Leung Chun-ying finally admitted yesterday it was his decision to develop Wang Chau in phases as he choked back tears when talking about the difficulty of increasing land supply.
Speaking at an eagerly awaited press conference yesterday, the chief executive said the key decision was taken at a January 2014 meeting he chaired with his top three secretaries - Chief Secretary for Administration Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah and Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung.
At the end of the press conference, Leung was asked if he and Tsang were at odds with each other. Leung replied that over the years, his colleagues had "tried very hard to find parcels of land bit by bit" before he started to choke up.
Earlier in the press conference, Leung said he set up the task force on the Wang Chau housing project in Yuen Long and made himself chairman, with the first and only meeting held on June 27, 2013.
Asked if he was dodging responsibility after days of not explaining the downsized plan, Leung said: "This was my decision, the decision to carry out the public housing program in phases, because as the chief executive, I had to take charge."
He also confirmed there were four "soft lobbying" meetings between the government and rural leaders, who expressed opposition to the plan to develop 17,000 units.
Secretary for Transport and Housing Anthony Cheung Bing-leung said no minutes were taken of the informal consultations and lobbying with local representatives.
"But we found internal e-mails of colleagues reporting to their superiors," he said.
Leung said of his meeting with the three secretaries on January 27, 2014, the four top officials approved the Transport and Housing Bureau's recommendation to put out 4,000 units in the first phase, and complete the second and third phases later.
Leung denied bowing to rural leaders' pressure. "They are very rare opportunities for the government to be able to build large numbers of public housing units to help people who cannot afford decent private housing," he said.
Cheung gave details on soft lobbying yesterday, after he said at a meeting last Thursday with lawmakers-elect Eddie Chu Hoi-dick - who first put the issue in the public arena - and Edward Yiu Chung-yim that he was not sure if there were such documents. The first two informal meetings were held on July 16, 2013, and September 5, 2013, between officials from the Housing Department and Yuen Long rural leaders. The department said at the first meeting it did not accept cutting back the size of the 17,000-unit project after receiving opposing views from rural leaders, who worried about a traffic overload in Yuen Long.Members included Ping Shan Rural Committee chairman Tsang Shu-wo, who owns car parks on a brownfield site; vice-chairman Tang Tat-sin; the then-Yuen Long District Council chairman Leung Che-cheung; and district councilor Tang Hing-ip; as well as Heung Yee Kuk councilor Tang Chi-keung.
After Leung and the three secretaries decided to scale back the project in January 2014, two other soft lobbying meetings were held on March 12 and March 17 in 2014 to explain the adjusted target.
Cheung said the plan had gone through public consultation at the Town Planning Board. He said: "If we had insisted on putting the three phases together, I'm afraid no progress would have been made up until today."
At the end of the hour-long press briefing, Leung seemed to sob as he thanked his colleagues for their work on increasing housing and said: "What we have done, every grain of rice comes from hardship."