Behind the Battle for Wang Chau Housing Project: What Stirs Up the Heat?

Slogans like ‘To Carrie Lam (current Chief Executive): We need a home’ (right) and wooden barricades at the entrance of Fung Chi Tsuen. Photo: Jasmine Leung

Amid the green, the red stands out.

By red, it does not refer to the flame from the red petals of the forest trees. Nor the lanterns that were mistakenly left after the Mid-Autumn Festival. It is the anger hovering over the three villages in Wang Chau that makes the water boil.

Wang Chau has been at the center of a furious row since the government opted for a development plan of building public housing flats on a vegetated green-belt site in 2014. Around 200 villagers will be affected as the three villages — Wing Ning Tsuen, Fung Chi Tsuen and Yeung Uk San Tsuen — are going to be demolished in January 2018.

Map of the public housing development plan at Wang Chau. Source: Transportation and Housing Bureau (2016).

The New Territories housing project is not the first contentious land development project in Hong Kong. Previous cases like Choi Yuen Tsuen and Kwu Tung North shared similar odysseys with Wang Chau. Yet, given to the painful loss illustrated in the case of Tsz Tin Tsuen in 2010, that a villager’s application for a judicial review against the clearance of properties was dismissed, residents in Wang Chau gave up the idea of seeking injunction from the court.  

Words – Democracy (red) and Urban-rural Symbiosis (Green) on Fung Chi Tsuen’s road and wall respectively. Photo: Jasmine Leung

“We have observed procedural injustice in the process [of approving the development plan]. Say, we did not receive any comprehensive environmental impact assessments (EIA), not to mention the fact that the construction work has begun prior to the issuance of an environmental permit from the Environmental Protection Department,” said Au Kwok-kuen, a member from the Land Justice League as well as the personal assistant of the legislator Eddie Chu Hoi-dick who is known for his strong advocacy of local conservation. Currently, the social group is assisting the villagers in holding campaigns and weekly tours for visitors so as to draw greater public attention, including the recent film screening about a real-case footage of a forced eviction in Paga Hill, Papua New Guinea — ‘The Opposition’ — at the site cooperated with the Amnesty International Hong Kong (AIHK) last month.

Ms. Cheng voicing her opinion to the public about Wang Chau’s situation after the screening last month. Photo: Jasmine Leung

Plans submitted. Funding passed. Anger expressed. Haggling endured. Eviction date set – the project ‘must go on’.

Ms Cheng, a born-and-bred resident from Wing Ning Tsuen, was all but frustrated. She claimed that the Town Planning Board did not confer anything about the plan with them. “I live near the village office and whenever I walk by, I would scan the noticeboard to see if there is any news announced by the authority…Not even a word [for the housing project]! The officials have never thought of talking to us at all at the beginning.” She admitted that the authority finally decided to meet the households for future settlement earlier this year. However, less than 100 households have been contacted so far.  

“Relocating all residents from the three villages to somewhere else appears to be a castle in the air. What we can do now is very limited so we tend to focus on the compensation,” claimed Mrs. Cheung, who has been living in Yeung Uk Sun Tsuen there for over 20 years.

Indeed, the government has proposed offers of either ex-gratia allowances for domestic removal or a public rental housing unit to live — yet only to those whose income and assets are below a certain limits. Part of the aged villagers have already settled with the latter option for fear of an uncertain future. But for most, it would only become an impossible remittance for them.

“Our plan now? We will definitely stay here and protect our home until the very last minute,” added Mrs. Cheung.

 

Writer: Jasmine

Editor: Elgar

Copy-editor: Chloe

Online Team: Ningsang

 

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