Concerns of all parties need to be addressed in planning for new towns

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 May, 2015, 1:37am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 May, 2015, 1:37am

With constitutional reform high on the public agenda, it is easy to forget that there are other important issues to be dealt with. The northeast development project is an example. Pressured by growing demand for affordable housing and limited land supply, the government has rightly decided to build two new towns in the New Territories. Two years ago, a HK$120 billion development blueprint was unveiled. But not much progress has been made.

The momentum is finally picking up again. Having gone through 53,000 submissions, 45 days of public hearings and two days of closed-door deliberations, the Town Planning Board has unanimously approved the zoning plans. But the tussle is far from over, as the plan still requires a green light from the Executive Council. People affected have already vowed to continue their struggle.

Evicting residents from their homes to make way for new development is a contentious move. The involvement of commercial interests and the need for compensation make it even more controversial. Emotion and resistance are therefore understandable. But there is a well-established mechanism to deal with land resumption. It is important for the government to address residents' concerns carefully and ensure those affected will be given fair compensation.

Our population is expected to increase by 1.4 million in the next three decades. There is no question that the new towns are needed. Under the plan, a total of 60,000 flats will be built in Kwu Tong and Fanling North. But they are only a fraction of the 480,000 units needed to meet housing demand in the next 10 years. Given the public interest, the Town Planning Board is right to have cleared the hurdle for the project to go ahead. The housing crunch will be even more severe if we do not push it ahead.

As many as nine new towns have been built over the past four decades, housing nearly half of the population at present. It would be unimaginable had they been put aside because of public opposition. The northeast development blueprint has been on the drawing board for years. It is a pity that opponents are still dwelling on the possibility of sparing the area from development. For a major project of that scale, it is impossible to come up with a plan that pleases everyone. What officials need to do is to better engage the stakeholders and try their best to address their concerns.