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.