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Tuesday, September 23, 2014, 08:43

A fading dream of affordable housing

By Timothy Chui and Agnes Lu in Hong Kong
A fading dream of affordable housing
A fading dream of affordable housing

More protests ahead

Chau feels the current plan is unlikely to be approved. He noted a pattern in town planning projects, where public opposition materializes only in the late stages of planning. “The project has been on the books for more than 10 years and in the early stages when the government started feasibility and engineering studies to come up with a workable plan, people didn’t pay much attention. Most people were unaware of the details and for the farmers it was still many years away. They hadn’t taken it seriously,” he told China Daily.

It wasn’t until detailed plans were produced and the project started to go through statutory procedures that farmers saw real danger to their lifestyle and livelihoods, he said.

The most vocal opponent to the government’s plan, Lee Siu-wah, chairman of the Kwu Tung North Development Concern Group, has vowed to organize more protests. Lee accused officials of adopting an ivory-tower mentality towards the plight of villagers, saying planners and advocates were blind to what villagers might lose owing to redevelopment.

Another villager from Fanling North, Becky Au, said she would organize parallel meetings to discuss protest plans, vowing not to give up.

Much of the crisis has to do with the lack of developable land. The government adopted a more aggressive stance toward identifying developable land to address the housing crisis and the social tensions it created, TPB’s Chau noted.

“Hong Kong really has a housing problem and many new towns were built in rural areas. It’s the only way to get a sufficiently large land bank, short of reclamation,” he said.

The government has innovative plans to improve land use efficiency — relocating certain public facilities underground, even in caves, for example.

Angry protests by villagers, fiercer than any seen in recent times, boiled over in early June. Demonstrators purported to represent villagers’ interests stormed the Legislative Council Complex, injuring a security guard, damaging the premises and requiring a full police response before order was restored.

With the majority of the 50,000 submissions to the TPB opposed to the project, another showdown is likely.

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