MY TAKE
My Take
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'Sacred cows' hinder Hong Kong's land development policy

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 November, 2015, 2:26am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 November, 2015, 2:26am

There are no sacred cows, the undersecretary for development wrote in a letter to this paper in apparent agreement with a column I recently wrote about the government's land development policy.

By that, I presume Eric Ma Siu-cheung meant it was open season on greenbelts and country parks. I am not sure I meant that at all.

In any case, it's not true that there are no "sacred cows" for our government. I wish it were the case, but there are at least two such "cows" it absolutely would not ever touch, even if it's in the overwhelming interest of the public: the land earmarked for indigenous villagers and the enormous land banks developers have amassed across the New Territories.

Actually, Ma's letter was part rebuttal and part clarification. I mentioned in my column brownfield sites, which I argued should be developed first before we even think about targeting greenbelts and country parks. They amount to an estimated 1,600 hectares. Ma said such sites were mostly for the medium-to-long term because they required "comprehensive planning, infrastructure upgrading and ... thorough discussions among our community". That's true, but the same problems are even more acute with most greenbelts and country parks, which are usually even more inaccessible and completely lack infrastructure. As for "community discussions", well, they are far more controversial than developing brownfields.

As at June 2012, the government had 391.5 hectares for residential and commercial development, 5.7 hectares for commercial development, and 167.7 hectares for industrial development.

Interestingly, it has more than 900 hectares reserved for "villagers" who have yet to make a claim on their indigenous right to build a small house on government land. How about ending this right that has frustrated town planning for almost half a century? Meanwhile, developers' land banks are sitting mostly idle. Henderson Land is the largest holder of agricultural land at 44.5 million sq ft.

Such developers pay no taxes or penalities for indefinitely sitting on idle land.

I have no sacred cows. The government unfortunately does, though it claims otherwise.