Government official Thomas Sit Hon-chung and his family proposed three years ago to build Small Houses in Ham Tin Village, part of Tai Long in Sai Kung. To date, the houses in Ham Tin have not been constructed. However, FactWire found that the Sits – as indigenous villagers of Tai Long – have recently applied to build Small Houses in another village, Ho Chung, instead.
Thomas Sit Hon-chung, the assistant director of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, is one of the male indigenous villagers in the New Territories with a one-time right to build a Small House, known as ‘ding’ under the New Territories Small House Policy.
Sit and three of his family members applied to exercise their ‘ding’ rights from the relatively remote Tai Long to another village named Ho Chung. Located next to Marina Cove, the four proposed Small Houses are estimated to be worth about HKD 80 million in total.
FactWire found a Lands Department notice in Tai Long that states the Sits’ application is open to objection until tomorrow (November 12). The notice is, however, not found in Ho Chung where the houses are proposed to be built. The Indigenous Inhabitant Representative of Ho Chung said he was not informed.
The notice in Tai Long shows the Sits’ proposal to build four Small Houses located in DD244 Lot 1945 SA Ss 14-17 of Ho Chung. Two other notices found on the same board show similar cross-village applications of three other Tai Long villagers.
All three notices were posted on October 29, 2020 in Tai Long, and state that objections towards the proposed development must be received on or before November 12, 2020.
According to the Lands Department’s map of recognised villages, ‘Tai Long’ in Sai Kung refers to an area covering Tai Long Village, Tai Wan, Lam Uk Wai and Ham Tin Village. By measuring the straight-line distance in Google Earth, the villages of Tai Long and Ho Chung are more than 14km apart.
FactWire visited the notice boards on Ho Chung Road, at the Ho Chung Village minibus stop and at the Nam Pin Wai public toilet, but could not find any of the notices regarding the cross-village applications from Tai Long to Ho Chung. Villagers of Ho Chung were barely notified of the proposed development and thereby unable to exercise their right to raise objections.
The Indigenous Inhabitant Representative of Ho Chung Village, Cheung To-shing, told FactWire that he did not know about how Tai Long villagers were planning to build Small Houses in Ho Chung. ‘There is no way for us to know about such cross-village applications unless they (the Lands Department) post a notice,’ he said.
Cheung pointed out that the notices are usually posted in both the indigenous village and the village where the proposed house is to be built. The Lands Department would then send him a notification letter within two weeks. But in the case of cross-village applications from Tai Long to Ho Chung, he knew nothing as he had not seen any relevant notices and had not received any notification letter from the Lands Department as of November 10.
According to him, both the Home Affairs Department and the Lands Department know that Ho Chung Village has been open to cross-village applications since many years ago because of the desire for more males.
‘If we (Ho Chung villagers) have evidence that we were not informed, we can make objections even after the deadline (of 14 days),’ he said.
The plot of land where the Sits have proposed to build Small Houses is located in the village-type-development planning zone (‘V’ zone), but outside the boundary of Ho Chung’s Village Environ. The site is a bare piece of land near the Royal Garden of Pak Sha Wan. Without any built road, the site is not accessible by vehicles. The closest road can be reached in a minute by cutting through the bushes, to Nam Pin Wai’s public toilet.
Other Tai Long villagers applying to build Small Houses in Ho Chung include Lam Siu-loon, Lam Joseph and Wan Tin-sung. Their proposed Small Houses are located next to other houses and along pedestrian roads within the Village Environ.
Chan Kim-ching, researcher at Liber (Local) Research Community, told FactWire that the practice of using one’s ‘ding’ in another village was initially meant for males whose indigenous village lacks land for building new houses. They can apply to use their ‘ding’ right to build in another village, given that the locals of that village have no objection. However, in the case of the Sits’ application, there is still sufficient land in his indigenous village Tai Long for Small House development.
Chan added that such cross-village applications are usually done between villages with traditional connections. He thinks the case of moving from Tai Long to Ho Chung is unusual since the two villages are too far from each other.
Land Registry documents show that the four adjacent plots of land proposed to be built with Small Houses are owned by Thomas Sit Hon-chung, Sit Hon-fai, Sit Hon-fat and Shet Hon-ming respectively, each purchased at HKD 2 million on February 24, 2020 from Kong Hill Development Limited.
Kong Hill Development Limited is owned by Lau Ming-shum, Ngai Sik-keung and Bernard Yiu Cheung-yum. Lau is also the founder of New Territories Real Estate Developers Association and Treasure Spot Holdings Limited, while both Lau and Ngai are shareholders and directors of Treasure Spot Finance Company Limited.
Treasure Spot Holdings Limited, before it closed in September 2019, used to be active in village real estate development projects. Sai Kung’s Royal Garden, next to the site where Sit applied to build houses, is one of Treasure Spot’s early development projects.
Taking reference information provided by real estate agencies, the price of a Small House in Ho Chung ranges from HKD 18.5 million to HKD 26.5 million, depending on its renovation, location and scenery. From this reference, the four houses proposed by the Sits are estimated to be worth approximately HKD 80 million in total.
A pamphlet by the Lands Department titled ‘The New Territories Small House Policy – How To Apply For a Small House Grant’ states that ‘Notices will be posted in the village(s) and the Rural Committee concerned for 14 days to see whether there are local objections to the application. Upon receipt of objection, a 3-tier working mechanism for handling the objection would apply.’
According to a flow chart in the pamphlet, the Sits’ application is now in the process of ‘posting of notices (for 14 days to see if any local objections)’, which means the previous procedure of ‘consultation with relevant Government offices’ has already been completed.
Previously in 2015, the Sits submitted an application to build five Small Houses on a piece of government land in Ham Tin Village, which is part of Tai Long. The application was rejected since the Town Planning Board at the time received 18,000 letters of objection along with objection from multiple governmental departments.
In March 2016, the Sits submitted the application again, this time with 9,208 letters of support. The Board made a conditional approval in January 2017, requiring the Sits to submit a building plan that meets certain conditions for further approval by January 13, 2021.
To date, FactWire cannot find any construction on the concerned piece of land in Ham Tin. It is unclear whether the Sits have withdrawn their application to build Small Houses in Ham Tin.
On the other hand, all applications of building Small Houses on government land have been suspended since October 8, 2019 owing to a judicial review case concerning ‘ding’ rights at the Court of First Instance. The court ruled last year that the Small-house policy is constitutional only on private land.
The case is currently under appeal. The Court of Appeal has yet to give its ruling following a hearing in August this year.
In addition to the current Small-house applications, Thomas Sit Hon-chung holds three residential properties and two parking lots under a joint tenancy with Shirley Lam Sheung-yin. They purchased a unit at Yuen Long’s Evergreen Place at HKD 2.77 million in 1999, with HKD 830 thousand loaned from the Financial Secretary Incorporated to civil servants, then bought another unit of the same block in 2003 at HKD 1.88 million. In 2013, the two also purchased a flat in Tai Po’s Uptown Plaza at HKD 4.77 million. Mortgage debts of all three properties have not been cleared.
FactWire enquired the Lands Department on whether Sit and his family’s application is considered as transferring ‘ding’ rights to another village, as well as questions regarding his reason for application, the Department’s standards of approval, whether land in his indigenous village has been exhausted, and the status of his previous application to build a Small House in Ham Tin Village. No response has been received thus far.
Follow-up on November 12, 2020:
A report by FactWire yesterday says that government official Thomas Sit and his family members – as indigenous villagers of Tai Long – have applied to build Small Houses in another village, Ho Chung. The period of objection against the application ends today. Yet, the relevant notice has not been found on Ho Chung’s notice boards. The village’s representative also said he was not informed.
FactWire visited Ho Chung again today and found that the notice remains absent from the notice boards in Ho Chung Village, Ho Chung New Village and Nam Pin Wai. A group of villagers said they had heard of someone surnamed Sit planning to build houses in the area, but rumour said he is a relative of a Planning Department official. They were surprised to learn that Sit himself is actually the assistant director of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department.
One villager said he had seen the notice being attached to a bamboo stick that was inserted in the middle of a field, 80m away from the notice board in Nam Pin Wai and over a hundred metres from where the houses are proposed to be built. He then moved the bamboo stick to the nearby roadside.
According to a pamphlet of the Lands Department titled “The New Territories Small House Policy – How To Apply For a Small House Grant”, when dealing with Small-house applications, notices will be posted in the village(s) and the Rural Committee concerned for 14 days to see whether there are local objections to the application.
An enquiry was sent to the Lands Department today concerning whether the Department had posted the notice on Ho Chung’s notice boards, whether it is appropriate to put the notice in a field, and the normal practice of posting notices. No reply has been received thus far.
FactWire also made a phone call to Thomas Sit’s office this morning. A staff member said she would pass our enquiry to Sit. No further reply has been received thus far.
Follow-up on November 20, 2020: