Research on Development Potential of Vacant Small House Land
Idle “Village Land” as a Land Supply Option: To address the problem of land shortage in Hong Kong, the public has repeatedly proposed developing Village Type Development Zones as a land supply option. However, the government ignores the development possibilities of government land in the Village Type Development Zones (V zones), saying that these sites are “fragmented” and “remote”. In addition to the 932.9 hectares of government land in the rural areas, there are nearly 1,548.8 hectares of unused private land in the rural areas, which is equivalent to one and a half the size of the proposed reclamation in “Lantau Tomorrow Vision” . However, its development possibility has yet to be studied in detail. We feel obliged to examine the status and potential uses of these sites for better land-use planning as they can become an important land supply option.
Land for Small House Development Repeatedly Abused: According to our two previous reports on illegal development of small houses, there are tens of thousands of small houses in the New Territories which may have been developed through illegal means. The abuse of small house rights has never come to an end. Although the ICAC is now investigating a prominent small house developer and his partners for the illegal resale of small house development rights, these people are merely the tip of the iceberg. Apart from updating on the status of the developed small house villas that are already developed, it is more effective to analyze the status of the sites targeted by developers for future development of small house villas. By doing so, we can pinpoint where the potential abuse cases will be and who is behind these suspectedly illegal dealings.
Research Scope and Methodology: In most cases, “division of land” is a necessary step in the preliminary stage of development. With reference to the past examples of “land division” in the suspected illegal small house projects, we identified the sites susceptible to illegal small house development in the future. We call these sites “potential land reserve for illegal small house development”. Then we conducted a comprehensive analysis of the distribution of these land lots in the village zones. We checked the company and land registration records related to the sites to verify the title status of the sites and to determine whether there are signs of illegal small house development.
Findings: We found that there are 787 sites which may be potential land reserves for illegal small house development, covering 176.9 hectares of land. We estimated that an additional 9,744 small houses can be developed by illegal means. Based on the latest number of small houses allegedly developed by illegal means, we estimated that the total number of such small houses will double in the future. We conducted random land and company searches on the sites listed as the potential land reserve for illegal small house development and found that nearly 75% of the land lots planned as roads in these sites are held by companies which may be the mastermind of the entire housing project. The presence of land lots reserved for roads held by companies is an important indicator suggesting that illegal development of small houses may be underway. Yuen Long District has the most number and the largest total sizes of potential land reserve for illegal small house development. Nearly 93 hectares of land in Yuen Long may be developed into 4,968 small houses by illegal means, accounting for nearly half of such land in the New Territories. If this potential problem is not attended by the authority, Yuen Long will remain the district with the most suspected cases of illegal small house development in the New Territories.
Village Type Development
“Village Land”(i.e. V zones and VE)
642 recognised villages under the small house policy
Idle Private Land in “Village Land”
Idle Government Land in V zones
Idle (as of 2012)
Potential land reserves for illegal small-house development within “Village Land”
Potential land reserves for illegal small house development; minus agricultural land, enclaves and wetlands near fishponds within “Village Land”
Table- Vacant Rural Land
Case Studies :
Lin Fa Tei Village- the epicentre: A total of 272 small houses may be developed by illegal means in Lin Fa Tei Village in the future, occupying nearly 5.39 hectares of land. The number of small houses allegedly developed by illegal means in the village may increase by almost 1.6 times to 450 in the future. Meanwhile, a developer even owns seven potential sites for illegal small house development in the village. Therefore, the government has been lax in monitoring the situation. The small house policy is gradually losing its original intent because the government connives at the unlawful use of land. The government must formulate a comprehensive and long-term plan on rural land. Sites susceptible to illegal small house development should be resumed to make the best use of them.
“Fragmented” and “Remote” Sites? The government has repeatedly claimed that government land in the village areas is “fragmented” and “remote” and is therefore unsuitable for development, lacking a holistic view of the overall land use of the areas. For instance, in Lam Hau Village of Ping Shan, we found that those so-called “fragmented” small sites can be merged into a cluster of land of at least 6.5 hectares if the private land reserved for building small houses and brownfields within the area are merged. Housing projects of a considerable scale may be developed on these sites.
Overseas companies seem to be involved. Previous studies on the illegal development of small houses have already found that British Virgin Islands companies were involved in small house development projects, indicating there might be a trend of obscure illegal dealings. Now that we also found overseas companies involved in these projects again. Therefore, offshoring such activities has become the new mode of operation, as the people behind the scenes can now dodge public scrutiny.
Precious land resources idle for nearly three decades: We found that a company which had held the potential sites for illegal small house development bought back the sites from the partnering male indigenous inhabitants. Such a move may indicate that the illegal small house development may no longer be business as usual. There are even signs showing that the small house project has fallen apart, but it is too early to call the end of the whole small house business. As a result, the sites have been left idle for 27 to 29 years, and it is a waste of land resources. We have discovered a prominent local businessman, Lam Kin Ngok Peter, is one of the directors of the company involved, indicating that the housing project on these sites may involve a medium-sized developer in Hong Kong.
Small house is an inefficient housing supply option: With reference to the density of rural residential development in official planning documents, a one-hectare site in rural areas can hold 500 residential units. In contrast, only 40 small houses can be built on the same site. In other words, if public housing is built on all the 149.1 hectares of land allegedly reserved for illegal small house development, then a total of 74,550 public housing units of 700 square feet can be potentially developed to house 223,650 people. To better utilise the precious land resources, so rural sites should not be reserved for small houses only. The government must make better use of land resources to increase the supply of housing.
Proposed Measures: Make Best Use of Land Allegedly Reserved for Illegal Small House Development
Except for the 176.9 hectares of land where there are Country Park enclaves, fishponds, wetlands and agricultural land for ecological restoration and agricultural purposes, the government should conduct detailed feasibility studies on the 149.1 hectares of unregulated small house sites for more comprehensive planning and development projects.
Apart from considering the measures taken by the British Hong Kong government against the illegal use of Village Land, the government should also use the Land Resumption Ordinance to stop potential illegal abuse of land and “resume sites precisely”, i.e. small house sites should be consolidated and merged with the adjacent vacant and underutilised land to form development projects of a greater scale.
The government should make public crucial land data such as the location, distribution, size, and current use of idle small sites, so that the public can help review the criteria for the so-called “scattered” and “remote” sites.
The development of village-type public housing or Home Ownership Scheme flats can be an alternative housing option. This option can provide public housing in rural areas, so rural-urban integration can be achieved, the over- concentration of urban population can be alleviated, and urban traffic congestion can be reduced.