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Issue Date: 11 November 2011

Dignitaries Visiting Public Housing Estates in Earlier Years

For over 50 years, public housing has been one of Hong Kong's most important social developments. Many a time when a member of the British Royal Family or dignitaries from around the world visited Hong Kong in the past century, a tour of one of Hong Kong's public housing estates, together with a visit to tenants, formed an essential part of the itinerary. Housing Dimensions has gathered some precious old photos, showing the many celebrities who have visited our housing developments over the years. From the photos, you will also be able to see the changes of public housing over the decades.

Our public housing programme can be traced back to the disastrous fire that raced through the Shek Kip Mei squatter area in 1953. To accommodate the thousands of victims left homeless by the fire, the Hong Kong government acted swiftly, building resettlement housing nearby. About a decade later, public housing estates started springing up in other areas, including Chai Wan, Lo Fu Ngam (now Lok Fu), Wang Tau Hom, Kwun Tong and Tai Wo Hau. These estates aimed to provide better living conditions for those living in squatter huts.

Photos: The Prime Minister of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) visited the former Wong Tai Sin Estate in 1962 (left) while the Prince of Denmark inspected a resettlement estate in Kowloon in 1963 (right).

"Rooftop schools" were once a special feature of public housing estates in the 1950s and 1960s. Voluntary organisations and religious groups made use of the rooftops of resettlement buildings to set up primary schools, providing an opportunity for children from the poorer families in the area to gain a basic education. During that time, visits were often arranged for overseas delegations to the schools. From the late 1970s, however, as the government took a better lead in the provision of education, these rooftop schools gradually disappeared.

Photos: An overseas delegation visiting a rooftop school at the then Lei Cheng Uk Estate in 1963 (left). A rooftop school at Jordan Valley Estate, which has since been demolished (right).

Choi Hung Estate, accommodating nearly 43 000 people and completed in 1964, was the largest public housing estate at the time. The estate attracted a number of celebrity visits. They included Richard Nixon in 1964, who became President of the United States in 1969; Britain's Princess Margaret in 1966; and Princess Alexandra in 1967.

Left Photo: Richard Nixon, the former President of the United States, plays badminton with tenants on his visit to Choi Hung Estate. 
Right Photo: Princess Margaret (right) visits tenants at the same estate.

In May 1975, Queen Elizabeth II paid her first visit to Hong Kong. It was also the first visit made by a reigning British monarch to the territory. While in Hong Kong, she called in on tenants living in the newly completed Oi Man Estate. With the Queen's visit, Oi Man Estate was able to make good its claim that it was "the Model Estate in Kowloon".

Left photo: Escorted by the former Governor, Sir Murray MacLehose (first right), Queen Elizabeth II toured Oi Man Estate during her first visit to Hong Kong in 1975. 
Right photo: The Queen drew strong interest and large crowds at the estate.

Former British Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major also visited Hong Kong in 1977 and 1991 respectively, touring two of our public housing estates. The photos below not only show them visiting our estates, they also show how different the design and structure of the two estates are, and the progress made in the newer estate which was completed more than 10 years later. Thatcher visited a resettlement block which was once referred to as "match boxes", while Major visited Heng On Estate in Ma On Shan which commenced its tenant intake in 1987.

Left photo: Accompanied by Donald Liao (first left), the former Director of Housing, Margaret Thatcher (second left) tours a resettlement estate. 
Right photo: The then Director of Housing Fung Tung (second right), together with the former British Prime Minister John Major (centre) at Heng On Estate.

Public housing has extended to the skirts of the urban area and new towns, catering for the growing population over the past few decades. Celebrity visits accordingly switched to the new sites. During one of her visits to Hong Kong, Princess Alexandra called in on Cheung Ching Estate on Tsing Yi Island. In 1983, Princess Anne visited Ap Lei Chau Estate in Aberdeen, which had just been completed.

Photos: Princess Alexandra receives a warm welcome during her visit to Cheung Ching Estate (left) while Princess Anne tours Ap Lei Chau Estate (right).

Located in Kwun Tong, Shun Lee Estate was completed in 1980. A year later, Lord Carrington, Britain's former Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, visited tenants living there.

Photos: Lord Carrington (first left) chatted with residents at Shun Lee Estate during his visit in 1981 (left). An aerial view of Shun Lee Estate in 1980 (right).

When designing and allocating public housing flats, we seek to take the needs of the individual, including the disabled, into consideration, providing them with appropriate ancillary facilities. The photo below shows a delegation from the China Welfare Fund for the Disabled during a visit to Shek Wai Kok Estate in Tsuen Wan in 1984.

Photos: Led by Mr Deng Pufung, the delegation from the China Welfare Fund for the Disabled visits a tenant in Shek Wai Kok Estate (left). A view of Shek Wai Kok Estate in 1985 (right).

Completed in 1990, Wah Kwai Estate located in the southern part of Hong Kong Island was developed together with the adjacent Wah Fu Estate, enabling it to become a fully equipped community. In 1994, Prince Charles paid a visit to the estate, not only seeing the place for himself but also gaining a better understanding of its development blueprint.

Left photo: Prince Charles (fourth right) visits Wah Kwai Estate, accompanied by the then governor Chris Patten (second left) and other government officials. 
Right photo: Wah Kwai Estate in the mid-1990s.
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