More actions needed to tackle HK’s land shortage problems
Based on the “Hong Kong 2030: Planning Vision and Strategy” published in 2007, the government recently issued an updated version called the “Hong Kong 2030+: Towards a Planning Vision and Strategy Transcending 2030” for public consultation. The report stated that it is a comprehensive strategic study to update the territorial development strategy. It has revisited the planning strategy and spatial development direction beyond 2030 in the light of the dynamics and challenges ahead. In other words, it represents the government’s vision, policy and strategy for the territorial development of Hong Kong beyond 2030. The planning blueprint, updated around every 10 years, is crucial for Hong Kong’s development and merits more public attention. It involves city planning, land zoning, transport infrastructure and sustainable development, etc. Obviously, these types of documents could only provide general guidelines and directions, as it is impractical to provide details on projects that could be 10 to 20 years into the future.
The term “land problem” is commonly used by the public to sum up the problems and difficulties many of us face in Hong Kong nowadays. It is evident that high property prices and rents as well as crowded living and working spaces have affected almost all aspects of our daily lives. The current government has regarded developing new land and alleviating the housing shortage problem as its top priority, yet the result can only be regarded as mixed at best. Let alone the year 2030 and beyond, not enough suitable land has been located for the development of public and private housing estates for the next 10 years. Despite repeated restrictive measures to cool the property market, housing prices have been relentlessly increasing. It is still very hard for first-time buyers and families that wish to trade up for larger flats to achieve their home dreams. Surely, the local property prices are influenced by external factors, such as low interests rates and strong demand from external investors, but developing new land and rezoning existing ones are the exclusive responsibility of the government.
The existing use of brownfield sites in the New Territories as parking spaces for trucks and containers is surely not the best utilization of our precious land resources. It can be said that there is public consensus to relocate the current users into multi-story industrial buildings and rezone these sites into residential and other development use. Unfortunately, the progress in the past few years has been painfully slow; the scheme is still being considered in a feasibility study. This is far from satisfactory as there are existing multistory industrial buildings in the city. These can serve such purposes perfectly well without any technical difficulties.
The land development authority has repeatedly suggested that if we develop a small part of the country parks, it would greatly alleviate the shortage of usable land. Such suggestions are usually unfruitful with excuses like the community needs to think and discuss this matter or environmental groups will definitely oppose The author is an executive member of the New People’s Party and a former civil servant.
The NIMBY (‘Not in My Backyard’) mentality of many local residents is a huge obstacle for development projects in Hong Kong and many other places in the world. However, some of the resistance could be dealt with through better planning.”
it. So far, no concrete plan has been seen. There should at least be some basic information — such as which part of the country parks has high development potential but low ecological value — available to the public. Without any credible information to go on, the public cannot possibly have an informed discussion on the matter, let alone make a decision. Moreover, the authorities have not proposed any mechanism to resolve the conflicts of different stakeholders and satisfy as many people as possible. If the proposal is indeed deemed worthy of pursuing, the government should not retreat simply because there is disagreement in the community. In other words, without practical ways to solve the many obstacles, any long- or short-term development plan would be compromised.
The slow progress of housing development is often blamed on district opposition. Indeed, the NIMBY (“Not in My Backyard”) mentality of many local residents is a huge obstacle for development projects in Hong Kong and many other places in the world. However, some of the resistance could be dealt with through better planning. For instance, the Hong Kong 2030+ report includes topical papers on the subject of baseline reviews on infrastructure provision, such as power and water supply. On the other hand, what the residents really care about is the likely impact of the new development project on traffic, ventilation, as well as the availability of parks, schools and hospitals.
In order to convince local residents to accept a large influx of new residents and more high-rise buildings near their homes, as a rule of thumb, they have to at least know that their current living environment and standard of living would not be adversely affected. More original thinking and a stronger government commitment is desperately needed to enhance our city’s planning.