Land recla­ma­tion the ‘right panacea’ for HK’s hous­ing woes

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CRITICAL HK ISSUES - By LUO WEITENG and OSWALD CHAN in Hong Kong Con­tact the writ­ers at [email protected]­nadai­

Hav­ing earned it­self the du­bi­ous honor of be­ing crowned the world’s least af­ford­able place to live in, Hong Kong is des­per­ately look­ing for more space to house its fu­ture pop­u­la­tion.

In a sign of her de­ter­mi­na­tion to plug the acute short­age of land sup­ply and tackle the years-long hous­ing crunch, Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Car­rie Lam Cheng Yuet­ngor in­tro­duced an am­bi­tious recla­ma­tion project that was the cor­ner­stone of her sec­ond Pol­icy Ad­dress in Oc­to­ber last year.

Dubbed “Lan­tau To­mor­row Vi­sion”, the project, em­brac­ing gi­gan­tic man­made is­lands, es­ti­mated to cover 1,700 hectares to the east and north of Lan­tau Is­land and off the Tuen Mun coast, would be home to 1.1 mil­lion peo­ple and Hong Kong’s third hous­ing and busi­ness cen­ter in the mak­ing.

“In the long run, recla­ma­tion is Hong Kong’s best an­swer and the most vi­able so­lu­tion to the acute land sup­ply prob­lem, which has long been cited as the cul­prit in Hong Kong’s hous­ing conundrum,” said vet­eran sur­veyor Vin­cent Che­ung Kiu-cho.

While us­ing land from un­used New Ter­ri­to­ries land and brown­field sites ap­pears to be an­other fea­si­ble op­tion, Che­ung be­lieved the mount­ing le­gal chal­lenges could make its po­ten­tial costs and timetable al­most im­pos­si­ble to pre­dict.

“As the SAR gov­ern­ment races against time to of­fer a bea­con of hope for or­di­nary cit­i­zens of own­ing a roof over their heads, we can­not af­ford to wait any longer,” he said. “A plan you have no idea about how much it may cost and how long it will take sim­ply doesn’t work.”

If ev­ery­thing goes smoothly, the new homes would be avail­able by 2032. Ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment pro­jec­tions, the project would cost between HK$400 bil­lion and HK$500 bil­lion.

“Mak­ing a bet­ter hous­ing en­vi­ron­ment for the next gen­er­a­tion is never an is­sue that could be done once and for all,” said Che­ung. “Such an is­sue should squarely fo­cus on ramp­ing up land sup­ply in a more sus­tain­able man­ner from a longert­erm per­spec­tive.”

The planned 1,700-hectare man-made is­lands would en­able Hong Kong to lay its hands on a large amount of new land, he reck­oned.

Com­pared with brown­field sites and agri­cul­tural land in the New Ter­ri­to­ries held by ma­jor de­vel­op­ers and in­hab­i­tants, the ar­ti­fi­cial lands, with pre­dictable costs, con­struc­tion time and sole own­er­ship, will al­low us to plan from scratch and lose no time in mak­ing a move, Che­ung said.

“Recla­ma­tion does not rule out the pos­si­bil­ity of re­leas­ing the de­vel­op­ment po­ten­tial of some 1,300 hectares of brown­field sites and 1,000 hectares of agri­cul­tural land in the New Ter­ri­to­ries. Both pro­pos­als can def­i­nitely work in tan­dem,” he said.

“As the recla­ma­tion project fi­nally gets off the ground, hope­fully, pri­vate own­ers of brown­field sites and agri­cul­tural land, who may worry about a cool­ing hous­ing mar­ket in the fore­see­able fu­ture, will join the fray in de­vel­op­ing their lands in a more proac­tive and open man­ner. This will fun­da­men­tally in­crease the sup­ply of de­vel­opable land in such a space-starved city,” Che­ung noted.

With cur­rent stocks of 2.7 mil­lion res­i­den­tial units in Hong Kong, the pro­posed Lan­tau recla­ma­tion, which will of­fer an es­ti­mated 260,000 to 400,000 new homes, could boost long-term res­i­den­tial unit sup­ply by 10 to 15 per­cent, reck­oned Mar­cos Chan Kam-ping, head of Hong Kong, Ma­cao and Tai­wan Re­search at CBRE — a global real-es­tate ad­vi­sory firm.

“Al­though the short to mid-term hous­ing unit fore­cast brought by the pro­posed recla­ma­tion project may vary, its longterm ef­fect on en­hanc­ing res­i­den­tial land sup­ply is clear,” Chan added.

An­other fac­tor that needs to be con­sid­ered is that, af­ter 20 to 30 years, ex­ist­ing dom­i­nant hous­ing es­tates like Mei Foo Sun Chuen, Taikoo Shing, Wham­poa Gar­den, La­guna City, City One Shatin and oth­ers will be made ob­so­lete if there is no fur­ther re­plen­ish­ment of new hous­ing units, and the sup­ply of res­i­den­tial flats by that time may dwin­dle, Chan warned.

“The pro­posed 400,000 new homes are the bare min­i­mum level that the gov­ern­ment should do in en­hanc­ing res­i­den­tial unit sup­ply,” Chan told China Daily.

Ter­ence Chong Tai-le­ung, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at The Chi­nese Univer­sity of Hong Kong’s Lau Chor Tak In­sti­tute of Global Eco­nomics and Fi­nance, said the pro­posed recla­ma­tion scheme should ben­e­fit the city’s long-term de­vel­op­ment.

“Not only res­i­den­tial units will be built on those ar­ti­fi­cial is­lands, there’ll be hos­pi­tals and com­mer­cial build­ings,” Chong told China Daily. “More­over, if the ar­ti­fi­cial is­lands east of Lan­tau could pro­vide trans­porta­tion links between Tuen Mun and Hong Kong Is­land’s western re­gion, it could bring more ben­e­fits to the com­mu­nity.”

Chong be­lieved the Hong Kong gov­ern­ment should have the fi­nan­cial ca­pa­bil­ity to sup­port such an am­bi­tious land recla­ma­tion plan as it has a struc­tural bud­get sur­plus.

“The eq­uity and prop­erty mar­kets of­fer more stamp duty rev­enues for the gov­ern­ment than it an­tic­i­pates,” said Chong.

The gov­ern­ment an­nounced a bud­get sur­plus of HK$138 bil­lion for the 201718 fi­nan­cial year last Fe­bru­ary. Chong ar­gued that, the­o­ret­i­cally, bud­get sur­pluses of three to four fi­nan­cial years could be used to cover the es­ti­mated to­tal cost of the Lan­tau recla­ma­tion project, so the ad­min­is­tra­tion should have the fi­nan­cial re­sources to push for­ward the project.

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