Everything about new development area plans must be people-centric
Rising residential housing prices in Hong Kong have taken a heavy toll on grassroots residents’ standard of living. In the next 30 years Hong Kong’s population will increase by 1.4 million, making the housing issue all the more urgent because millions of people’s livelihood and the overall economic development will be threatened if it is not resolved by then. According to the latest version of the North East New Territories (NENT) Development Plan the government will begin with two new development areas ( NDAs) in Kwu Tung North and Fanling North, which can be home to 174,000 residents upon completion and will implement the “Hong Kong Property for Hong Kong People” policy when appropriate. Developing the New Territories is the way to go by public consensus as well as the circumstances, but it concerns such a wide range of interests the government needs to strike a balance among all parties concerned or it will not be able to proceed, ending up postponing the plan time and again.
First, the plan must be clearly positioned. Hong Kong’s socio- political environment is becoming increasingly populist and radical. The government cannot introduce any development plan without facing opposition from one interest group or another. Those people don’t care if the plan will benefit the overall interest of Hong Kong society or how the plan can be improved. Therefore the government must make the positioning and goal of each development crystal clear so that the public will have the correct understanding of the plan. Otherwise it will be twisted by opponents to mislead members of the public.
We have seen quite a few unfounded accusations, including “Hong Kong land as concession ( to the mainland)”, building a “back garden” for the super rich in Shenzhen, “a town for non- locals” and “plan without local residents’ consent”. Th e opponents also have such tricks as collecting signatures and protest marches up their sleeves. If the government fails to make the position of the plan clear the opponents will make up one to counter the authorities’ version making it even harder for the government to convince the public.
Second, help relocated residents settle down properly. The government must fi rst introduce a system that allows local residents to be affected by the development plan to fully participate in the consultation process so that the decisionmakers can learn about the demands of all parties concerned, conduct detailed analytical studies and respond properly in a timely fashion. Once demands of all parties concerned are in, the government must draw up policies on relocation and compensation, with a number of options for those affected to choose from.
Th e government should respect the traditional lifestyle of aff ected local residents and allocate a reasonable portion of the NDA for them to build their village the way they are used to for the sake of conserving the original characteristics of the village and personal ties. Apart from reasonable compensation, the government should also create job opportunities for the aff ected residents to improve their quality of living and let them enjoy the benefits of living in new towns. All the policies must be fair, just and open so that those aff ected by new developments will see their interests are respected. Otherwise they will not support the plan and may block it instead.
Th ird, carry out environmental conservation well and build suffi cient infrastructure facilities. Hong Kong residents always care about the environment and have formed many organizations to monitor it and protest when they fi nd something wrong. The government should fully assess the environmental impact of the NENT development process and new towns built under the plan according to relevant laws and regulations. The NDAs should have adequate spaces for leisure activities, green areas, fi ne scenery and eco- parks.
New towns should be built with a long forward vision in mind. They must have quality infrastructure for the residents to live in peace and security. Relevant authorities should help create jobs by making full use of the industrial facilities in NENT with matching services for local residents’ convenience so as to ease the pressure on transportation services from commuters on a daily basis. In a word, everything about the NDAs should be people- centric.
Fourth, handle relations with property developers carefully. Many developers have built up sizable land reserves in NENT for years, not to mention the fact that the development plan cannot proceed without developers. That is why the government must be extra careful with land acquisition and cooperation in new town construction, making sure the process is open, fair, just and transparent to avoid giving the opponents any excuse to make accusations such as “government-business collusion”. In case such unfounded suspicion does arise the government should do its best not to delay or even give up the plan.
No plan can please everybody, but society mustn’t stop developing whenever there is opposition. The government must base its decisions on the overall interest of Hong Kong society as a whole, stick to principles but be fl exible in response to changes, not be afraid of challenges and push development plans forward despite difficulties. It is the government’s responsibility and Hong Kong people’s well-being depends on it.
The author is a Hong Kong member of the CPPCC.