Following is a question by the Hon Ronny Tong and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Paul Chan, in the Legislative Council today (February 6):
When elucidating the 2013 Policy Address, the Chief Executive (CE) has stated that housing and land supply is the "top priority" work of the Government, but the Policy Address has made no mention of conducting a review of the "small house concessionary rights" and the use of land zoned for "Village Type Development" (which is mainly reserved for building New Territories small houses) with a view to releasing more land for residential development. Earlier, the Development Bureau has revealed that, of the unleased and unallocated government land, 932 hectares have been zoned for "Village Type Development", and only 391.5 hectares for "Residential" or "Commercial/Residential" uses. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) why CE has made no mention of conducting a review of the small house concessionary rights and the use of land zoned for Village Type Development in his Policy Address;
(b) of the definition of Village Type Development, the criteria based on which the Government has zoned 932 hectares of land for Village Type Development, and whether reserving land for indigenous villagers to build small houses is one of such planning criteria; if so, of the reasons for that;
(c) whether it has made projection on the current number of indigenous villagers eligible for applying for building small houses; if so, of the methods and criteria adopted for making such projection and the findings; if not, the reasons for that; of the number of applications for building small houses received in each of the past 10 years and, among them, the number of applications made by indigenous villagers who have emigrated overseas and the land areas involved;
(d) whether it has made projection on the number of applications for building small houses in the coming 10 years and the land areas involved, as well as the number of applications to be made by indigenous villagers who have emigrated overseas; if so, of the methods and criteria adopted for such projection and the findings; if not, the reasons for that;
(e) whether it has compiled statistics on the number of indigenous villagers not residing or born in Hong Kong who had applied for building small houses in the past 10 years; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; whether it has examined narrowing down the definition of those indigenous villagers who are eligible for applying for building small houses (e.g. limiting the eligibility to only those indigenous villagers who have right of abode in Hong Kong, were born in Hong Kong or were born before a certain date); if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(f) whether the authorities have studied and assessed the implications of indigenous villagers being entitled to the small house concessionary rights on the land supply and development of Hong Kong; if they have, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; whether the Government has drawn up any plan and timetable to review the Small House Policy; if it has, of the details and how it will conduct the review; if not, the reasons for that; whether the Government has any intention of revoking the small house concessionary rights of indigenous villagers; if it does not, of the reasons for that; and
(g) of the number of applications for altering the planned uses of "Agricultural land" or "Green Belt" for building small houses in each of the past 10 years, the number of such applications approved, and the land areas involved; whether the Government had initiated the alteration of planning uses of any land to Village Type Development in the past 10 years; if it had, of the number of such alterations, the land areas involved and the number of small houses that could be built on the sites concerned?
The 932 hectares of land zoned for "Village Type Development" and 391.5 hectares zoned for "Residential" or "Commercial/Residential" uses mentioned in the question refer to the areas of unleased or unallocated government land under the respective zones provided in response to a question on "vacant government land" raised in the Legislative Council on October 17, 2012. The Administration already made it clear at that juncture that unleased or unallocated government land was not equivalent to land immediately available for development. The figures of the relevant land areas were obtained simply by subtracting the leased or allocated areas under respective land use zoning from the total areas covered by such zones on the statutory plans, amongst which were still a number of sites with irregular shapes (e.g. empty space between buildings, back lanes and narrow strips of land alongside existing developments, highways or other amenities) that might not be suitable for housing development. The relevant statistics are as at the end of June 2012.
As shown in the location maps of unleased or unallocated government land released by the Development Bureau (DEVB) on its website on October 17, 2012, land under the "Village Type Development" zones on statutory plans scatters across the territory and is mainly located in recognised villages in the New Territories. In general, these sites are not suitable for large-scale development because of their sporadic locations and infrastructural constraints. In particular, a fair share of such unleased or unallocated government land is in between or surrounding small houses, and may not be suitable for further development.
My reply to the various parts of the question is as follows:
(a) DEVB examines the small house policy from time to time, and the Government's position with regard to the policy has been made clear on a number of public occasions in the past. There have been significant changes to the rural setting as well as the community as a whole since the implementation of the small house policy. The Government recognises the need to review the policy in the context of land use planning as well as optimal utilisation of land resources. As mentioned above, land under the "Village Type Development" zones scatters across the territory, and is not suitable for large-scale development because of the sporadic locations and infrastructural constraints. The Government therefore does not consider that a considerable supply of land in the short to medium term would be produced just by reviewing the use of the "Village Type Development" zone.
(b) Under the Town Planning Ordinance, the planning intention of the "Village Type Development" zone is primarily to reflect existing recognised villages and land considered suitable for village expansion. Land within this zone is primarily intended for development of small houses by indigenous villagers. When drawing up "Village Type Development" zones on statutory plans, the Planning Department takes into consideration the existing environs of the villages, the estimate of the demand for small houses in the coming 10 years and the surrounding environment, as well as other site-specific planning factors such as locality, topography and environmental constraints. For instance, areas of difficult terrain, dense vegetation, areas of ecological significance, stream courses and burial grounds are avoided from inclusion into the "Village Type Development" zones.
(c), (d) and (e) Under the small house policy, a male indigenous villager at least 18 years old 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 for permission to erect for himself during his lifetime a small house on a suitable site within his own village.
The Lands Department (LandsD) is unable to compile statistics on or estimate the existing number of indigenous villagers in recognised villages, who are 18 years or above and are eligible but have not applied for a small house grant. It is because the number changes with the birth, growth and passing away of indigenous villagers. Besides, 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.
In the past 10 years (i.e. 2003-2012), LandsD received a total of 16 381 small house applications, and a total of 9 824 applications were approved during the same period. Statistics of small house applications and approvals by year is at Annex A. As a fair share of small houses are built on land under private ownership the size of which is not standardised, LandsD does not have readily available information showing the total land area involved in all small house applications.
LandsD would consider an application so long as the applicant satisfies the eligibility of indigenous villagers under the small house policy (i.e. a male indigenous villager at least 18 years old who is descended through the male line from a resident in 1898 of a recognised village in the New Territories). As such, LandsD does not keep statistics of applicants not born or residing in Hong Kong, or those who have returned from overseas.
In general, LandsD would not consider a small house application if the eligible indigenous villager residing overseas applies for permission to erect a small house on government land by means of a Private Treaty Grant, and is unable to prove his intention of returning to Hong Kong and residing in the village.
Regarding the demand for small houses in the coming 10 years, the Government does not get hold of the demand for small houses from eligible indigenous villagers for each of the recognised villages, and therefore we are unable to make an aggregate assessment.
(f) As mentioned above, the Government recognises the need to review the policy in the context of land use planning as well as optimal utilisation of land resources. Such review will inevitably involve complicated issues in various aspects including legal, environment, land use planning and demand on land, all of which require careful examination. The Government has not come to a stance yet, and remains open to any suggestions with regard to the policy. We will keep an open and vigilant mind in examining every suggestion, while maintaining dialogue with different walks of life. As the issues involved are complicated and a considerable supply of land in the short to medium term would not be produced through this means, and coupled with the review, consultation and implementation of a number of major and complex projects under DEVB scheduled for the coming year, we have not formulated a concrete timetable for the review at the material time.
(g) The number of applications for permission in respect of plans (under Section 16 of the Town Planning Ordinance) and amendment of plans applications (under Section 12A of the Town Planning Ordinance) under which small house use is proposed on land zoned for "Agricultural" or "Green Belt" is at Annex B.
Generally speaking, statutory plans are amended as appropriate, taking into consideration changes in planning factors and the environment from time to time. There are 22 occasions in the past ten years on which TPB changed the land use zoning concerning "Village Type Development" by amending the Outline Zoning Plans and Development Permission Area Plans, which involved about 15 hectares of land from other uses to "Village Type Development", but at the same time about 5.6 hectares of land from "Village Type Development" to other uses. As there is no specific calculation of the number of small houses that could be built under these amendment suggestions, we are unable to provide such information.
Ends/Wednesday, February 6, 2013
Issued at HKT 17:50