Bold ac­tion needed to tackle Hong Kong’s land short­age

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT - R AY M O N D S O

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.

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