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Hong Kong housing

Beijing should free up some of its PLA-controlled land for Hong Kong housing 

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 May, 2018, 10:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 May, 2018, 11:21pm

The Hong Kong government’s task force on land supply has launched its public engagement exercise, offering an incomplete picture with little focus. So, in my capacity as an expert on infrastructure finance, let me suggest some.

In looking only at the supply side, the task force takes demand as given. The assumptions underlying projections by the Census and Statistics Department are not explored – how much space per head is a reasonable minimum? When the total fertility rate is 1.2 per woman, what is our immigration policy in the context of the Greater Bay Area? And more.

But we need at least 1,200 hectares of new land by 2046 and the task force presents a dizzying 18 proposals for supplying it. 

The tangle of thinking is, in fact, a Gordian knot which can be resolved with one bold stroke. 

The People’s Liberation Army controls 2,700 hectares of land in Hong Kong. Much of this land is underutilised; the PLA has never left barracks in 20 years – nor, one hopes, is it ever likely to, even to do something useful like clean up after typhoons, as in Macau. The task force dare not even mention this as an option, but Beijing could earn huge local and international goodwill by relinquishing half of this land.

Finding enough land won’t solve Hong Kong’s housing crisis

Several of the proposals which the task force does put forward have merit. The now-defunct River Trade Terminal has 65 hectares of flat, well-connected, contiguous land with few pre-existing structures on it, with water views to boot. As I have written previously, likewise the 380 hectares at Kwai Tsing container port.

This business does not need to be relocated within the special administrative region, so much as moved to Shenzhen, whose ports are mostly controlled by the same oligopolists anyway. Manhattan and London did this decades ago.

Most of the other proposals are expensive (filling in yet more harbour), contentious (encroaching on country parks), spiteful (concreting over Fanling golf course), faintly ridiculous (building above the port facilities at Kwai Tsing; or relocating sewage works to caverns inside mountains) or some combination thereof.

Andrew Kinloch, Central