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While the older generation emphasise their inherited privileges, the new generation of indigenous villagers want to see a more sustainable mode of rural development. “Some [of the older indigenous villagers] just want to sell the land and get money…I don’t know if it’s a generation gap, but the older generation does not have this concept of sustainable development,” says Bacary Tang Kin-tat, a university student as well as an indigenous villager.

Tang hopes villagers can think in the collective interest of the whole village instead of focusing on individual interests.

To ease the problem of the shortage of land, City University’s Lawrence Poon Wing-cheong suggests the government should relax the plot ratio to allow the building of Small Houses of more than three storeys, or even build high-density residential buildings for indigenous villagers in exchange for their ding rights. He also suggests giving flats to eligible indigenous villagers, similar to the Home Ownership Scheme, instead of Small Houses. Nevertheless, green groups doubt if the relaxation of the plot ratio restriction is necessary and worry it may have a negative impact on the environment. Wick Leung Tak-ming, campaign officer of the Conservancy Association, points out that taller buildings will affect the view and the wind direction and a denser population would lead to pollution problems.

Chu Hoi-dick also thinks such alternatives would fail to solve the fundamental problem – the never-ending demand for Small Houses. He believes the solution is to eventually abolish the Small House policy.

“I’m against any form of continuation of the indigenous villagers’ special rights. Hong Kong people should not be divided into classes with different economic and political power any more…It’s harming Hong Kong’s overall interest,” Chu says.

Roy Ng Hei-man, assistant campaign manager of the Conservancy Association, thinks it would be difficult to abolish the Small House policy, but believes there are still things that can be done. Ng suggests the government should not draw up any more ‘V’ zones. By restricting the building of Small Houses within the current ‘V’ zones and village environs, ding rights will end eventually. In the end, he says, the government holds the cards.

The Conservancy Association’s Wick Leung Tak-ming says there should be more restrictions on and supervision of the applications process for Small Houses. For instance, the government should verify the indigenous identity of applicants itself rather than through village representatives. He strongly advises the government to compile data on the indigenous villagers who are eligible for Small Houses and the area of land involved for each village. Leung says that if the government could monitor more effectively, less land would be needed for Small Houses.

The Small House policy is a complicated issue that involves the interests of different stakeholders and seems to have no immediate solution. Until now, the government has failed to take any concrete action to tackle the problem. But Ng believes the government has the ultimate responsibility to decide the future development of the policy.

“The government is the ultimate gatekeeper,” says Ng.

Edited by Hilda Lee