The controversial Yuen Long housing plan was reduced in size because the government wished to “avoid confrontation” with a rural leader, a government document said.

Earlier this week, Leung Che-cheung, a pro-Beijing lawmaker and Yuen Long district council chairman at the time, said that he did not understand why the government reduced the number of public housing flats from 17,000 to 4,000. He also said that a car park operated by rural leader Tsang Shu-wo was never mentioned during informal talks with the government.

However, the document acquired by Apple Daily instead showed that Leung was the one who suggested the government should reduce the size of the project, in order to avoid confronting Tsang. The rural strongman had been occupying part of the government land where the remaining 13,000 flats were set to be built.

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

The informal meeting was conducted on September 5, 2013, in the presence of Leung and members of Ping Shan Rural Committee. It said that they cast “very strong opposition” to the project owing to concerns over population growth in light of several housing plans in Yuen Long. The impact on the job market after taking back the land occupied by Tsang was also a “major reason for objection.”

“During previous lobbying, the Chairman of YLDC has suggested confining the public housing development to only Phase 1 with about 4,000 flats to reduce the level of controversy. This can avoid confrontation with the OS [open storage] stakeholders in Wang Chau,” it read.

apple daily leak

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said on Monday that there were no “trade-offs” made with anyone over the Yuen Long housing plan. The transport minister Anthony Cheung Bing-leung had said he was not sure if there were any records of the informal meetings.

wang chau brownfield site
The car park in Wang Chau. Photo: HKFP/Stanley Leung.

The document also said that the Housing Department proposed to first develop Phase 1, leaving Phase 2 and 3 “to later periods” on the basis of Leung Che-cheung’s suggestions “with a view to safeguarding other major housing projects currently in the pipeline within that District”.

‘Population landfill’ 

In response to enquiries from Apple Daily, Leung said he did suggest to the government that Wang Chau development should be rolled out phases, but the government did not accept the plan at the time.

Therefore, he said, he felt surprised when the government submitted the proposal to the district council, as it only mentioned the building of 4,000 flats and did not include the other phases.

He added that his reason for the opposition to the plan was the potential traffic congestion, but he did not remember if he spoke about the interests related to Tsang’s car park.

Tsang said on Tuesday he only reflected an opinion to the government as the chairman of the Ping Shan Rural Committee and a district councillor, an that he did not want the government to put a “population landfill” into Yuen Long. When attending a Heung Yee Kuk meeting, he said the decision to reduce the size of the project was made by the government.

Architectural and surveying sector lawmaker-elect Edward Yiu Chung-yim said the documents, if true, confirmed the government was controlled by rural leaders, and that officials had been publicly lying.

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.