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What’s the fuss about the North East New Territories Development Plan?

photo by Rebeka Tam
Protest installation at LegCo - June 2014 (photo by Rebeka Tam)

The North East New Territories Development Plan is a controversial proposal put forth by the government to demolish a series of villages in Kwu Tung North and Fanling North to make way for new development areas (NDAs). This plan, they claim, will provide much needed housing for HK’s growing population. We’ve noticed that the debate in the English press (e.g., the South China Morning Post) has a tendency to simplify the conflict to “unhappy villagers vs. development of new towns”, but the issue is a little more complex than this. As a result, we’ve pulled together and translated material from many of the sources so our English-speaking friends can have a more comprehensive picture as to why there have been so many objections to this plan: 1. Is There Even a Need for a Plan of this Scale? Claims of population growth are exaggerated

The government report claims that the need for housing comes from the expected population growth of 1.4 million people in the upcoming 30 years. [1] Given that HK’s birth rates are in decline, and that the population census has a track record of overestimating its numbers[2], the actual need for housing may be less than projected.

The proportion of public housing in the overall plan is miniscule

Despite the government’s insistence that the development plan is for public housing, the proportion of public housing has been purposefully kept down to a ratio of 60% private housing, 40% subsidised/public housing. [3] This means in terms of actual land-area use, only 36 hectares (6% of the overall area) will be used for public or subsidised housing.[4]

2. At what cost?

Displaced Villagers

Over 10 villages and 10,000 people will be affected.[5] Most of these are non-indigenous villagers with no land rights. These farmers will lose their livelihoods along with the farmland.

Displaced elderly people

Over a thousand people in Shek Chai Leng Elderly village will be have to be moved in two stages but a new place will only be rebuilt in 2023. In 2018 during the Stage I of demolishing the elderly will have to suffer much noise pollution and other interferences. Outside the elderly village, there are also thousands of elderly people in other villages that are not taken care of in this plan.[6]

A quarter of HK’s farmland destroyed

Local farms also serve the purpose of education and allowing locals to relate to nature. Furthermore, Hong Kong’s lack of self-sufficiency for providing it’s only fresh vegetables is a security risk (currently only 1.9% of our veg comes from local farmers). If Hong Kong is to be a sustainable city it needs to have a vision of how to integrate farmland into its development planning.[7]

3. Who really stands to gain from this?

Real Estate Hegemony

The four major property developers (Henderson Land, New World, Sun Hung Kai, Cheung Kong) have bought up, at a low price, much of the private farmland that is due to be developed in the NE New Territories Development Plan. Of the 60% private housing that will be built, most are designated as low-density luxury apartments, which can be sold at a premium. Dozens of additional hectares will also be built into shopping malls and retail outlets, which only the developers will benefit from.[8]

Government officials with a conflict of interest

Development Minister Paul Chan, was discovered in July 2013 to have family members who owned 18,000 square feet of farmland in Kwu Tong North. They stood to gain around over $12.4 million under this development plan. [9]

The chairperson of the Finance Committee, Ng Leung Sing, is a non-executive director of the telecoms firm SmartTone -- a subsidiary of Sun Hung Kai Properties, which stands to gain from the development. His behavior as a chairperson during the Finance Committee clearly revealed his pro-establishment biases (see below). [10] Other councilors with a conflict of interest within the Finance Committee include James Tien, who has ties to New World Development Company Limited; Lau Wong Fat and Abraham Razack.[11]

4. What alternatives are there?

“Double South “Plan - Using the Golf course and Brownlands

Some NGOs and environmental groups have proposed an alternative “Double South” Plan, which would involve developing part of the 170 hectare HK Golf Club in Kwu Tung South and 200 hectares of brownlands (storage areas and carparks) in Yuen Long South. This alternative plan would result in no villager displacement, and would make good use of brownlands that are currently abandoned instead of active agricultural soil. It would also cut the project cost by a third, of up to $30 billion. [12]

Use existing government land

In June 2012 the Development Bureau announced that it had 4,000 hectares of unused government land, of which 580 hectares has been zoned for high density residential development. This would supersede the 90 hectares of residential area that the NE New Territories Development Plan would be able to provide. [13]

5. Miscarriage of Democratic Procedure

Protestors write 500,000 times the words "Against" to represent the number of ignored dissenting signatures received in the public consultation stage. Photo by Hin-yan Wong / Hofan Chau
Protestors write 500,000 times the words "Against" to represent the number of ignored dissenting signatures received in the public consultation stage. Photo by Hin-yan Wong / Hofan Chau

Disregard of public consultation

Over two public consultations, th