The development of Hong Kong should not become over-development

The 2030 and beyond blueprint is a good opportunity for a review of where we want to go as a city

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 November, 2016, 1:44am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 November, 2016, 1:44am

Land supply has become so sensitive an issue that the debate risks becoming led by emotions rather than facts. The ongoing consultation on the post-2030 development of Hong Kong is a case in point. As soon as the document was released, the government was criticised by some conservationists for “overdeveloping” the city. But with less than one quarter of our land built up, there seems to be much room for further development. The question is how far we should go.

According to the revised development blueprint “Hong Kong 2030+”, we still need 4,800 hectares of land for housing, economic and community use. But only 3,600 hectares have been identified and planned so far. To make up the shortfall of 1,200 hectares, officials have proposed two new town developments in northern New Territories and east Lantau. The two projects will produce 1,720 hectares in total, giving a comfortable 10 per cent buffer. The capacity is enough for a population of 9 million people.

Community opposes Hong Kong government’s proposals for Lantau Island development

The figures immediately have become the target of criticism, not only because we are seemingly building more than necessary but also because the plan involves reclamation off the eastern coast of Lantau. Even though the government says the area is not ecologically sensitive, those who put conservation ahead of development needs remain unpacified. Whether there is a need for the 10 per cent buffer is debatable. But even if we stick to the estimated population of 8.22 million by 2043, there is still pressure to increase land supply. Under the proposed blueprint, the target for provision of land for future government, institution and community use is to be raised to 3.5 square metres per person, compared to the 2.2 square metres in ShaTin that is the current benchmark. Likewise, the target for recreational space is to rise from 2 square metres to 2.5 square metres per person.

There are choices to be made. It seems unrealistic to expect improvements in the quality of living while resisting change. Indeed, there exists a non-development mentality in certain quarters of society, so much so that it is hampering efforts to provide more housing and other facilities. Whether the 3,600 hectares of land identified by the government can be developed as planned remains to be seen. It would seem prudent to start looking beyond what is available for future needs. Based on the government’s estimate, the ratio of built-up land will rise from 24 per cent to no more than 30 per cent of total land area.

The consultation gives a good opportunity to debate whether we are going too far. Striking the right balance is the key.