Hong Kong Politics & Protest

Multiple redactions in Wang Chau reports ‘make whole thing more mysterious’ says researcher

The government released 16 research reports totalling over 3,000 pages on Wang Chau on Tuesday, with multiple redactions related to finances, sensitive information about land, third party information, personal information, as well as information on graves. It released the reports at the request of lawmakers Edward Yiu Chung-yim and Eddie Chu Hoi-dick last month.

Apple Daily cited a source, reporting that Arup Group did not want related information to be revealed. However, the Hong Kong Science Park and the MTR corporation agreed to have information displayed.

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Some redactions in one of the reports released by the government. Photo: GovHK screenshot.

Chan Kim-ching, a researcher of the Liber Research Community, a group of independent researchers studying local planning, infrastructure development, land use and more, told HK01 that the redactions “made the whole thing more mysterious, more like there is an inside story.”

The report said that the first phase of the Wang Chau development project will begin in 2018, and is expected to finish in 2024. The second and third phases will begin in 2019 and be finished by 2026. However, the government subsequently said that the reports were only “aimed to explore feasibility and therefore may not have fully considered time factor and actual circumstances.”

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Brownfield site in Wang Chau. Photo: Stanley Leung/HKFP.

It said that the development project has to take into account other factors, including actual circumstances and that the reports had only looked into the technical feasibility of the project.

Chan told HK01 that the government “did not have a rough schedule [on phase two and three], which means they can do it or not do it, and it can’t be assumed that they will definitely do it.”

Yiu, the lawmaker representative of the Architectural, Surveying, Planning and Landscape functional constituency, said that as the report showed that there were no technical problems regarding phase 2 and 3, it makes people wonder why the government had to indefinitely push back the development of the two phases.

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What is the Wang Chau controversy?
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has been forced to explain a decision to construct 17,000 public housing flats in Yuen Long in separate phases. Plans to build 13,000 units on a Wang Chau brownfield site occupied by a rural strongman’s car park were postponed, whilst a proposal to build 4,000 flats on a nearby greenbelt site occupied by non-indigenous villages was approved. As evidence of off-the-record lobbying with rural leaders emerged, a blame game ensued as the government stood accused of bowing to pressure from rural bigwigs at the expense of villagers.

The scale of the project may be scaled back further, as rural leaders object to the project hurting the area’s feng shui – a Chinese philosophical system relating to harmony with the environment. The phase of 4,000 units will be close to hillside graves.

Who is involved?
The controversy was the centrepiece of incoming lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick’s election campaign, and his win helped bring the issue to the fore.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is also directly involved as he was the chairman of a task force on the project. Leung said that he made the decision to conduct the project in separate phases in January 2014, after the housing bureau suggested it to him. The housing bureau made the suggestion after two informal meetings with rural leaders in July and September 2013. There were no records of minutes of the third informal meeting in March 2014.

The rural leaders informally consulted were former Yuen Long District Council chairman and lawmaker Leung Che-cheung, district councillor Tang Hing-ip, Ping Shan Rural Committee chairman Tsang Shu-wo, vice-chairman Tang Tat-sin and Heung Yee Kuk councillor Tang Chi-keung. Villagers living on the greenbelt site were not consulted.

Henry Cheng Kar-Shun, chief of New World, is a supporter of Leung Chun-ying. The government did not take back a nearby greenbelt site owned by developer New World for the public housing project. New World instead applied for a change of land zoning to build private housing after the public housing proposal was approved by the district council. The private housing project may share driveways and a roundabout with the public housing project, according to plans.

Who is blaming whom?
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said that the Steering Committee on Land Supply chaired by Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah was in charge of the project’s details. Leung also said the Transport and Housing Bureau is under the Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor. Both Tsang and Lam have denied involvement. Both have been rumoured to be vying for the position of Chief Executive.

Incoming lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick has claimed that there was collusion between the government, businesses, rural groups and triads.

Why does it matter?
Housing is one of the most important issues Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has been working on since he took office. The incident sparked accusations that the government had bowed to rural pressure, and that it was colluding with businesses and triads. Leung has been accused of having ties with triads before he even took office – in February 2012, his election aides attended a dinner at a restaurant in Lau Fau Shan with rural strongmen and alleged former triad boss “Shanghai Boy” Kwok Wing-hung.

The incident could harm Leung’s chance of running for re-election.

Multiple redactions in Wang Chau reports 'make whole thing more mysterious' says researcher