– a group project for an online journalism course at the University of Hong Kong
The small village of Hoi Ha is located in the picturesque Sai Kung Country Park, in the Eastern part of Hong Kong’s New Territories. It can be reached by a 15-minute minibus ride from the town of Sai Kung. All 30 houses comprising the village have the same traditional two-and-a-half storey layout with an open terrace taking half of the roof. There’s one restaurant in the middle of the village.
Hoi Ha sits at the end of Hoi Ha Wan bay, a marine park which is a paradise for local snorkellers and SCUBA divers. Notable for its good water quality and a rich marine ecosystem, Hoi Ha Wan is one of Hong Kong’s five protected marine zones of ecological significance. The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department mentions on its website six species of mangroves, 64 species of corals and 120 species of fish that live in the bay.
Hoi Ha is one of 77 enclaves in the New Territories targeted by housing developers due to their status as indigenous villages. Hong Kong’s Small House Policy allows every man who can trace his ancestry to the village, to build a house there, regardless of where he currently lives. The policy doesn’t require the person to live in the newly-built house. Many descendants of indigenous villagers, who currently live in the city or abroad, want to take advantage of the policy. They can make a quick profit of millions of Hong Kong dollars by building and selling a house in today’s hot property market. Housing developers get in on the game by buying the villagers’ land and building rights from the villagers who live abroad. The process of planning and approval is poorly controlled, presenting opportunities for abuse and corruption.
David and Nicola Newbery have lived in Hoi Ha for 17 years. Originally from England, they consider themselves true villagers now, unlike descendants of the indigenous people who emigrated decades ago. They have devoted much effort to protecting the beauty of Hoi Ha Wan from uncontrolled development.
David Newbery has become a self-taught expert on sewage treatment, since he considers pollution to be the main threat to the ecosystem of Hoi Ha Wan. He points to regulations of septic tanks, less stringent than in other countries, as the main threat. He argues that the effluent from the new houses’ septic tanks is bound to contaminate the streams that today flow in the area and the bay itself, damaging its rich ecosystem.
The Newberys have established an organization that opposes development in Hoi Ha. Together with other environmental groups they have been petitioning and lobbying the government. They have organized awareness campaigns to preserve the beauty of the village and the ecosystem of the marine park. Their efforts face a powerful opposition from villagers who want to profit from development, from their political organisation Heung Yee Kuk, and from property developers. But the Newberys are not planning to sell their house or move. They are in it for the long haul.
Text: Piotr J. Zembrowski
Video: Kevin Dharmawan, Martin Murphy, Piotr J. Zembrowski