Since the implementation of the Small House Policy in December 1972, the Government has been granting small house grants to male indigenous villagers in three forms (namely the Free Building Licence, Private Treaty Grant for granting government land and Land Exchange). On 8 April, the High Court handed down a judgment on a judicial review of the Small House Policy, ruling that among those three forms, only the construction of a small house under the Free Building Licence is a lawful traditional right and interest of the indigenous inhabitants of the New Territories within the meaning of Article 40 of the Basic Law, and is lawful and constitutional. In addition, the High Court ordered that the judgment was to take effect upon the expiry of six months after it was made.
Yesterday in Legco the government provided details of the number of applications for building small houses made in each of the districts over the past ten years. The numbers look very worrying, indicating that there is a total of 970 applications made this year and those being processed. One take away from the court case is that this number could be cut by nearly 700 if the appeal is thrown out. But don’t expect the Heung Yee Kuk to take this lying down.
“The Court has stated that the ruling on 8 April will take effect from 8 October, and the validity of the grants made before the judgment takes effect would not be affected by the unconstitutional ruling. As to whether and how to handle applications for PTG and those for Land Exchange involving government land before 8 October, the Development Bureau needs to carefully consider various factors with the LandsD and the legal team, including legal issues and actual operations. After all, the Court has ruled that PTG and Land Exchange involving government land for building small houses are unconstitutional, and the Court has not handed down specific orders to the Government directing how to handle these types of applications that are pending approval. The Government considers it prudent to continue suspending the processing of these types of applications at this stage pending a decision on whether to appeal”.