My Take

Let’s get realistic about Hong Kong’s housing shortage

No one is going to take on the vested interests that control brownfield land, so the option of building on the edges of country parks must be considered

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 May, 2017, 1:47am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 May, 2017, 1:47am

Should we develop slivers of out-of-the-way country parks for public housing? Apparently, it’s a sin just to ask this question.

Not only can we not touch those parks, which account for 41 per cent of Hong Kong’s landmass, we cannot even raise the issue. Independent lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick has just led a group of eco-warriors against any such an idea. The former director of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department has spoken out against it on radio.

“The government should look into the feasibility of developing brownfield sites, private land and other types of land to best utilise resources,” Wong Fook-yee said.

Practically all the great and good of society – many of them retired senior civil servants – have expressed opposition. I am glad they have suddenly grown a spine, once they have left the government and taken their pensions.

Hong Kong government study on building housing in country parks ‘biased’, former senior official says

I know their arguments, I have looked up the numbers. I used to take their side. There are about 1,200 hectares of brownfield sites; roughly 930-plus hectares left of rural land earmarked for the building of small houses reserved for indigenous male villagers thanks to their so-called ding rights. Three of our largest developers – Sun Hung Kai Properties, Henderson Land and CK Property – together hold 760-plus hectares in land reserves, and we are not even counting land banks owned by smaller developers.

More than enough, right? So why not develop them first?

Here’s the thing. You will have to get the next government to take on rural bosses, bullies and triads, the powerful Heung Yee Kuk, and the no less powerful and even richer property tycoons and their family businesses. What makes you think the incoming government will develop a backbone, something that successive colonial and post-1997 administrations had failed to do?

Even if chief executive-elect Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor really is the “iron lady”, how long do you think she has to fight before the government can reclaim or buy the lands from vested interests?

I have yet to read a media interview with a low-income family of three or four paying something like HK$4,500 for a 150 sq ft partitioned unit defending the sanctity of country park borders instead of hoping for a public housing unit taking up tiny bits of the outskirts of a park.

You don’t believe me? Talk to the indefatigable Sze Lai-shan of the Society for Community Organisation, which helps many such families.