The moment of truth for the Kwu Tung North and Fanling North Development
After resumption of the North East New Territories New Development Areas Planning and Engineering Study in 2008, the Government has spent over a decade in the planning, consultation and refinement of the project. The process involves going through various statutory procedures, patiently communicating with stakeholders, as well as making timely refinements of implementation details, including revisions to the compensation and rehousing (C&R) policies. We initiated the funding application procedures with the Legislative Council (LegCo) for the main works for the First Phase Development of the Kwu Tung North (KTN) and Fanling North (FLN) New Development Areas (NDAs) last week. Let me talk about some issues of concern in relation to the resumption and clearance of land here.
A granary of housing land
KTN and FLN NDAs are core measures under the Government’s multi-pronged strategies to increase land supply in the medium and long term, as well as a “granary” of land for the much-needed housing projects, given the shortage of land supply. The NDAs were originally planned to be developed in six phases, which are now compressed into two, namely, the first phase and the remaining phase. Upon full completion, the NDAs will provide about 71 800 housing units (nearly 70 percent of which for public housing) accommodating an additional population of about 188 100 people. The NDAs will also provide a total floor area of about 868 000 square meters for commercial purposes, and create about 40 100 job opportunities.
Local rehousing, a shared aspiration of the Government and residents
Local rehousing has always been a shared aspiration of the Government and the residents. In July 2018, the LegCo endorsed the enhancements to the general ex-gratia (EGA) C&R arrangements, which offer a non-means tested rehousing option for eligible households to apply for units in dedicated rehousing estates to be developed and managed by the Hong Kong Housing Society (HKHS).
More than 400 households affected by the first phase development will gradually move out in about two years’ time from the second half of 2019 for the delivery of works projects. Since the dedicated rehousing estates at Pak Wo Road, North District are due for completion only in 2023, we will make use of the vacant units of the HKHS’s rental and the Hong Kong Housing Authority (HKHA)’s public rental housing estates to provide transitional arrangements. As regards the many requests from the residents urging for rehousing in public rental housing estates in the North District, such as Po Shek Wu Estate, which will be completed soon, we have been actively following up on the issue with the Housing Department, with a view to positively addressing the request for “local rehousing”.
General support for the new Ex-gratia compensation and rehousing arrangements
According to Ms Lily CHIU, Chief Estate Surveyor (Acquisition Section) of the Lands Department (LandsD), LandsD colleagues conducting site visits reflected that residents affected by the NDA developments are generally more enthusiastic and positive, and more willing to communicate with them after the new EGA C&R arrangements are put in place. As at mid-January, our colleagues have got in touch with 80 per cent of the residents affected by the first phase development, and more than 60 per cent of them has submitted supporting documents in verification of their eligibility. It is expected that all the required documents and information will be submitted to HKHA and HKHS by the end of this month to facilitate early rehousing of the residents.
Some are saying that the cash allowance offered under the new “enhanced” EGA compensation arrangements introduced last year, which is applicable to all government development clearance exercises, is lower than that under the previous package. This is an utter misconception. In fact, the more relaxed calculation basis under the enhanced arrangements may double the amount of the allowance offered, subject to the size of the eligible squatters and the length of residence; and the ceiling of the allowance has increased from $600,000 to more than $1,200,000. In addition, we have retained the Special Ex-gratia Cash Allowance provided for the KTN and FLN NDAs, giving eligible households a choice to opt for the higher amount of EGA of the two packages. This is to ensure that the cash allowance offered will not be compromised under the new arrangements introduced last year.
A progressive and flexible approach
Ms Lily CHIU said that to facilitate affected residents to move into public estates or receive the allowance as soon as practicable, LandsD colleagues have been working diligently to verify the residents’ eligibility, and trying hard to get in touch with residents affected by the remaining works to ascertain whether they are interested in early removal or early surrender of their squatters in exchange for the allowance and rehousing offered, so that the Government can make assessment and take follow-up action as soon as possible.
Different measures to cater for agricultural rehabilitation and housing needs
About 30 farmers will be affected by the first phase development, and most of them will have to move out around mid-2020. The Permanent Secretary for Development (Planning and Lands), Ms Bernadette LINN reiterated in response to legislators’ concerns that “rehousing” and “agricultural rehabilitation” arrangements had to be handled separately. Through the rehousing arrangements under the “enhanced” C&R package, including the non-means tested rehousing option, the Government will arrange for rehousing of eligible farmers in public estates to cater for their housing needs.
Some affected farmers call for a “living-cum-farming” lifestyle on the identified government land, which is the building of cottage houses for rehousing purpose upon agricultural rehabilitation. However, given the tight land resources, it will be difficult for the government to give policy support to such a lifestyle. Having said that, and noting the needs to harvest at small hours and other agricultural needs, we allow erection of farm structures meant for short break and storage of tools and products on the government land identified for agricultural rehabilitation. Apart from rehousing and agricultural rehabilitation arrangements, various EGA allowances are offered to the affected farmers. These allowances are subject to their respective established standards, reference will be made to the market price level in their calculation, and the amounts will be revised on a regular basis under the respective mechanisms.
Interests of elderly residents come first in clearance of elderly homes
It is one of the key policy objectives of the Government to uphold welfare of the elderly and ensure that they enjoy their golden years. I have been reminded on a number of occasions to make proper transitional arrangements for the residents of the residential care homes for the elderly (RCHEs) at the Dills Corner Garden (DCG). The Government will endeavour to ensure that the some 900 affected elderly residents living in the DCG RCHEs will be able to stay in DCG until completion of the new multi-welfare services complex in the same district (tentatively in 2023).
According to the current works schedule, clearance of the DCG RCHEs will take place in two phases. For the 160 or so RCHE residents affected by the first-phase clearance scheduled for the first half of 2020, the Government is formulating suitable transitional arrangements, including relocation within DCG. The second-phase clearance will not be taken forward until the new complex commences operation. In other words, most of the elderly residents can stay in their elderly homes until they move into the new complex.
Resumption of 68 hectares of private land
In development of NDAs, the Government will invoke the Lands Resumption Ordinance to resume most of the private land, on establishment of a “resumption for a public purpose”. To take forward the first-phase development, the Government will need to resume 68 hectares of private land, and clear 100 hectares of government land, 18 ancestral graves and two urns. Yet, there are comments querying why the Government allows private land developers’ applications for in-situ land exchange in these NDAs instead of pursuing government resumption of all the private land for development. In fact, only two in-situ land exchange applications have been granted within the area of the first-phase development. These applications cover a total area of about two hectares, which is in stark contrast with the 68 hectares of land to be resumed by the Government in the same phase.
I believe that we have struck a reasonable balance between the general interests of our community and the interests of those affected. It is now the moment of truth for the KTN and FLN development, as construction works will commence once LegCo funding approval is secured. It is time we join hands to make the critical step forward to give thousands of families an ideal home as soon as possible.
27 January, 2019