Lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick joined over 20 activists from the Wang Chau Green Belt Development Concern Group to stage a protest on Tuesday criticising the government for ignoring the effect of the controversial Wang Chau development project on three non-indigenous villages. They also said that the heavily redacted reports released in response to the land controversy did not reflect the truth and say they were dissatisfied that the three villages were not consulted in the process.

The government also did not conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Report, which is required, Chu claimed.

eddie chu
Eddie Chu and protesters. Photo: InMedia.

The protesters asked the government to shelve the plan and called for “no moving, no demolition” stance. They also said that development was only serving the powerful, and asked for the full report to be disclosed.

The Yuen Long District Council was holding a meeting that day to discuss whether it would request that the government conduct a public consultation on the Wang Chau development plans. Yuen Long District Council Chairman Shum Ho-kit received the protesters’ letter of petition.

The project originally intended to create 17,000 public housing units. However, Phases 2 and 3, which involved the construction of 13,000 units on a brownfield site occupied by a rural strongman’s car park, was postponed. The first phase, which aimed to build 4,000 flats on a green-belt site occupied by non-indigenous villages was given the go-ahead. It is unknown when the 13,000 units will be built, if at all.

Yuen Long District Council Shum Ho kit
Yuen Long District Council chairman Shum Ho-kit. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

Chu told reporters that the project needed to conduct three EIA reports as required by law – one on roads, another on sewage systems, and finally on the industrial estate. However, he said that no such reports were completed in 2014-2015. “If they are only building Phase 1, they probably think they don’t have to do a legally required EIA report, he said.

But “they admitted to the public that they have not given up [on the other phases],” he said.

He also said although the government said they conducted reports up until 2015, the last report he saw was from May of 2014.

HKFP fast facts fastfacts ribbon banner
”What is the Wang Chau controversy?”

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has been forced to explain a decision to construct 17,000 public housing flats in Yuen Long in separate phases. Plans to build 13,000 units on a Wang Chau brownfield site occupied by a rural strongman’s car park were postponed, whilst a proposal to build 4,000 flats on a nearby greenbelt site occupied by non-indigenous villages was approved. As evidence of off-the-record lobbying with rural leaders emerged, a blame game ensued as the government stood accused of bowing to pressure from rural bigwigs at the expense of villagers.

The scale of the project may be scaled back further, as rural leaders object to the project hurting the area’s feng shui – a Chinese philosophical system relating to harmony with the environment. The phase of 4,000 units will be close to hillside graves.

”Who is involved?”

The controversy was the centrepiece of incoming lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick’s election campaign, and his win helped bring the issue to the fore.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is also directly involved as he was the chairman of a task force on the project. Leung said that he made the decision to conduct the project in separate phases in January 2014, after the housing bureau suggested it to him. The housing bureau made the suggestion after two informal meetings with rural leaders in July and September 2013. There were no records of minutes of the third informal meeting in March 2014.

The rural leaders informally consulted were former Yuen Long District Council chairman and lawmaker Leung Che-cheung, district councillor Tang Hing-ip, Ping Shan Rural Committee chairman Tsang Shu-wo, vice-chairman Tang Tat-sin and Heung Yee Kuk councillor Tang Chi-keung. Villagers living on the greenbelt site were not consulted.

Henry Cheng Kar-Shun, chief of New World, is a supporter of Leung Chun-ying. The government did not take back a nearby greenbelt site owned by developer New World for the public housing project. New World instead applied for a change of land zoning to build private housing after the public housing proposal was approved by the district council. The private housing project may share driveways and a roundabout with the public housing project, according to plans.

”Who is blaming whom?”

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said that the Steering Committee on Land Supply chaired by Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah was in charge of the project’s details. Leung also said the Transport and Housing Bureau is under the Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor. Both Tsang and Lam have denied involvement. Both have been rumoured to be vying for the position of Chief Executive.

Incoming lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick has claimed that there was collusion between the government, businesses, rural groups and triads.

”Why does it matter?”

Housing is one of the most important issues Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has been working on since he took office. The incident sparked accusations that the government had bowed to rural pressure, and that it was colluding with businesses and triads. Leung has been accused of having ties with triads before he even took office – in February 2012, his election aides attended a dinner at a restaurant in Lau Fau Shan with rural strongmen and alleged former triad boss “Shanghai Boy” Kwok Wing-hung.

The incident could harm Leung’s chance of running for re-election.

Chantal Yuen is a Hong Kong journalist interested in issues dealing with religion and immigration. She majored in German and minored in Middle Eastern studies at Princeton University.