The government should revive land exchange entitlements to speed up its plan for large-scale rural redevelopment in the New Territories, according to Walter Kwok Ping-sheung, the former chairman of Sun Hung Kai Properties.
From the 1960s until 1983, the government issued certificates of entitlement, commonly known as Letter B certificates, to village landlords in the New Territories when it wished to acquire land for rural redevelopment.
During that time, residents of the New Territories who held land that had been in their families since before the Convention of Peking in 1898 objected to their ancestral heritage being exchanged for cash.
In lieu of compensation, the government offered the landowners certificates promising a future land grant in the New Territories at a fixed exchange ratio.
Kwok said yesterday: "With Letter B certificates, the government can successfully acquire land from farmers' hands and make its northeast New Territories new development areas plan go ahead. I understand the government is considering [the feasibility of the idea]."
Residents of the New Territories "may not agree to sell if the government just acquires the land for cash", Kwok said, but it would be easier to get them to surrender the sites by issuing them with Letter B certificates.
It is understood that developers including Henderson Land Development, New World Development and SHKP own some of the land in the northeast New Territories.
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying laid out measures in his policy address in March to increase the housing supply, including developing 533 hectares of land in the northeast New Territories to provide 53,800 homes.
Kwok said members of the Real Estate Developers Association had raised suggestions similar to his.
The association's chairman, Stewart Leung Chi-kin, said the association had received similar proposals from members but it had not discussed them. "The government spent many years taking back all the Letter B certificates issued. Is it necessary to reissue them now?" he said.
In 1983, SHKP, Nan Fung Development, Henderson Land and Chinachem were by then the biggest holders of the certificates, having bought them from New Territories residents.
The developers had acquired the certificates for later use, as buying them cost much less than bidding for land at a government auction.
All traceable entitlements had been redeemed, mainly from those four developers, by June 27, 1997.
Kwok, widely seen as a supporter of the chief executive, expressed confidence in the outlook for the property market.
"I have been in touch with CY," he said. "He gives me the impression that he does not want to see a big correction in home prices. He expects to see a stable property market, and that is good for Hong Kong's future."
Since Kwok was ousted as SHKP's chairman in 2008, he has been a private investor. He made a successful joint bid with Lai Sun Development for a site in Tseung Kwan O late last year.
Kwok said he was actively looking at possibilities among the development sites that were being offered by the government.