Ev­ery­thing about new de­vel­op­ment area plans must be peo­ple-cen­tric

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - HK COMMENT - AM­BROSE LAU

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.

Am­brose Lau

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