A second government department has confirmed that the vacant Mui Wo school site is being considered for housing development.
Planning Department director Raymond Lee says the site has been recommended as “suitable for long-term residential use.”
In a letter to Tom Yam of the Citizens Task Force on Land Resources, Lee said that the site, which has been out of use since 2007, is one of a number of former schools being reviewed.
He said the decision to designate it for potential housing development had been announced in early 2020.
But it would be “premature” to conduct any public consultation as the feasibility study is still underway, he added.
He said the proposed housing scheme, if approved, would not conflict with the Mui Wo Facelift programme, now in its final stage.
The scheme to build public housing on the old school, formally known as the New Territories Heung Yee Kuk (NYTHYK) Southern District Secondary School, was revealed in August by KH Tau, assistant director of the Civil Engineering and Development Department (CEDD).
Tau disclosed that the department had issued an HK$11 million contract to engineering firm Aecom for a feasibility study in April 2019. It is due to report in early 2021.
Tau said that both the NYTHYK site and the adjacent public car park were being evaluated for public housing.
Yam estimates that the site would sustain a plot size of 7,000 to 8,000 sq m which would support between 700 to 1,500 apartments and a potential population increase of 2,000 to 4,000.
He believes the proposal for high-density housing breaches planning guidelines that stipulate taking into consideration the surrounding land use and planning intentions.
A Planning Department list of school sites under evaluation shows that the city has 234 abandoned schools, of which 181 are recommended to remain as a “government/institution/community (GIC) facility” and 26 are proposed for residential use.
The remaining 27 are former village schools in the New Territories that are “recommended for retaining their uses as village type development, rural use, open space, etc.”
Lee did not explain why the Mui Wo school site has been “earmarked for residential use,” rather than retained as public space like the New Territories village schools.
It is worth noting that the Planning Department is only concerned with the school site itself and not the car park.
The inclusion of Mui Wo’s biggest car park as a potential development site was a decision taken by the CEDD when setting up the feasibility study.
Randy Yu , Islands District Council chairman and south Lantau representative on the council, says he is uncertain of the status of the project.
“The answers I get from different departments are still sketchy. In any case, I was given to understand that the plan is not definite.”
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The future of Lantau’s cattle and buffalo populations is once again in dispute after an elderly woman was injured in a buffalo incident in Ham Tin.
Lantau district councillor Randy Yu has seized on the event to demand AFCD officials attend today’s Islands District Council meeting to answer questions and “ensure the safety of citizens’ lives.”
But there is disagreement even on the basic facts of the incident, including the date.
According to Yu’s account an 82-year-old woman, Ms Chen, and her un-named helper were knocked over by a male buffalo in the early hours of September 26.
Chen had more than ten stitches stitched on her wound and suffered physical and mental injuries and still had lingering palpitations.
“Since the accident, residents have been very worried about the safety of children and the elderly when they enter and exit the village,” Yu said.
However, conservationists argue that the AFCD’s neglect of Lantau buffalo and cattle herds endangers people and animals and could lead to their extinction.
“It is of vital importance that both citizens and community buffalos and cattle can coexist in safety and security,” Jean Leung, Pui O’s well-known buffalo carer, said in a statement.
“In order for Lantau to develop sustainably, we urge the government to have a clear policy in relation to the protection of buffalos and cattle in the community.”
Leung said Chen was not attacked but in fact she and her helper had fallen over trying to avoid a young male called Bulging Eyes who was “chasing off cows that had come into his territory.”
She said the incident took place on September 4, not September 26 as Yu claims.
Leung says she immediately advised the AFCD and the next day Bulging Eyes was captured and relocated to the New Territory buffalo centre.
Leung pointed to the deaths of a female cow and her calf on South Lantau Road three weeks as another sign of the increasingly risky environment for local bovines.
But she said “senior AFCD officials do not seem to understand or even care about the habits of the cattle and water buffalos, neither do they respect the opinions of residents who know the herds well, directly disrupting the lives of the water buffalos and cattle.”
In recent years the AFCD neutering programme had resulted in 99% of the buffalo females being neutered and the castration of many male buffalo, causing clashes within and between herds.
“If this continues, it is not inconceivable that the cattle and water buffalos will disappear from this area completely. This will be a form of extinction.”
She also called on the government to close loopholes in regulations on the protection of coastal territories and strengthen enforcement of the laws intended to protect wetlands.
Leung and others took part in a protest in Central ahead of the district council meeting this morning.
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The Hong Kong government is planning to build public housing for as many as 4000 people on the old Mui Wo high school site and the adjacent car park.
The scheme appears to sideline the decade-long Mui Wo Facelift project and threatens to drastically change the character of the village as well as put further strain on transport and parking resources.
The Civil Engineering and Development Department (CEDD) appointed US engineering firm Aecom to conduct a feasibility study in April 2019, but has made no announcements and has not presented it to the district council.
It remained unknown to Lantau residents until it was confirmed in a letter from CEDD assistant director KH Tau last month to Fung Siuyin, a staffer in the office of Eddie Chu and former district council candidate.
The secretive process also points to the potentially conflicted role of Lantau district councillor Randy Yu.
The school, closed since 2007 and officially known as the Mui Wo New Territories Heung Yee Kuk Southern District Secondary School, is part-owned by peak rural body Heung Yee Kuk. Yu is a kuk councillor and his brother-in-law Kenneth Lau is chairman.
Yu has declined to respond to queries from Lantau News and local residents about the housing project.
It is not clear what role he has played in the project, whether the school has already been sold, and if so on what terms.
Tom Yam from the Citizens Task Force on Land Resources estimates that with a plot ratio of “about 7,000 to 8,000 sq m, the possible number of housing units can be in the range of 700 to 1,500, giving a population increase of 2,000 to 4,000.”
This would mean twice the population sharing the limited public space and transport services.
“If implemented, the character of Mui Wo will be drastically changed with all the implications on its infrastructure and various public service requirements.”
Fung Siuyin agreed the issues were the excessive scale of the project and the secrecy. She said it was too large a housing project in a small area.
She also questioned why the development would eliminate the village’s new car park, which provides about three-quarters of the parking in the pier area. “This is one of the craziest things about it, ” she said.
She said the lack of consultation excluded other community uses for the site, including primary or pre-school education or elderly care.
Since the school closed down 13 years ago a number of efforts have been made to re-use it. In 2009 a plan by the Education Bureau to lease it out to the Christian Zheng Sheng College for drug rehabilitation fell through after strong opposition from local residents.
Six years ago the bureau entertained offers from several schools, including the Buddhist Fat Ho Memorial School in Tai O, to take over the site, but for some reason it rejected them all.
Fung said an ex-principal of the school had proposed a Mui Wo education project to the bureau recently but had also been rejected. She said she would take this up with bureau officials.
In a letter to Planning Department director Raymond Lee, Yam said he applauded the efforts to convert a vacant school site to public housing.
“The government should have done so much earlier. This is not an objection to develop public housing in Mui Wo. This is a criticism of your planning process and failure to inform/consult the affected community until the community noticed activities in the vacant school and raised the question to CEDD.”
Yam points out that when the Planning Department reviewed vacant school sites across Hong Kong in early 2018 it did not identify the Mui Wo site for conversion to residential use.
Additionally, the Task Force on Land Supply report in February 2018 stressed that the Planning Department “should take into account various planning factors including the planning intention for these sites and the surrounding land uses and environment.”
Aecom, which was awarded an $11 million contract for the feasibility study, is a publicly-listed US firm much favoured by the Hong Kong government for major public works.
Virginia Lau Yu-lin, the wife of Islands District Council chairman Randy Yu, is under investigation for allegedly assaulting her domestic helper with a hot iron.
Castle Peak Police Station has confirmed it received a report of a scalding on May 9 and arranged for the victim to be treated at Tuen Mun Hospital on the same day.
A short time later, Lau accused the woman, a Cambodian national known as Ah Ling, of stealing items from her home.
The alleged scalding and theft are being investigated by Tuen Mun police. No charges have been laid.
The charge of employer assault of a domestic servant with an appliance carries a penalty of up to three years’ jail time.
Ah Ling told Apple Daily through an interpreter that she started working for Lau in late March after serving two weeks in quarantine.
She said during her employment she was not given any time off, working from 6 am until early morning. Her mobile phone was confiscated during her shift.
According to Apple Daily, on the evening of May 7 Ah Ling said she was ironing several pairs of socks, as instructed by another helper, when Lau entered the room and asked why she was “ironing your socks first?”
Lau took the iron from her hand and gave a demonstration for a few seconds before she suddenly pressed it against Ah Ling’s upper left arm.
Ah Ling said she screamed with pain. Lau told her to finish the ironing and walked out of the room.
The next morning, Ah Ling’s sister persuaded her to take action. An employee of the agency that had engaged Ah Ling went to Lau’s residence and afterwards decided to call the police.
Several days later, Ah Ling received a letter from Lau’s lawyer, accusing her of slandering her and stealing property.
Apple Daily says its reporter was unable to make contact with Lau, and so tracked down Yu after an Islands District Council meeting. Yu denied the allegations and said he suspected the helper had “self-harmed.” He said Ah Ling’s long hours were a result of her working too slowly.
The charge of an employer assaulting a foreign domestic helper depends on how the abuse is carried out and the injury.
If the injury is minor, the charge is common assault or assault causing bodily harm, with a maximum sentence of one year. If an employer uses an appliance to commit an assault, the penalty is up to three years in prison.
Randy Yu has held the Lantau seat in the Islands District Council since 2015. In the wake of the sweeping democrat victory at last November’s district council elections, Yu is now the sole non-democrat among the 18 council chairpersons.
He has been married to Lau since 2002. They have two sons and a daughter.
Lau, a fashion designer, created a minor stir at the early stages of the Covid-19 outbreak when she said she and her family were drinking Chinese medicine to ward off the virus.
Her brother Kenneth, who took over the Heung Yee Kuk after their father’s death in 2017, is one of the city’s most powerful politicians, a member of Exco, Legco and the CPPCC.
Randy Yu has hung on to his Islands District Council seat in the face of the massive democratic wave that swept Hong Kong yesterday.
Fung Siuyin from the pro-democratic Islands Connection won 47.9% of the vote to come within a whisker of a massive upset in a traditionally safe pro-government electorate.
As with the rest of Hong Kong, the Lantau race attracted a record turnout, with 5,517 casting a ballot, up 47% from 2015.
In a tense ballot count at the Mui Wo government complex late last night, the race looked set to go down to the wire after the Mui Wo result put Fung on 2315 votes, just 87 behind.
|2863 (52.1% )||2633 (47.9%)|
However, Yu picked up most of the votes in the Tung Chung booths, which includes old Tung Chung, remote north Lantau villages such as Sha Lo Wan, and Sea Ranch.
In the only formally-declared Islands council result, Civic Party member Amy Yung has comfortably held on to her Discovery Bay seat.
The democratic wave puts pressure on the new council to revisit the question of breaking up the Lantau seat. It is geographically the biggest constituency in Hong Kong and also 48% over population quota – way overdue to to be split into two.
In October 2017, the then-chairman Chow Yuk-tong rejected a government offer to add a new democratically elected seat.
If you’re looking for a politician to represent Hong Kong’s political moment you could hardly do worse than Randy Yu.
A surveyor and property executive by occupation, Yu, a resident of Tuen Mun, was helicoptered into the Lantau seat and then the vice-chairmanship of the Islands District Council in 2015.
He is assumed to be running for chairmanship should he win tomorrow.
But while he may have been a district councillor these past four years, his main political role, and the source of his power, is his close connection to that uniquely Hong Kong outfit, the Heung Yee Kuk.
Yu describes himself as an independent and while he has no party affiliation he has married into the clan of the late Heung Yee Kuk strongman Lau Wongfat. The current kuk boss, Kenneth Lau, is his brother-in-law.
The kuk represents some 700 village rural committees and in its own telling protects traditional rights and culture.
But for most Hong Kongers the kuk, the rural committees and the indigenous house policy they defend are emblematic of the culture of entitlement and cronyism that fuels their rage.
In a city with the world’s most unaffordable housing, the rural committees monopolise hundreds of hectares of valuable land. No wonder that 42% of Hong Kong want to see the small house policy abolished.
But the kuk is powerful – it has its own seat in Legco and its ‘rights’ are written into the Basic Law. Along with its opposition to modern democratic practice these make it a natural ally for a government that is a coalition of narrow vested interests.
Randy Yu’s main job is to preserve these privileges.
In person he is an affable fellow and it is impossible to imagine him, say, high-fiving a triad boss.
He has a track record in business environmental organisations, and was active in the revitalisation of the Tai O Heritage Hotel. There is no reason to doubt his personal journey, as revealed to the SCMP, of wanting to put something back into the community.
But his four years as district councillor seem to have passed without a trace. It is difficult to find something, anything that he has achieved.
Lantau News has on several occasions invited Yu to share his district council track record, but he did not respond.
Councillors may have limited power, yet most sitting members are able to point to, say, a better bus service or new street lights. But even Randy Yu seems to have trouble identifying his successes.
His election material cites the Mui Wo sewage treatment works, for example. But the contract for that project was issued nine months before he was elected.
Why waste time on people’s problems?
Lantau News asked the local community, via a Facebook page, of their interactions with Yu. None of the nearly 5000 members could recall Yu helping to solve any problems.
One woman, whose family member was badly injured in a fall near the ferry pier, said she had asked for help but received no reply from Yu’s office and ended up dealing with the government department herself.
The most likely explanation for all this is that Yu suffers from the malaise that afflicts the city: a lack of responsiveness that comes with a lack of accountability.
Regardless of what district councillors actually do, rural parties have a huge patronage network and a rusted-on supporter base. Why waste time on other people’s problems?
As an activist from another island community puts it: “The establishment members have a huge base of support – they don’t bother doing anything even for the local Chinese community.”
That is the source of Hong Kong’s crisis. Since 1997, one leader after another has been unable to tackle the city’s big issues – housing, inequality, air quality, democratic reform – because these would mean confronting the vested interests that keep them in power.
The current political impasse shows Hong Kong badly needs change. For all his good intentions, Randy Yu’s mission is to ensure that everything stays the same.
District Council vice chair Randy Yu has called on the Transport Department to review the safety of double-decker buses on Lantau roads before they are introduced later this year.
He said the Tai Po crash last month had stirred residents’ concerns about the safety performance of the new low-floored double-decker bus
Yu, who represents South Lantau, said the council had agreed that the new bus be launched on the 3M route after residents start moving into the Mui Wo HOS developments in August.
But the Tai Po accident, in which 19 people died, “once again raised concerns about the safety of double-decker buses on the 3M route,” Yu said in a question tabled for the Traffic and Transport Committee meeting next week.
“Given the special road environment on Lantau Island, residents in this district are concerned that double-decker buses may not be able to protect the safety of passengers,” he said.
He called on the Transport Department to road-test the new bus on the 3M route – between Tung Chung and Mui Wo – and report to the council on the results.
Another councillor, Amy Yung, the representative for Discovery Bay, called on the Transport Department to answer questions about the safety of the Discovery Bay-Tung Chung bus service.
Hong Kong rural leaders are calling for incentives to encourage villagers to install solar equipment on their rooftops.
Junius Ho, a Legco member and Tuen Mun village chief, has called on the government to provide tax concessions and an easing on village housing restrictions.
The Heung Yee Kuk, the peak body of rural committees, has also begun a campaign for solar energy concessions, scmp.com reports.
Ho, whose New Territories West constituency covers Lantau, told scmp.com that rooftops of small houses were “ideal” for solar panels.
He says the the government should offer incentives to villagers, “like land rent or property rates waivers” as well as exemption from rooftop building regulations that might be regarded as illegal structures.
For example, it is currently illegal to place anything on the roof of the stair-housing, which is a natural site for a solar system.
Ho and the kuk are arguing that the expanded use of solar power can help the city reach its carbon emission target.
At present, Hong Kong gets 48% of its energy from coal, 27% from natural gas and the remaining 25 per cent from a combination of nuclear and renewables. The aim is to cut carbon emissions from 6.2 tonnes per capita in 2014 to below 4.5 tonnes by 2020 and eventually to as low as 3.3 tonnes, according to scmp.com.
Hong Kong lags behind its neighbours in its use of solar energy, which is widely deployed across China, Singapore, South Korea and Australia.
But one expert warns of a political backlash if the government gives preferential treatment just to indigenous villagers.
“It could be politically sensitive,” said Daphne Mah, director of the Asian Energy Studies Centre at Baptist University.
“Some non-indigenous villagers may think it is a double benefit because the indigenous villagers have already been allowed free land to build a house of their own.”
WWF HK last year ran a pilot project in Tai O (above) to show that 25 sq metres of solar panels could supply half of the power required by a four-member household. The system cost HK$87,500.
The group believes solar energy can meet more than 10% of the city’s energy needs.
Islands District vice-chairman Randy Yu backed the trial and also called for government support.
“Incentives like capital subsidies and providing technical support for rooftop solar installations can drive installation capacity in small-scale housing estates in the Islands district and in rural areas.
District Councillor Randy Yu has called on government, police and transport providers to explain how they will cope with Mui Wo’s coming population boom.
The opening of two Housing Department estates in Mui Wo next August will add 700 new homes and increase the population by between 1,700 to 2,000 – a huge spike from the current level of around 5,400.
“The public is greatly concerned about the lack of community facilities,” Yu said in a question tabled to the Islands District Council.
Local residents are worried about the carrying capacity of the ferry and bus services, inadequate parking for cars and bikes, the level of medical services and the lack of police.
Yu, who represents South Lantau, said his office has even received calls from those who have purchased homes in the new estates expressing concern about the expensive ferry fares.
He called on the Transport Department, the Hospital Authority, police and the ferry and bus companies to attend next week’s District Council meeting to explain how they will address these issues.
Lantau’s road wars continue. District council member Randy Yu has attacked the closed road, describing as out of date and “highly unreasonable.”
In the latest volley in a continuing battle over the island’s roads, Yu has called on the Transport Dept to cancel the fee charged for the annual permit.
Yu, the South Lantau representative and vice chairman of the Islands District Council, told the council’s transport committee that despite the growing number of visitors, Lantau is stuck with a road network built more than half a century ago.
“The closed road is out of date, but still exists,” he said. “The operation of the existing Lantau Closed Road Permit system is highly unreasonable.”
Additionally, the imposition of the annual permit fee of $660 is cumbersome and excessive and denies residents’ relatives and friends “the right to drive” to Lantau to visit, he said.
His remarks at the transport committee’s March meeting follow a similar call by Tai O rural committee chairman Lou Cheuk-wing in February.
Yu complained that the rural committee leaders and Legco members had proposed on numerous occasions the expansion of the existing road network, but the government had refused to build it. Environmentalists and many local residents are also opposed to the expansion.
Lantau’s rural committees want to create a round-island road network, upgrading South Lantau Road to standard grade and adding a coastal connection from Tung Chung to Tai O and a north-south link from Tung Chung to Mui Wo.
The Transport Dept and, more recently, the LanDAC committee, which was set up to plan Lantau’s future, have rejected both roads on cost and environmental grounds.
In January last year the Transport Dept lifted the ban on non-local vehicles, allowing up to 25 cars and 40 tourist coaches a day to visit the island. Police reported that in the first six months following the change, traffic offences soared 150%.
(Photo: Lantau drivers protest against the lifting of closed road restrictions in July 2015.)