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  • Dec 19, 2014
  • Updated: 5:24pm
CommentInsight & Opinion

Strike a fair balance in developing new towns

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 July, 2013, 3:01am

Evicting people from their homes to make way for new development is bound to stir emotions and resistance. Add the involvement of business interests, development rights, land use and planning and the issue becomes even more contentious. So when the government rolled out the final blueprint for the HK$120 billion new town project to house 174,900 inhabitants in the northeast New Territories, it was, not surprisingly, met with a barrage of criticism, some of which is worthy of wider public discussion.

With government planners projecting the city's population will expand by 1.4 million in the next three decades, the need for new housing is clear. It is not a question of should, but how. The limited development potential in urban areas has compelled the planners to go north. Admittedly, the project involves complex issues like land resumption, zoning, compensation and development rights. It is important for the government to optimise land use and balance the interests involved.

The revised master plan is already the third since 2008. The changes are no doubt a compromise, after weighing the pros and cons of different approaches. The latest plan will see development intensity relaxed, along with a higher proportion of public flats. They are sensible steps to make the best use of the 333 hectares in Kwu Tung and Fanling North. Special compensation for affected residents is also available.

Instead of the government resuming all land, as originally planned, property developers with land in the affected area are to be given a partner role in building private flats. The new approach may avert possible legal challenges from landowners and speed up the project. But it raises valid questions about whether certain developers will be given unfair advantages.

Villagers are now up in arms, arguing a nearby 170-hectare private golf club should be redeveloped instead. They vowed to stay put and protest with an "occupy golf course" campaign. Anyone who feels they are being unreasonably evicted can be excused for feeling outraged. But that does not necessarily justify extreme actions. The problem should be resolved through dialogue rather than confrontation.

The project has been dragging on for years. It is unrealistic for the government to please everyone in a project of such scale. Striking a fair balance is the key. Officials also have to do a better job of explaining their rationale. That is the way to dispel misconceptions and garner public support.


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For the long run Hong Kong should look at the shortage in housing problem not from the supply side. It must look from the demand side. Demand for housing must be curtailed as Hong Kong is running out of buildable land. While the birthrate in Hong Kong has become a negative growth, the home reunion policy that’s been for decades perhaps is the main source which keeping demand unstoppable. Plug that hole of 150 mainland folks coming to settle daily in Hong Kong before every village, mountain and hill must be leveled for new towns. The humanitarian reunion needs not only to be on HKSAR side nowadays. In fact, the policy was never really a humanitarian policy. It is a property development policy in creating housing demand in perpetuity for revenue and profits until Hong Kong is HKSAR no more.
Not just politics should be used in the development of new town – hopefully making everyone happy – what balanced development implied in the editorial. It is still an outdated idea seeing land must be developed to satisfy the familiar way how we live. Town planners and government should think and do beyond the familiar. They should let a new town to take advantage of new ideas and technologies. The new blueprint should focus on building a balanced township that is mostly self-sustaining. If planed well, there is no reason people must commune daily to go to city for work or shop. If planned well, there is no reason that fresh produces can’t be growing locally. If planned well, no reason that the rich and less wealth off must live far apart. So while looking forward, the government must look backwards and review the family united policy of taking in 150 mainlanders daily to settle in Hong Kong. Hong Kong must plug the demand to solve the supply problem realistically. If not, I am afraid when even all villages are urbanized; we will need to bulldoze all the hills and mountains even within our lifetime.


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