The government might buy disused private farmland in the northeast New Territories and rent it to farmers displaced by new towns in the area, the development chief said.
Paul Chan Mo-po said 34 hectares of fallow land had been identified in Kwu Tung South, but much of it was in private hands and some owners, looking forward to benefits from future development, had said they would not rent it to anyone.
Chan told lawmakers yesterday his bureau was studying, with the Food and Health Bureau, the possibility of buying the land and renting it out after "suitable management".
He did not give details, but said the government would also consider designating the land permanently for agriculture so owners would give up thoughts of selling it to private developers.
Asked how the needs of the displaced farmers would be met given a queue of about 200 farmers was already waiting to take over fallow land, Chan said they would get priority.
Chan, who was attending a Legislative Council hearing on the controversial plan for new towns at Kwu Tung North and Fanling North, faced calls to give more details of his family's interest in land covered by the development.
In the continuing conflict-of-interest row over ownership of land at Kwu Tung North by a company linked to his family, lawmakers and people attending the meeting urged Chan to step down or give up responsibility for the development.
After the meeting, Chan admitted there was room for improvement in his handling of the issue, but he did not apologise. "I may have been a bit clumsy in my expression," he said. "Looking back, I do believe I could have handled the matter better."
Meanwhile, Legco president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing warned the government against falling into the "Tacitus Trap", in which it would be viewed as lying or doing the wrong thing even when it was truthful and acting correctly.
Tsang said on radio that the public had higher expectations of government officials and demanded them to be "whiter than white". "They should draw a better line between their privacy and the public interest," he said.
The Tacitus Trap is named after Roman historian and senator, Publius Cornelius Tacitus, who said policies of an unpopular government would not be welcomed whether they were good or bad.