It is a tussle that touches on an issue affecting scores of villages where local populations have ebbed away and new, largely expatriate, populations have moved in. When it comes to village matters, how much voice should "outsiders" have compared with indigenous populations?
Already, the police, the ICAC, the Home Affairs Department and the Department of Justice have been drawn into the Hoi Ha issue – all over an election that involved two candidates and just 20 votes. In the January election for resident representative – a post created by the government eight years ago to give residents a greater say in village affairs – David Newbery was defeated 11 votes to nine by Yung Tin-sang.
The two men live just 20 metres apart in the centre of Hoi Ha. Newbery is a British pilot who has lived in the village for 16 years and owns a house there. Yung is a 71-year-old grandfather and an indigenous villager born in Hoi Ha.
Newbery insists he has nothing personal against the victor. He just believes Yung should never have been allowed to stand because, Newbery says, he moved to Britain in 1994 and only returned to the village full-time last summer.
According to government guidelines, candidates for the election must have been a resident of the village for six years with the village address as their primary residence, although the precise criteria for a primary residence are not spelled out.
"I have been in the village for 16 years and for most of that time I've only seen him for a few weeks in a year," Newbery said. "I wrote to the returning officer a couple of days after the nominations closed. The returning officer had the power to look at things and say your nomination isn't acceptable. They only had to look at the immigration records."
For his part, Yung confirms he moved to Britain with his family in 1994. But, speaking through his daughter Ching Yung, 33, who returned to Hoi Ha with him, says his extended stay in Britain was for treatment for diabetes.
"He always lived here but because of medical reasons he has to go back to Britain for check-ups," Ms Yung said. "When he put his name down as a candidate he filled out a form saying how long he had been living here and how often he was here. We even phoned up a government officer to check and they said it should be fine." Yung, she insisted, had now settled back in the village for good. They returned, Ms Yung said, because they noticed problems developing as Hoi Ha became more populated and an increasingly popular destination for weekend visitors.
"It has lost its culture,” she said. “It used to be quiet and peaceful. All the neighbours talked to each other. They would help each other. But every time we came back, people would be complaining about each other. There was quite a lot of trouble. That's why we wanted my dad to come out and fix it and make it better. We need to get together as a village."
Ms Yung said she had been in touch with Newbery and invited him to join a group of residents to discuss what needs doing in the village and how it can be improved. "The first thing we need to improve is the environment," she said. "It is a bit messy. It's like a jungle. No one looks after it... We want to give the village a better environment and make it a better place to live."
Newbery, who stood on a platform that included enforcing planning regulations in Hoi Ha, acknowledges that he and Mr Yung have many common goals. "We're establishing a relationship," he said. "[Ms Yung] wants to bring people together to form a village committee. We might well end up doing something good."
However, he is continuing to press for clarification over the precise criteria for resident representative. He was told his complaint to the returning officer about Yung's candidacy had been investigated by the police and the ICAC and that advice had then been sought from the Department of Justice on whether there was a case to answer. It was decided no offence had been committed and the complaint was dismissed.
Newbery now has until March to lodge a petition – which he must finance – which will effectively result in a court hearing over the legality of the election. Whatever the outcome of the battle of Hoi Ha, Newbery is convinced that the debate over politics and conservation in the New Territories has moved to a new level. The 2003 introduction of resident representatives was an important first step.
"It was wrong that people who live in a village and have a long-term commitment to that village had no say in terms of what was happening there," he said. “Villages have to be run for the people who live there as well as for the indigenous villagers."