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Pang suspects the reason the government is unwilling to reopen the schools or allow them to be used for other community purposes, is because it foresees a drop in demand for primary one places in 2018 due to the restrictions on mainland mothers giving birth in Hong Kong.

Ma Siu-leung, chief executive of the Fung Kai Public School is also critical of what he calls the government’s double standards. After the Fung Kai No. 2 Secondary School closed in 2006, Ma submitted a detailed proposal to the EDB to turn the vacant premises into a small, international boarding school. Ma says the EDB dragged its feet and asked what he believes were unreasonable and obstructive questions.

“When I discussed my plan with the government, they said that there was no boarding school policy and international school policy in Hong Kong,” says Ma. The application was finally approved two years later, in 2008, but by that time Ma learned that the elite British Harrow School was going to open an international school in Hong Kong. Ma decided the development meant his project was no longer viable.

“I discovered I was never given a shot, as I stood in the way of another deal the bureau was making with Harrow School,” he says. To date, the EDB has not replied to Varsity’s requests for a response to the charge.

As legal attempts to use vacant premises usually fail, some people have taken the matter in their own hands and are using the premises without official permission.

Urban Fragment is a group of photographers who like shooting in abandoned places, including school premises. Photographer Cheung Man-kit has taken photographs in more than 10 abandoned schools. He often found signs that people had been sleeping in them. In some schools, walls are covered with graffiti.

Sampson Wong Yu-hin, one of the founders of Emptyscape, a group that promotes art in abandoned areas, shares similar experiences. “Many people use the schools without official permission. TVB was here some time ago while some people use it for dog training. No one cares if you just walk in,” says Wong.

In June, Emptyscape organised the Ping Che Village School Art Festival in the school of the same name which closed in 2006. Although the event was sponsored by the Hong Kong Arts Development Council, the use of the primary school campus was not officially authorised by the government. A villager helped organisers open the gate to the school.

Wong says the control of a lot of village schools in the New Territories is held by the Rural Committees or village heads. Even when an organisation has permission from the government to use a school, they still have to get these residents’ approval as they have the keys to the schools.

Now the hustle and bustle of the art festival has long ceased, Wong wants the school to be a school again.

“What a pity…many places in Hong Kong are abandoned,” says Wong. “It would be perfect if it can become a functioning school again. It does not have to be a regular secondary or primary school. An art school would also be great.”

Edited by Thee Lui