With proper compensation, land resumption is both lawful and necessary
Hong Kong is suffering from a severe shortage of land for housing, so it is good that the government is willing to increase the compensation it offers to owners
Private ownership of property is one of the core elements of Hong Kong’s capitalist system.
This is also enshrined in the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution. That said, there are times when such protection has to be weighed against the public interest.
A case in point is compulsory land resumption for key public projects. Such a step, albeit controversial, is perhaps unavoidable in a city with ever-growing development needs. But it is important that the affected landowners are duly compensated.
The government is to be commended for addressing the issues in question with a more generous approach. As much as HK$550 million of taxpayers’ money will be spent on rehousing and compensation for those affected by the northern New Territories new town developments.
Under the new terms proposed by the Development Bureau, those who opt for ex gratia compensation only have to prove that they have lived in the affected premises for two years, instead of 10 years as was the case before. The maximum allowance is also doubled to HK$1.2 million.
Rehousing options without income and asset limits are also available for those living in licensed structures for at least seven years.
Previously, tussles over compensation for government land resumption took years to resolve, the last major one being Tsoi Yuen Tsuen, where scores of villagers were evicted for the construction of the cross-border high-speed railway.
Currently, officials are seeking to clear up sites for development of the northern New Territories. It is estimated that some 3,100 villagers will be displaced. Whether the revised package has sufficient appeal remains to be seen.
Evicting people from their homes is, after all, a step that should not be taken lightly.
Some villagers have been living in the affected areas all their lives. It would be naive to believe that the enhanced housing and compensation terms will resolve all disputes.
But the proposals are nonetheless a positive step. Hopefully, they can help smooth the way forward. This is particularly important in light of the city’s ambitious target of providing 480,000 housing units in the next decade. It is to be hoped that the new approach can ease resistance and speed up progress.