Edward Yiu Chung-yim, a newly-elected lawmaker from the architecture functional constituency, believes that disagreement over the compensation offered by the government was the real reason why a public housing project in Wang Chau in Yuen Long has run into problems with rural leaders.
Yiu told an RTHK forum on Sunday that some rural leaders considered the compensation offered by the government as being “too low”, prompting them to oppose the land acquisition plans and forcing authorities to scale down the project.
The comments by Yiu came after the Housing Authority issued on Saturday a document in which it revealed that it had consulted Leung Che-cheung, Tsang Shu-wo and several other rural leaders between July and September 2013 about the prices to be offered for procuring villagers’ land.
Leung Che-cheung is a DAB lawmaker and chairman of the Yuen Lung District Council, while Tsang Shu-wo chairs the Ping Shan Rural Committee.
Following the consultations, the housing department recommended in early January 2014 that only the project’s first phase be taken up and that the second and the third phases should be deferred.
The recommendation was accepted by Secretary for Housing and Transport Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, who then placed the proposal at a meeting attended by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and his three tops aides－Financial Secretary John Tsang, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam and Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen.
The high-level meeting took place on Jan. 27, 2014 before a final decision was made to scale down the housing project, according to the document.
Chief Executive Leung said last week that he made the final decision to have 4,000 units built for now, rather than constructing the originally proposed 17,000 units all at once, keeping in mind the “potential difficulties” in the project.
The government has denied accusations that it scaled down the project due to pressure from vested interests and rural strongmen in Yuen Long.
Yiu said on Sunday that he learnt that rural leaders, acting on behalf of villagers who owned the farmland that was sought to be acquired, demanded prices much higher than what the government could offer.
Apple Daily cited Yiu as saying that about 8.5 hectares of land involved in the project was owned privately and that the landowners wanted to be paid HK$3,000 per square foot, or HK$2.74 billion in total, compared to the total of HK$424 million that the government could have offered according to law.
Yiu criticized the government, saying it is clear that authorities were afraid of angering the rural leaders.
The administration chose to yield to the rural leaders’ demands, which led to the public housing project being pared down to 4,000 units, he said.
The lawmaker-elect said the government should have just exercised its authority and applied the Lands Resumption Ordinance to overcome the problems.
Bowie Hau Chi-keung, chairman of the Sheung Shui Rural Committee, said in response to Yiu’s remarks that all landowners were willing to release their land to help with the project.
But their demand for better compensation was understandable, he said.
The government hasn’t made any comments yet on issues related to the land procurement price.
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