A fire swept through an empty tin house at the Ma Shi Po farmland in the Northeast New Territories at noon on Tuesday, in a suspected case of arson. The farmland is at the centre of a long-running repossession and redevelopment saga.

A government development plan from 2013 controversially allowed majority landowner Henderson Land Development to “exchange” the status of the site from agricultural use to residential use. Last year, the farmland was at the heart of a standoff between villagers and security guards attempting to evict them.

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Photo: Mapopo Community Farm via Facebook.

The police told HKFP that the fire broke out at a property at 12:23pm, and that nearby villagers reported the incident after passing by. It was put out by the Fire Services Department at around 12:36pm.

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Photo: Mapopo Community Farm via Facebook.

Chan Dai-gut, a member of the Mapopo Community Farm located within Ma Shi Po, told HKFP that the house was situated on a parcel of land that had already been repossessed by Henderson. “Only that house was affected,” she said.

The police said that the circumstances of the fire were suspicious, and they are treating the blaze as a case of suspected arson.

Chan said she did not see any suspicious figures in the vicinity: “The wind was very strong and we couldn’t see much.”

However, local outlet HK01 reported that nearby villagers had seen Henderson personnel in the area in the morning.

According to HK01, another fire had occurred at the Ma Shi Po farmland last September, which also originated on a parcel owned by Henderson.

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Photo: Mapopo Community Farm via Facebook.

Repossession attempts

Last year, property developer Henderson Land Development was granted a High Court injunction to repossess a 5,500 square foot parcel of farmland in Ma Shi Po.

The repossession sparked heated protests by conservationists and villagers, leading to a standoff between April and June.

According to the government’s 2013 development plan for the Northeast New Territories, the firm will need to acquire a total of 40,000 square feet of farmland in Ma Shi Po in order to apply to change its designated usage from agricultural to a more lucrative residential status.

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Henderson began acquiring land in Ma Shi Po in the 1990s. HK01 reported on Tuesday that the firm has already acquired between 60 and 70 per cent of the entire site.

Elson Tong is a graduate of international relations and former investigations consultant. He has also written for Stand News.