Civic Exchange’s New Publication ‘Small Houses, Big Effects: Public Opinion Survey on the Small House Policy’

HONG KONG, Monday, 18 May 2015 – Independent public policy think tank Civic Exchange released the results of a public opinion survey on the Small House Policy (SHP). This study aims to better understand people’s knowledge and attitudes towards the SHP and rural land development in the New Territories.

This survey, the first of its kind, was conducted between October 2014 and January 2015. It randomly surveyed about 600 small house interested persons (SHIPs) with a direct stake in the SHP through family or residence, and another close to 600 members of the general public. Respondents were divided into five categories: (1) male indigenous villagers with the right to file a claim, or those who have already filed or exercised that claim; (2) people living with a family member who holds small house rights; (3) people with a family member living elsewhere or outside of Hong Kong who holds small house rights; (4) non-indigenous people living in village houses; and (5) non-indigenous Hong Kong residents who neither live in a village house nor are related to any rights-holding indigenous villager (i.e. the general public).

Ms. Yan-yan Yip, Chief Executive Officer of Civic Exchange said, “Civic Exchange has published two reports on the Policy, but there is not much hard data about the attitudes of either people directly impacted by the SHP, or the general population, towards the Policy. This opinion survey could fill this knowledge gap.”

Key findings of the survey:

  1. Despite the lacking of official data regarding the current number of indigenous villagers, the survey conservatively estimated that there may be 85,600 to 91,700 outstanding small house claims, of which 10,000 of which have already been filed. These claims would require another 11-12 km2 of land to fulfill;
  2. Over 80 per cent of the general public considered lack of comprehensive planning, lack of action to review the policy, and different enforcement approaches to illegal works between small houses and buildings in the urban areas very or somewhat important;
  3. Around 70 per cent of the general public were concerned about villagers profiting from their land grants by selling to outsiders and that the SHP is discriminatory and unfair to non-indigenous persons;
  4. In the beginning of the survey, 16 per cent of the general public and 39 per cent of the SHIP groups said that they supported keeping the SHIP unchanged. However, after considering the issues, 65 per cent of the general public and 63 per cent of the SHIPs shifted towards supporting change. Only three per cent of the general public and six per cent of all SHIP respondents believed that there is no need to review the Policy.
  5. About 21 per cent of the general public expressed a desire to live in a small house, which is considerably larger than the proportion currently living in such housing. The four main reasons for wanting to live in a small house include a better living environment, more living space, cheaper rental or purchasing cost, and better air quality; and
  6. Ding” rights holders and their household members differed sharply from other SHIP respondents and the general public over the changes they want to see to the SHP. Most wished to retain the status quo and expressed strong opposition to policies supported by the general public. However, a majority of all groups oppose abolishing the policy immediately without extension or compensation.
  7. Ding” rights holders and their household members only make up about 3-3.7 per cent of Hong Kong’s overall population. However, they dominate the government’s public consultations on New Territories issues as they are both more likely to participate and participate more frequently than members of the general public.

Highlights of policy recommendations:

  1. To consider imposing a moratorium on the resale of small houses. This measure receives support from roughly half of rights holders and their household members, as well as over 70 per cent of the general public.
  2. To require residency in Hong Kong for a continuous period in order to apply to build a small house. This suggestion may substantially reduce the demand for small houses and received strong support in the focus group, even favoured by indigenous participants as it would shorten the waiting list.
  3. To halt the practice of periodically expanding village zones in response to rising demand for small houses. The right to apply for a small house does not equate to a right to an unlimited supply of land.
  4. To develop a stakeholder dialogue. This will help identify areas of common ground between indigenous villagers and the general public in the absence of commercial interests.
  5. To improve environmental conditions and air quality in urban areas, and to address the size and affordability of housing in general. This will reduce the demand among the general public for living in small houses.

“The Government should restart a review of the Small House Policy immediately,” stated Prof. Michael DeGolyer, Director of Hong Kong Transition Project (Hong Kong Baptist University). “While there are strong disagreements between small house rights holders and the rest of the public on the future direction of the SHP, the government should realise that there is a high level of public support for reforms. Political will is needed in order to capitalise on this support to put pressure on entrenched rural interests,” added Prof. DeGolyer.

Civic Exchange also calls for a comprehensive development plan for the New Territories. “While reviewing Small House Policy is helping to address one of the issues, the HKSAR Government should work out options for future land use priorities through public consultation and establish a strategic vision for the development of New Territories,” Ms. Yip added.

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