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.