Kenneth Lau, chair of the rural powerhouse Heung Yee Kuk, says residents of the New Territories have been provoked and attacked by people with “ulterior motives” – especially with regards to the legal challenge against the Small House Policy.

Under the Small House Policy, male indigenous villagers who are descendants of a male line from a recognised village may apply to build a small house of up to three storeys high. A home may be constructed on either their own land at zero premium, or on public land through a private treaty grant, once during their lifetime.

A application filed by the “king of judicial review” Kwok Cheuk-kin to challenge the policy was approved by a court in 2016, and will be heard by the end of this year. The policy is often criticised for prompting the illegal transfer of land rights for profit, despite it being a criminal offence to sell such rights to developers.

Kenneth Lau
Kenneth Lau (third from right). Photo: GovHK.

Kwok argued that the Small House Policy was unconstitutional as it was initially established by the colonial government as a short to medium-term temporary measure, and should have been cancelled after it had been in place for 43 years. He also argued the policy was discriminatory against women.

Kenneth Lau, the lawmaker for Heung Yee Kuk which represents rural clans, said there were significant changes to Hong Kong’s political environment last year. A new chief executive and new director of the China Liaison Office had brought new mindsets and more effective governance.

“Heung Yee Kuk also did not have a calm year last year. New Territories indigenous people are constantly being provoked and attacked by people with ulterior motives. The most concerning part was the judicial review challenging Article 40 of the Basic Law,” he said at a Lunar New Year gathering of the Kuk on Thursday.

Kwok Cheuk-kin
Kwok Cheuk-kin. File photo: In-Media.

Article 40 stipulates that the lawful traditional rights and interests of the indigenous inhabitants of the New Territories shall be protected by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. It was well known that Lau’s father – the late Kuk chair Lau Wong-fat – fought for Article 40 to be included in the de facto constitution.

“The case will be heard by the end of this year – it has caused fear and anger among New Territories indigenous people around the world,” Lau said, adding that it was another incident that challenged indigenous people following the 2015 illegal transfer of land rights case.

“It will intensify the confrontation between the city and the rural side. In the long run, it will affect Hong Kong’s development and the country’s image in governing Hong Kong,” he said.

small house
Suspected new small house estate to be sold for profit on Tung Tsz Road in Tai Po. Photo: Screenshot.

Lau also said the government should update its level of compensation for acquiring land in the New Territories – which was below market value – so that indigenous people can enjoy the benefits of development

He said he hoped the government would consult the Kuk more in future developments.

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Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng

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.