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Rural Hong Kong faces imminent death

posted 29 Apr 2015, 14:52 by HKIP News   [ updated 30 Apr 2015, 16:36]

At the end of a two-day closed door meeting, the controversial North East New Territories Development Plan has finally been approved, despite persistent protests from villagers affected by it. Compulsory repurchase of rural lands could commence as early as 2017. The decision is a nail in the coffin for one of the oldest and most traditional areas of Hong Kong that is steeped in history and cultural heritage.

For the benefit of those who may not be au fait with the facts, this plan has been plagued by controversy from the start as it is put forth by the HK government to demolish a series of villages to make way for new urban areas.

1. Is there even a need for a plan of this scale? -- Many Hongkongers believe that the government's claims of population growth are exaggerated and, what's more, the proportion of public housing in the overall plan is small. In terms of actual land use, only 6% of the overall area will be used for public housing.

2. At what cost? -- Over 8,400 people will be displaced in the affected areas, most of whom with no land rights. These farmers will lose their livelihoods along with the farmland. Furthermore, over 1,000 elderly people will have to be moved from retirement homes. To cap it all, a quarter of Hong Kong's farmland will be destroyed.

3. Who really stands to gain from this? -- Four major property developers (Henderson Land, New World, Sun Hung Kai, Cheung Kong) have bought at a low price much of the affected farmland, most of which will be turned into luxury apartments and sold at a premium. In addition, despite obvious conflict of interest, a number of government officials stand to reap huge gains from this development plan. Development Minister Paul Chan, for example, was discovered in July 2013 to have family members owning 18,000 sq ft of farmland in one of the affected areas and now stand to gain over $12.4 million.

As the Hong Kong government is now dominated by politicians representing special interest groups such as property developers and business tycoons, local people often find that their voices fall on deaf ears. This is part of what is currently fuelling calls for universal suffrage in Hong Kong.