Bold action needed to tackle Hong Kong’s land shortage
Hong Kong’s problem of a shortage of land has existed for a long time. The previous administration proposed six ways to increase land supply. One is to move existing facilities to caves, so the occupied land can be reused for development. On the surface, this is a good idea as caves are not suitable for the purposes of development. It could free up the occupied land and increase supply. The best-known example of such a strategy is the building of the Centennial Campus of the University of Hong Kong. The Centennial campus was built on the original site of a reservoir, which was moved to a nearby cave. The Development Bureau revealed earlier there was also a plan to move a reservoir in Diamond Hill to a nearby cave. If this is carried out, about four hectares of land can be vacated. This will result in the provision of at least 2,500 residential units housing more than 6,000 people.
According to the Development Bureau, the water works development branch started to conduct feasibility research two years ago. But the relocation work is not simple. Apart from moving the reservoir, there needs to be more construction projects like the building of tunnels to connect the cave, the reconstruction of a soccer field, as well as provision of traffic, water and other facilities. This is a very complicated project; a lot of technical problems will emerge, not to mention the long consultative and public engagement process.
According to the Development Bureau, if everything goes smoothly the relocation project will release land for housing and other purposes in the 2024-25 fiscal year. If we assume everything goes according to plan the first batch of houses will only be ready for people to move into in three or four years. Hence, it will take more than a decade for this project to have any impact on actual housing supply. Clearly it does not aim to solve the current housing problems. If there are technical issues that will take longer to resolve, or there are protests and judicial reviews, the process will take much longer. No matter how the cave development plan goes, the project will not bear fruit during the current or the next administration. Obviously the government understands that this development plan will take more than 10 years to bear fruit. With all the unforeseeable difficulties, the project can only yield four hectares of land. Yet the government is still working hard on it.
Apart from policy consistency, another consideration is the lack of usable land. Insufficient land supply has restricted Hong Kong’s development. In the “Hong Kong 2030+” strategic blueprint, the government said there is a The author is the dean of the School of Continuing Education at Hong Kong Baptist University.
The government cannot afford to be too picky about land supply. Even though it takes more than 10 years to relocate a reservoir to produce a mere four hectares of land, it simply cannot forgo this project.”
shortage of more than 1,000 hectares of land to carry out its long-term development plan. But in acknowledging this, the government cannot afford to be too picky about land supply. Even though it takes more than 10 years to relocate a reservoir to produce a mere four hectares of land, it simply cannot forgo this project.
This shows how serious the problem of land shortage is.
New statistics show that Hong Kong has more than 1,100 square kilometers of land. Of these 1,100 square kilometers, only 28 percent is developed land. This 28 percent portion includes every type of facility such as commercial buildings, hospitals, sports facilities, roads, amenities, as well as residential buildings. The actual figure is that we only use 7 percent of land to house 7 million people. Theoretically, we can use 72 percent of land for the purposes of development; however, a lot of factors discount much of this 72 percent. Some people have suggested we can look at country parks. These constitute 40 percent of Hong Kong’s land; however, the suggestion is impractical as the country parks are protected by the Country Parks Ordinance, not to mention the existence of many ecological issues which need to be considered.
When the government confronts these limitations, its policy is to adopt a strategy of “every penny counts” without a deeper consideration of cost-effectiveness. Unless we can have the courage to make a choice, we are leaving the land shortage problem to future generations.