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Hong Kong housing

Tough decisions are needed with start of Hong Kong land supply debate

The challenge of finding sufficient sites to ease the housing crisis is big enough, but it may get even bigger and choices must be made for all of our sakes  

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 April, 2018, 4:49am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 April, 2018, 4:49am

The public consultation on land supply was finally launched yesterday. Billed as a strategic step by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to tackle the housing crunch, the long-awaited exercise is a positive step forward.

It is in the city’s interest to seriously debate the pros and cons of all the options in the coming months and come up with a blueprint broadly supported by the public. 

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With as many as 18 land supply options tabled for discussion, the consultation is the most comprehensive ever launched in the city.

From land reclamation to opening up the fringe of our beloved country parks; from building on container terminals to converting golf courses and sport clubs; from working with private developers to developing brownfield sites, the task force appointed by the government is leaving no stone unturned in the quest for adequate land supply to meet our housing needs.    

The options have been vigorously scrutinised by the task force over the past few months before being put to a so-called big debate in society.

Commendable as it is, the methodologies used to gauge public views – including online surveys and interviews – had already been questioned even before the exercise was launched. It is good that adjustments have been made in light of the criticisms. Hopefully, it can enhance the representativeness of the views collected. 

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Obviously, housing problems cannot be resolved by consultation overnight.

According to the task force, the short and medium term options will take up to a decade to deliver. Those further ahead may take even longer.

The conceptual ones, such as building on container terminals, are nothing more than ideas at this stage. The challenges become even greater when more factors are taken into consideration.

There has been a suggestion that the shortfall of land may be more than government estimates of 1,200 hectares when the need to build health care facilities is factored in.

The consultation also does not take into account the trend of developers building smaller flats. Nor does it address soaring property prices. With the market so heavily distorted, even if there is a consensus on the way forward, affordable housing may still be a distant goal. 

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The previous governments each came up with their own approach to tackle the housing conundrum, with a similar consultation on land supply launched at the time of Donald Tsang Yam-kuen. The leaders were no doubt committed, but the results still fell short of public expectations. 

There are no magic solutions, but tough decisions have to be made. This is not only for our own sake, but also for future generations. It is time we put on our thinking caps and tried to reach a consensus on the best way forward.