced by opposition from rural leaders, and said he did not take part in any talks or lobbying activity with people outside government.

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Leung Chun-ying and John Tsang. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

“If I need to avoid confronting certain people’s interests, we would not have… an eight per cent drop in housing price in Hong Kong,” he said. “Our increase in land supply pushed the prices and rent down – will there be some people unhappy about me? You know the answer.”

See also: In Pictures: At the centre of a political storm, Wang Chau villagers face eviction but hope for justice

Leung turned emotional after around an hour into the press conference, just before he left to the airport to welcome Paralympic athletes back to Hong Kong.

“I need to thank colleagues in the government, no matter for public housing and private housing… the result we achieved, every single bit of it was hard work,” he said.

‘Always agree with your boss’

Last week, local media revealed that Leung was the chairman of a task force on the Wang Chau project. Previously, he maintained that details of the proposal were decided by a Steering Committee chaired by the Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah.

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But Tsang’s office issued a statement saying he did not attend a meeting of the task force chaired by Leung in June 2013, nor did the steering committee decide to delay the 13,000 units.

Tsang said at the press conference on Wednesday that he was not at the meeting at the time because he was out of the city. The steering committee was responsible for identifying necessary land supply, but it did not make the decision, he said.

Asked about the disagreement with Leung, Tsang said: “The statement has nothing that is in opposition with the Chief Executive.”

“You always agree with your boss, no question about that,” he said.

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.