No need to discount reclamation just yet
Given there is at least a shortfall of 1,200 hectares of land for development, it would be premature to say no to any particular option at this stage
Hongkongers have long been warned of the difficulties in boosting land supply to meet ever-growing housing needs. As soon as a government task force endorsed reclamation as one of the ways forward, it became, unsurprisingly, the target of criticism by some vocal green groups in the city. If the housing conundrum can be resolved by simply filling up the sea, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor could have just launched a debate focusing on reclamation. The disputes merely confirm that tough choices will have to be made in due course.
Understandably, green groups are upset by the task force throwing its weight behind reclamation projects put forward by the government. Task force members agree that reclamation is one of the most suitable and practical ways to build up a land reserve, but they also acknowledge that the potential environmental impact should be properly addressed.
Reasonable as it is, theposition of the task force has been criticised by some as pre-empting the upcoming public debate undertaken by Lam. This is further compounded by the fact that its leader, Stanley Wong Yuen-fai, is also head of the watchdog on environmental impact assessment. He dismissed concerns over a possible conflict of roles, adding studies had concluded that the potential impact of land reclamation proposals may be minimised by mitigation measures.
Reclamation has historically been a useful development strategy, with a quarter of our developed area created from the sea. It is difficult to imaginethe city stripped of the 3,000 hectares of land created along the coasts of Kowloon, Hong Kong Island, Sha Tin, Tseung Kwan O, Tuen Mun and Lantau over the past few decades.
But since the enactment of a new law to protect Victoria Harbour in 1997, there has only been limited reclamation for infrastructure development outside the harbour. Today, only 6 per cent of the city is reclaimed land, compared to 24 per cent in Singapore and 160 per cent in Macau, according to details submitted to the task force.
Given there is at least a shortfall of 1,200 hectares of land for development, it would be premature to say no to any particular option at this stage. As long as mitigation measures are adopted to minimise the damage, there is no reason why reclamation should not be considered. There are also statutory mechanisms and safeguards to ensure development will be taken forward in a measured approach.
The task force will examine other options in the near future. It would be good to speed up the process so that the public may have more details to ensure a full debate on the best strategies regarding land.