Following is a question by the Hon Chan Yuen-han and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Paul Chan, in the Legislative Council today (June 19):
Nga Tsin Wai Village (NTW Village), having a history of more than 600 years, is the only walled village remaining in the urban area of Hong Kong. The redevelopment project of NTW Village was one of the 25 urban renewal projects announced by the former Land Development Corporation in 1998, but it has not yet been completed so far, and the authorities have not announced its latest development proposal. Some members of the public have relayed to me that NTW Village has high historic and cultural values, and is an important element in the conservation aspect of the Kai Tak New Development Area. As a result, various sectors of the community are concerned about the redevelopment of the Village and remain vigilant on whether the new plan can retain the history and cultures of the Village. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) of the latest progress of the redevelopment project of NTW Village; the number of households and shop operators involved in the private land interests yet to be resumed by the authorities so far, the difficulties encountered in the process of resuming private land interests and whether such difficulties are related to the developer that owns the majority of property interests in the Village; the details and timetable of the latest rehousing and compensation proposals offered by the authorities to the affected parties;
(b) given that the buildings in NTW Village have a long history, together with a news report that the archaeological works conducted by the authorities in the Village recently have damaged the beams of the village houses and, as a result, affected their structural safety, whether the authorities have assessed if the main structures of the various buildings in the Village comply with the current statutory requirements on building safety at present; if they have, of the number and percentage of buildings which fail to meet the requirements; whether the authorities have formulated proposals to ensure the structural safety of the buildings in the Village so as to safeguard the safety of villagers living in deplorable conditions; if they have, of the details; and
(c) given that the authorities are conducting archaeological works in NTW Village at present, whether they will conduct afresh grading assessments on the cultural relics and buildings in the entire walled village in the light of the historic significance of the cultural relics found there; whether the authorities have plans to reconsider the use of lands in the Village in collaboration with the developer mentioned in (a), including considering an exchange of lands owned by the developer in the Village with those in other districts, in order to retain the original appearance of the entire walled village; if they have, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
The Nga Tsin Wai Village (NTW Village) redevelopment project was one of the 25 projects announced but which had yet to be commenced by the former Land Development Corporation in 1998. The project was commenced in October 2007.
When the Urban Renewal Authority (URA) took over the project, two-thirds of the village houses had already been demolished by the private owners. The remaining structures were very dilapidated and due to the lack of proper sanitation facilities and the proliferation of illegal structures, the living conditions of the villagers were poor. Unauthorised occupation of government land was also rampant.
In December 1994, when the Antiquities Advisory Board (AAB) discussed this project, it raised no objection to the redevelopment of NTW Village. AAB subsequently re-confirmed its decision in 1999 and 2000. In November 2005, the Wong Tai Sin District Council (WTSDC) requested URA to expedite the redevelopment of NTW Village and also to appropriately preserve the three conservation elements, namely the gatehouse, the embedded stone tablet "Hing Yau Yu" and the Tin Hau Temple. AAB agreed to the arrangements.
In response to the community's aspiration for conservation, URA engaged a conservation consultant team led by Mr Laurence Loh, a UNESCO conservation expert, to develop a conservation strategy in early 2006. A "Conservation by Design" plan to balance the old and the new was recommended by the team. In addition to preserving the above three conservation elements, the Central Axis, the lane pattern as well as eight village houses along the Central Axis with intact historical architectural elements, will be conserved.
My reply to the three parts of the question is as follows:
(a) In October 2009, URA submitted an application to the Secretary for Development (the Secretary), requesting the Secretary to recommend to the Chief Executive in Council (CE in C) the resumption of land for implementation of the redevelopment project under the Urban Renewal Authority Ordinance. After CE in C had decided on the proposed land resumption, the Lands Department (LandsD) gazetted the resumption of land and property interests concerned at NWT Village in accordance with the Lands Resumption Ordinance. The affected private land and property interests reverted to the Government on October 15, 2011. URA, acting as the agent of the Government, is now assisting LandsD to obtain vacant possession of the land and properties concerned through legal proceedings.
Before the land reverted to the Government, URA had already acquired most of the private property interests. Only seven property interests had yet to be acquired. At present, compensation for the owners of the seven property interests is being dealt with in line with the prevailing procedures. What URA will still have to handle is the clearance of the 22 occupiers still staying at the village (comprising 13 domestic occupiers, seven non-domestic occupiers and two mixed use occupiers).
Among these 22 occupiers, 20 are not legal tenants who held tenancy agreements with the ex-owners of the properties within the project site. They are illegal occupiers of government land either within or surrounding the project site. As they are not legal occupiers, it is difficult for URA to offer them rehousing or ex-gratia payments based on the prevailing criteria. That said, URA, upholding the "people first" principle, is assisting these occupiers with their removal by granting them ex-gratia allowance on a basis similar to that for its tenants. As for the two legal tenants who held tenancy agreements with the ex-owners, URA is offering them assistance in accordance with its prevailing criteria for granting rehousing or ex-gratia payments.
To avoid delay with the project, URA has also proceeded with legal proceedings to recover possession of the land concerned. So far, court orders have been obtained in five cases. One of the occupiers has applied for suspending the execution of the writ of possession and a date has been fixed by the court to hear his case. The final removal schedule will be subject to the court's ruling.
(b) The earlier archaeological investigation conducted by URA only covered field survey and minor excavation to prepare for the collection of strata information for recording, analysis and archaeological study purposes. No demolition work was involved, and no damage had been inflicted on the beams of the structures as alleged in the news report mentioned in the Member's question. Moreover, the archaeologists engaged by URA are qualified professionals and have extensive experience in archaeology. They will not damage the structure and safety of the structures in the village during the archaeological investigation.
Since some of the structures (22 in number) remaining at site are still being occupied, URA is unable to gain access inside these structures to examine their structural conditions. For the sake of safety, URA will be prepared to access these structures and examine their structural conditions at the occupiers' request. Nevertheless, we hope that the occupiers will reach agreement with URA as early as possible and move out.
As the gatehouse, the "Hing Yau Yu" stone tablet, the Tin Hau Temple and the existing eight village houses along the Central Axis in the village are proposed to be preserved under the conservation plan, URA will carry out detailed investigation of these structures in due course to ascertain their structural conditions and carry out rehabilitation work to ensure their compliance with the building safety legislation.
(c) The purpose of URA in engaging archaeologists to carry out archaeological investigation at site is to ascertain the archaeological value and the distribution of underground cultural relics at NTW Village. If any cultural relics of archaeological or historical significance are discovered during the investigation, URA will consult the Antiquities and Monuments Office (AMO) and, depending on the investigation findings, draw up a suitable conservation plan under which such relics will be displayed in the future conservation park if feasible. However, on the first day of the scheduled archaeological investigation in January 2013, the investigation was suspended amidst objections raised by those present at the scene. As soon as there is any progress on this front, URA will promptly inform AMO.
In line with the "Conservation by Design" plan proposed by the conservation expert, AMO has listed both the NTW Village gatehouse and the Tin Hau Temple as new items on the list of historic buildings pending grading finalisation. Their grading will be assessed by AAB.
With demolitions and reconstructions carried out over the past decades, most of the buildings at the NTW Village are devoid of any enduring value. Given that URA's proposal to build a conservation park and the design are considered suitable by the Government, and the proposal has also been endorsed by WTSDC, we will not consider any land exchange proposal.
Ends/Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Issued at HKT 14:30