Around 30 villagers and protesters demonstrated against the government on Friday morning for “cunningly” repossessing land in Wang Chau, Yuen Long. Lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick was also present.

They said that notices were put up between 10pm Thursday night and the early hours of Friday morning in three villages, before the construction works were gazetted at 7am.

The affected villages are Wing Ning Tsuen, Yeung Uk San Tsuen, and Fung Chi Tsuen, and the notices said that the government would begin road and sewage works in the area. The notice did not state the area affected or time when the construction work would take place.

villagers at protest
Villagers protesting. Photo: InMediaHK.

The Wang Chau project was embroiled in controversy a few months ago as it was found that the 17,000 public housing flats expected to be built would be erectd in separate phases. Plans to build 13,000 units on a Wang Chau brownfield site occupied by a rural strongman’s carpark were postponed, while a proposal to build 4,000 flats on a nearby greenbelt site occupied by non-indigenous villages was approved.

Villagers told InMediaHK that “the government didn’t even dare to openly gazette [this construction work before] saying that they will tear down our houses. This is worse than being a thief.”

A man surnamed Lam told the media outlet that they were prepared to protect their village at 9am, after the construction works were expected to be gazetted at 7am. However, they saw that the notices were already up this morning. He also asked why their homes were to be torn down so that other people could live in public housing. “Who will take care of us?” he asked.

Eddie Chu Hoi-dick protest wang chau november
Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, who was also present at the protest. Photo: InMediaHK.

The chief of Wing Ning Tsuen, Chan Oi-kam, also said that they had only received notice that the construction works would be gazetted on Friday, when the notification letter was dated on Tuesday.

The government released a statement at around 11am on Friday endorsing the road work in Wang Chau. It said that it would involve widening roads and the construction of a footbridge, which would mean the permanent closures of sections of existing footpaths, carriageways, and cycle tracks.

”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.

”What is the timeline of the controversy?”

Housing Department and Innovation and Technology Commission join forces to research the feasibility of a public housing project in Wang Chau.

June 27, 2013
The inter-departmental Wang Chau development task force, chaired by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, hold their first meeting.

July 2013
The task force meets rural leaders.

September 2013
The task force meets rural leaders again.

The Housing Department announces a study of a housing project on 34 hectares of brownfield land in Wang Chau. The housing project will provide an estimated 17,000 units to house 52,000 people.

April 2014
The government proposes to move the Wang Chau housing project to a greenbelt instead of the brownfield site, on which is a car park owned by Tsang Shu-wo, chairman of the Ping Shan Rural Committee. This reduces the number of public housing units to be provided to 4,000.

June 24, 2014
The housing plan is submitted to a Yuen Long District Council meeting where the government mentions, on record for the first time, the cut to 4,000 units.

October 2014
A research report emerges suggesting the Housing Department should implement the housing project in phases.
February 2015
The Housing Authority rejects the report and plans to develop only the 4,000 public housing units.

March 2016
The government says it will prioritise other development in Wang Chau “according to the progress of accompanying infrastructure”.

August 2016
Non-indigenous villagers affected by the development criticise the government for bowing down to rural leaders. They also complain they are being evicted without a comprehensive proposal for relocation.

September 2016
Eddie Chu Hoi-dick wins a seat in LegCo. He says he will prioritise investigation of the Wang Chau land controversy.

Chu also says he has received death threats because of his involvement in the controversy.

September 13, 2016
CY Leung says the decision to build 4,000 units first was because he wanted to put easier projects first. The government will not bow down before rural forces and triads.

September 15, 2016
Lawmakers-elect Chu and Edward Yiu Chung-yim request the release of all documents related to the Wang Chau controversy, but the government only releases the cover and contents page of the 2012 feasibility report.

September 17, 2016
Leaked documents from the government reveal that a task force chaired by CY Leung was set up for the Wang Chau developments. The task force “soft lobbied” local rural leaders twice in 2013. The government admits that “informal consultation” is the Housing Authority’s usual approach.

September 19, 2016
CY Leung says he was only responsible for ‘high level decisions.’ Details were left to the Steering Committee on Land Supply chaired by Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah. Tsang’s office says Tsang never attended task force meetings, and the Steering Committee on Land Supply did not decide to divide the Wang Chau development into phases.

September 20, 2016
Leung invites Chu to join a discussion platform for the Wang Chau development that he has set up.

September 21, 2016
Leung admits that he made the decision to cut the provision of public housing units to 4,000.

Secretary for Transport and Housing Anthony Cheung says the government held four “soft lobbying” sessions with local rural leaders, but there are no records of these meetings.

September 22, 2016
Chu and Yiu call for investigation into Wang Chau land controversy using the Powers and Privileges Ordinance. Starry Lee Wai-king, chairwoman of the pro-Beijing party DAB, finds it unnecessary.

September 23, 2016
Rural bigwig Tang Kwan-shing says that villagers should move as it is difficult to move and store bulky cargo, and that villagers should “sacrifice themselves for the greater good.”

September 24, 2016
Apple Daily reveals that Tsang Shu-wo could be earning up to HK$100m from car park he operates partly on government land, and land he rents for HK$1 per square foot.

September 27, 2016
CY Leung says plans to develop flats on the car park site will commence after dispute is solved.

September 28, 2016
Apple Daily reports that engineering giant Arup Group used confidential information from the Hong Kong government in New World Development’s application to build luxury homes in Wang Chau.

”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.