Blinkered view in search for land
There’s plenty of supply if you look in the right places but with powerful forces at work, it’s easier to stiff the little guy
The one redeeming quality of the Leung Chun-ying government has been its unrelenting efforts to increase land and housing supply. But when there are obvious supply solutions that officials never mention, you know something is amiss.
I am, of course, referring to the enormous land banks developers have amassed, and massive New Territories lots that have been reserved for small village houses.
This is why the latest blog posted by development minister Paul Chan Mo-po is so intriguing. Chan was defending the government’s 2030-Plus planning blueprint, which targeted 4,800 hectares of land to build flats and stimulate economic development. With 3,600 hectares already identified, the city still needs to find 1,200 hectares.
So, what to do? The plan recommends building two large new towns in the northern New Territories and on reclaimed land east of Lantau. These add up to 1,700 hectares – that’s an extra 500 hectares to spare.
I have no trouble with developing brownfield sites – former agricultural land occupied, often illegally, by businesses such as car parks and storage containers. It’s long overdue. But more reclamation?
There are roughly 930-plus hectares left of rural land earmarked for the building of small houses reserved for indigenous male villagers under the so-called ding rights. Three of the largest developers in Hong Kong – Sun Hung Kai Properties, Henderson Land and CK Property – together hold about 760-plus hectares in land reserves. Adding those to land banks held by smaller developers would easily take us above 1,000 hectares of empty private land.
A strong government would redirect most of the ding land lots for proper town planning and residential development – for everyone. Ding right holders may be compensated with new flats or cash. If the villagers sue, go all the way to the top court – or seek an interpretation of ding rights from the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress.
Developers should be forced to cough up more land. Impose punitive taxes on those who hoard land beyond a certain size or period. Most developed economies do not allow the indefinite hoarding of land. If “eminent domain” allows the eviction of homeowners and villagers, it should certainly extend to cover empty land held by developers.
Unfortunately, our tycoons and the Heung Yee Kuk, the rural power broker, still enjoy extensive influence. So better destroy the environment and evict the little guy.