Fantasy or Reality?
FOCUS Hong Kong's land shortage is a subject continually up for debate, with housing advocates claiming it's a myth and the government looking to the far future to defend its policy. Who's right? 香港土地短缺問題爭論不休，有人認為房屋政策不力， 政府則認為長遠可收成效。究竟誰對誰錯?
Land supply is a sensitive subject in Hong Kong, inspiring arguments almost as fiery as those about religion or politics. With newly built flats getting smaller yet again—sun Hung Kai Properties sold flats in the luxury Cullinan West II as small as 270 square feet (which would be illegal in London, Sydney and New York) in September—and the government vowing new supply of nearly 500,000 units between now and 2027, the land for all these homes must come from somewhere. Hong Kong does have land, much of it admittedly undevelopable (the construction cost of building a working apartment block on the side of Victoria Peak would make prices even more untenable), but a little creativity among developers, the Development Bureau, Town Planning and the Urban Renewal Authority could go a long way in proving there's no land shortage.
According to statistics by the United Nations and Moody's Analytics, population growth in Hong Kong will slow to below 0.5% per year starting in roughly 2030—precisely the time frame for the government's shaky Hong Kong 2030+ plan. For anyone that might point to foreign media bias or conspiracy, the Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department's own projection report for 2017 to 2066 predicts the population will increase from the current (estimated) 7.4 million to 7.72 million in that time. For comparison: Brisbane will gain 125,000 in the next three years, the city of Toronto is projected to gain 975,000 residents by 2041, and venerable London is expected to add 774,000 residents by 2026—after Brexit. The world's fastest growing cities are clustered in Africa and Asia—lagos, Dar es Salaam, Fuzhou, Beihai, Chittagong, Surat—but Hong Kong is not one of them. Much of the last round of the government's land use policy was based on data that suggested the SAR would be home to nine million people by 2017, a target that's been and gone. As such, the need for more housing may not be there in the near future, creating giant swaths of land for residential development sites or potential future ghost towns. Critics like Tom Yam, who focuses on reclamation in Lantau, point out reclamation is costly and slow, and will ultimately hold residences that are unnecessary. “There is a whole list of options they could explore, but those require leadership and political will,” said Yam late in 2017. “The East Lantau Metropolis project will cost $400 billion and take 30 years to complete. It has nothing to do with solving the housing problem right now. It's not the same issue.”