We visited some of the villages in Fanling and Leung Yeuk Tau of the North District on the 2nd day and the Lamma Island on the 3rd day and saw many irregular “3-stories” village houses during our trips. Actually, these houses are commonly known as” small house” or “Ding house” in HK. It is a special development pattern in HK, which is a mixed product of the” history and culture” of the villages in New Territories and I think there is something to talk about on this.
|Small Houses in Fanling Wai|
When we were in Fanling Wai, found some of the small houses were built there irregularly. Actually, the villagers built their houses randomly within village and there is no detailed plan for that. The villagers could build their house on their granted lands without too much specific requirements. The balconies are towards different directions with windows in different shapes and formats. Some houses are equipped with yards in front of the gate and the boundaries are not organized. The also arrange their “GFA” on their own preference, so we could often see the houses are with different layout and floors, as the villagers just tried to archive the “ 2100 sq.ft maximum” but in different construction designs.
|Small Houses on Lamma Island|
On the contrary, we arrived at the Lamma Island the next day and found the small houses there seemed more neat and fashioned. They are all built in a uniform design, everything were the same no matter the exteriors, windows, canopies and roofs etc. These houses are also small houses, but the villagers outsourced the construction work to the same contractor and designer, so they came up with the same appearance. The houses just resemble blocks of luxurious houses with more comfortable design and fit-out. As a matter of fact, it also stimulates some speculations.
|Small House Under Construction|
in Leung Yeuk Tau
- should not exceeding 700 s.f. per floor(65.03 ㎡)；
- not exceeding 27 ft. (8.33m) / 3 storeys high height measured from its lowest point at ground level to highest point of roof excluding stairhood, parapet wall and water tank.
The small house policy was originally a temporary policy by the government. As the new territories is not a well-developed area in HK and the living condition there is quite poor there. The first aim of the policy is to provide better living condition for the local villagers there. And we could see from the picture above, some of the small houses are really beautiful and living-friendly. It is a good step towards further development of the village area in New Territories with local villagers accommodated during the development process; As the male indigenous villagers (Ding 丁, in Cantonese) accounts for a proportion of the population (approx. 240,000) in New Territories and the housing are not enough for them, the small house could solve their housing demand significantly and is definitely a good measure to secure the social stability there. Just take the small houses in Fanling Wai and Leung Yeuk Tau as an example: they are also good demonstrations in maintaining rural village character in HK, which is becoming more and more valuable in HK today.
Considerations: However, there are still some issues we need to think about after on-site visit of the small houses in New Territories. Of the most concerned, I think is the land/sustainability issue. For my understanding, the average personal living area in HK is less than 150 sq.ft in HK. The population within New Territories is less than 800,000, once they have a male posterity, they will be able to build a 2,100 sq.ft spacious house, not to mention the area of roof, garden and garage are not accounted. In 2012, the HK Development Authority also announced that 56% of the government land reserve can be used in the rural development, which means that “60 percentage of the usable land in HK is for 10% of the total population” - what an amazing figure. Facing the intense land supply and housing problems in HK, the small houses are unsustainable. The valuable land resources are occupied in a very inefficient manner. If all of the estimated 240,000 male villagers with entitlements were to be granted small houses this translates to 504 million sq ft of living space or over 2,200 hectares (ha) (allowing for building space between houses) of land area. It is definitely a waste of usable land in HK on top of the intensive land supply problem.
|Drainage System of Small Houses|
As mentioned above, the construction process and deliverables are not fully regulated by the government. Though the small houses are governed by HK Building Ordinance Cap 121 and administered by the HK Lands Department, generally, approval of building plans by Buildings Department is not needed. As a result, there is a potential planning issues for development in the recognized villages. Since the houses were built under no plans, they scattered within the villages disorderly, this will lead future planning difficulties. From my observations that day, I my can also found the disorganized drainage and water systems within these village areas, which have potential sanitation problems.
Beyond above, the speculative trades often happen, as once the indigenous villagers was removed of Restriction of Alienation, which allow them to sell the small houses after paying land premium, they may sell their houses to outsiders immediately. Some qualified indigenous villagers also sell their eligibility and sign declarations to developers, which misrepresent their intentions and underpin speculative development. The famous HK TV play “Overheard 3”  is actually demonstrated on top of the speculative development over the small houses in New Territories.
The small houses are resulted from the British Colony History in New Territories, which had contributed to its current land unsustainability and planning problems. Under the economic pressures, the small house development is somehow speculative between villagers and developers now. It satisfied the housing demand of local villagers in New Territories and helps to stable the community temporarily, but on a long-term sustainable development perspective and taking the housing problem in HK into consideration, the small houses policy needs to be modified and there should be new balance when sustainable development encounters history.
 Small House Policy: (http://www.landsd.gov.hk/en/legco/house.htm)
 Indigenous villagers (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indigenous_inhabitants_of_the_New_Territories_(Hong_Kong))
 Recognized villages (http://www.hyknt.org/img/data/009b.pdf)
 Cap 121, Building Ordinance (http://www.legislation.gov.hk/blis_pdf.nsf/6799165D2FEE3FA94825755E0033E532/23D3DEB18A34C224482575EE003EA492?OpenDocument&bt=0)
 Removal of Restriction of Alienation (http://www.aud.gov.hk/pdf_e/e39ch08.pdf)
 Movie: Overheard III (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overheard_(film))