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LCQ2: Issues relating to New Territories small house policy and small house concessionary rights

Following is a question by the Hon Andrew Wan and a reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Paul Chan, in the Legislative Council today (December 14):
 
Question:
 
According to the New Territories small house (small house) policy implemented since 1972, a New Territories male indigenous villager over 18 years old is entitled to one concessionary grant during his lifetime to build one small house (small house concessionary right). However, that policy has all along been a subject of criticism over the years. During his election campaign in 2012 and in a meeting with the senior members of the Heung Yee Kuk (HYK) in November of the same year after winning the election, the Chief Executive indicated that the problems associated with small houses and small house concessionary rights could be resolved by the method of "drawing a line", i.e. stipulating that New Territories male indigenous villagers born after a specified year would no longer be entitled to small house concessionary rights. The Chief Secretary for Administration, during her tenure as the Secretary for Development, pointed out that the small house concessionary rights could not be granted to New Territories male indigenous villagers indefinitely, and suggested setting a deadline for such rights, in line with the Basic Law's principle of guaranteeing Hong Kong’s way of life to remain unchanged for 50 years, to stipulate that New Territories male indigenous villagers born after 2029 (i.e. reaching the age of 18 after 2047) would no longer be entitled to small house concessionary rights. The incumbent Secretary for Development has also written that it is necessary to review the small house policy on the premise of optimal utilisation of land resources. On the other hand, some members of the public have criticised that while the five-year term of office of the incumbent Government is approaching its end, the problems associated with small houses and small house concessionary rights have remained unresolved. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
 
 (1) whether it conducted, in the past few years, any study on adoption of the method of "drawing a line" for resolving the problems associated with small houses and small house concessionary rights; if it did, of the details; whether it has carried out any formal or informal consultations with HYK on such a method; if it has, of the details and the outcome of such consultations; whether it is due to resistance from the gentry or HYK that the incumbent Government has all along failed to resolve the problems associated with small houses and small house concessionary rights;

 (2) whether it has projected the number of people eligible for applying to build small houses in the coming 10 years; if it has, of the number, and whether it will use that number as a basis for setting a limit on the total area of land that can be made available for building small houses across the territory (including government land and private land); and
 
 (3) as there are views that the development of low-density luxury residential properties by developers through the acquisition of small house concessionary rights has spoiled the cultural atmosphere of the rural areas and violated the planning intention of the "Village Type Development" (VTD) sites, and such developments have also increased the burden on traffic and ancillary community facilities in the vicinity, whether the Government has examined if the small house policy has been abused; whether it has considered including some VTD sites in new town developments or public housing developments on the premise of not affecting country parks and greening zones, so as to optimise the utilisation of land resources and provide mid-to-high density residential properties that can better meet the needs of the community?
 
Reply:
 
President,
 
My reply to the Hon Andrew Wan's questions is as follows:
 
For part (1) and part (2) of the question, under the Small House Policy (the Policy), in general, a male indigenous villager aged 18 years old or above who is descended through the male line from a resident in 1898 of a recognised village in the New Territories may apply to the authority once during his lifetime for permission to build for himself a small house on a suitable site within his own village.
 
The Policy has been implemented for more than forty years. The Government recognises the need to review the Policy in the context of prevailing land use planning as well as optimal utilisation of land resources.  Such review will inevitably involve complicated issues in various aspects such as legal, environment, land use planning and demand on land, all of which require careful examination. The Government will continue to handle this review carefully and judiciously, engaging stakeholders as well as the wider community in dialogue over the relevant issues as and when necessary. As I mentioned when I responded to Legislative Council Members' oral questions on November 18, 2015 and June 22, 2016, and on various occasions in the meantime, given the complicated issues involved and the fact that the work priorities of the Development Bureau are to increase land supply in the short to medium term and to implement and control costs of various public works projects, the review or consideration of suggestions to amend the Policy would not be a priority task in the remainder of the current term of the Government. It is neither realistic nor practicable as far as time is concerned.
 
The demand for small houses may change with factors such as birth and growth of indigenous villagers. Whether or not an indigenous villager would apply for a small house grant is dependent on his own circumstances and wishes, and not all eligible indigenous villagers aged 18 years or above will submit an application. It is thus impossible for the Lands Department to project the number of small house applications in the next ten years. As a matter of fact, it is not the Government's policy objective to provide adequate land to cater for applications by the estimated number of eligible indigenous villagers.
 
Moreover, as the Policy is currently challenged by a judicial review, it is not appropriate for the Government to respond further to detailed considerations of the Policy at this stage.
 
For part (3) of the question, the planning intention of the "Village Type Development" zone ("V" zone) is mainly to reflect existing villages and for small house development by indigenous villagers within recognised villages. The purpose of setting up the "V" zone is also to concentrate village type developments therein for a more orderly development. However, given that "V" zones are scattered across the territory and that there are various existing land uses, including existing villages, small houses, agricultural land, village access roads, etc., coupled with constraints in the existing infrastructural and other ancillary facilities, they are generally not suitable for large-scale high-density development.
 
To cater for Hong Kong society's on-going development needs and optimise the utilisation of land resources, the Government has been proactive in implementing a series of new development areas and new town extension projects. Among these projects, quite a number are located in the rural New Territories in which existing villages, brownfield sites, squatter areas, agricultural land and land of other uses are scattered. Generally speaking, it is not feasible for the existing infrastructural and community facilities in these areas to cope with the demand arising from the future population growth or the further development of new towns. The Government's strategy for developing such areas is to conduct comprehensive planning with a view to examining the overall development constraints of the areas and the needs of society, and addressing the potential traffic, environmental and other impacts caused by the proposed developments. This will ensure sufficient infrastructural and community facilities for the future development, and at the same time improve land use and development patterns for the areas concerned. Such strategy for releasing suitable land for new development areas/new town extension is more effective than developing individual parcels of rural land, and can also better benefit the areas overall.

Ends/Wednesday, December 14, 2016
Issued at HKT 14:10

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