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LCQ1: New Territories small houses

     Following is a question by the Hon Lee Wing-tat and a reply by the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, in the Legislative Council meeting today (January 11):


     The Secretary for Development has indicated earlier that the demand for the construction of New Territories small houses cannot be quantified so far and may be infinite, and if the village zones are to be substantially extended for the construction of small houses, it will have an impact on the formation of land to cater for the demand for housing and development of industries.  At present, the construction of small houses is in general restricted to within the "environs of a recognised village" (village environs).  Construction of small houses outside village environs may also be considered provided that the sites concerned are located within a "village type development" zone which surrounds or overlaps with village environs; and planning permission from the Town Planning Board (TPB) must first be obtained if the sites concerned lie outside the "village type development" zone.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the respective area of land available for the construction of small houses inside and outside the environs of the current 642 recognised villages, and the approximate number of small houses that can be built, broken down by District Lands Office district; the area of land that is zoned as "village type development" land use, and the approximate number of small houses that can be built; the number of applications being processed; the demand for small houses (including the number of small houses and the area of land required) in the next 10 years based on the information provided by the various village representatives;

(b) of the number of planning permission applications submitted to TPB for the building of small houses in each of the past five years, and the number of cases approved as well as the number of small houses and area of land involved; among the cases approved, the respective area of the sites concerned which are located inside and outside the village environs, together with a breakdown by land use; the number of cases which had been approved based on the criterion that the supply of land within "village type development" zones is insufficient to meet the demand for small houses in the next 10 years; the vetting criteria adopted by TPB; whether the authorities have studied how to improve the approach of checking and verifying the statistics on the demand for small houses; if they have, of the progress; and

(c) whether the authorities will review the small house policy and the relevant vetting criteria as soon as possible so as to tackle the aforesaid problem that land is scarce but small house concessionary rights may be infinite; whether they have assessed the impact of allowing small houses to increase in height (e.g. building six or nine floors) on the rural planning and development in the New Territories?



     Under the Small House Policy, a male indigenous villager at least 18 years old who is descended through the male line from a resident in 1898 of a recognised village in the New Territories may apply to the authority for permission to erect for himself during his lifetime a small house on a suitable site within his own village.

     In general, land suitable for building small houses is restricted to areas within the "Village Environs" (VE).  There are in total 642 recognised villages approved by the Lands Department (LandsD).  As a general rule, the VE refers to a 300-feet radius from the edge of the last Village Type House built before the introduction of the Small House Policy on December 1, 1972.  Applications for building small houses with this area by eligible indigenous villagers may be considered.  Consideration will also be given to the application if the site concerned lies outside the VE but is located within a Village Type Development ("V") zone in the relevant Development Permission Area plan or Outline Zoning Plan, provided that the "V" zone concerned surrounds or overlaps with the VE.

     Under the Town Planning Ordinance, the planning intention of the "V" zone is to reflect existing recognised and other villages, and to provide land considered suitable for village expansion.  Land within this zone is primarily intended for development of small houses by indigenous villagers.  As such, "V" zone often has certain connection with the VE.  For instance, the two may be overlapping, or the "V" zone may cover the VE in whole or in part.  Small house is always permitted within the "V" zone.  As regards small house development outside the "V" zone, depending on the specific requirements of the land use zone on which the small house site lies, applications for planning permission may be submitted to the Town Planning Board (TPB).

     My reply to the various parts of the question is as follows:

(a) According to a rough estimation conducted years ago by LandsD, the area covered by the VE and the "V" zone and which may be used for the construction of small houses is roughly estimated to be 4,960 hectares, of which an estimated 1,620 hectares is currently still available for application.  LandsD does not have such information broken down by districts.  Moreover, I must point out that not all of the land covered by the VE and the "V" zone is suitable for building of small houses; the topography, the geographical situation, the size and distribution of individual lots, etc. would affect the use of land, and therefore we are unable to accurately assess the number of small houses that could be built within such 1,620 hectares of land.

     As regards small house application statistics, since the implementation of the Small House Policy in 1972 and until end of 2011, LandsD had approved a total of 36,912 small house application cases.  Another 6,895 applications are still being processed, while some 3,360 applications are pending processing.  The relevant figures broken down by districts are at Table I.

     Regarding the demand for small houses in the coming ten years, the Administration does not get hold of the demand for small houses from eligible indigenous villagers in the coming ten years for each of these 600-plus recognised villages, and therefore we have no way to make an aggregate assessment.  The "information provided by the various village representatives" mentioned in the Hon Lee's question only applies when the relevant Village Representatives are consulted via LandsD when required by the Planning Department (PlanD) for preparing statutory plans which covers the "V" zone or when the TPB considers planning applications for small house developments.  The information received will become one of the factors considered by the TPB with regard to individual cases.

(b) When the TPB considers planning applications for small house developments, the applications will be assessed in accordance with the "Interim Criteria for Consideration of Application for New Territories Exempted House (NTEH) / Small House in the New Territories" (Interim Criteria).  Under the Interim Criteria, the TPB will consider a range of factors, including whether the footprint of the proposed development mainly falls within the VE, the amount of land available for small house development within the "V" zone, and whether the proposed development would cause adverse traffic, environmental, landscape, drainage, sewerage and geotechnical impacts on the surrounding areas.  In respect of the amount of land available for small house development, the TPB will consider the existing number of outstanding small house applications at the relevant site, as well as the ten-year forecast demand for small houses.

     In the past five years, the TPB processed a total of 595 planning applications relevant to small house development, of which 413 were approved, involving 8.9 hectares of land and 557 small houses.  Details of the relevant figures are at Table II.

     As regards the statistics on the amount of land lying inside or outside the VE for the approved applications, as well as information on the number of approved applications which meet the requirement of land available for small house development within "V" zone, I am afraid I cannot set aside substantial manpower resources to examine each of the 400-plus approved applications.  Yet, from our experience, most of the approved applications are connected to the VE.  If the approved applications are within the "Agriculture" and "Green Belt" zones listed in Table II, the footprint of the proposed small houses should generally meet the requirement of not less than 50% falling within the VE, otherwise it is unlikely that the applications would be considered by LandsD and the TPB.  If the approved applications are under the third, fourth and fifth categories of land listed in Table II, then the said footprint straddles between the "V" zone and another zone, while the former is drawn up taking the VE into consideration.  As explained during my previous response to concerns over the demand for small houses, I have made it clear that the Administration has practical difficulties in verifying the demand for small houses in the coming ten years.  Notwithstanding this, the implementation of the policy at present is subject to the availability of land on which an eligible indigenous villager can apply for building a small house, but not led by the estimation of the number of eligible indigenous villagers.  The demand for small houses is just one of the factors considered by the TPB when looking into relevant planning applications in accordance with the Interim Criteria.

(c) The present Small House Policy has been implemented since 1972 with its historical background.  Any major change to the policy would entail complicated legal, land use and planning problems which would require careful examination.

     Under the reality of "unlimited demand and limited supply", allowing multi-storey small house development is not a proposal which could tackle the problem once and for all.  On the other hand, such proposal would entail planning and building control problems, as well as invite extremely divergent public opinion.  This is because a range of factors have to be taken into account when PlanD draws up the "V" zone, including the location of individual villages, compatibility with the surrounding land use, urban design, environmental and topographical constraints, the provision of infrastructure, etc.  Moreover, the fact that small houses are currently exempted from certain controls under the Buildings Ordinance is also based on the height and area, etc. of small houses.  The building safety aspect will be a concern if it is to allow multi-storey small house development.

Ends/Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Issued at HKT 17:38


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