Further reclamation must also take green concerns into account
Faced with a housing crisis, the Hong Kong government may continue to pursue such a strategy as long as environmental safeguards are in place
The options other than reclamation put before the government’s Task Force on Land Supply are unlikely to yield an effective alternative in the long term.
With two months of the public consultation remaining, the latest comments in favour of reclamation from Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and her housing minister have done nothing to change that assessment.
That is not to say the process of canvassing options for meeting a projected shortage of 1,200 hectares for housing and development over the next three decades is meaningless. Indeed task force chairman Stanley Wong Yuen-fai says Lam’s preference will not override the results of the consultation.
The exercise may have been criticised by those hoping for a quicker resolution of the housing crisis as lacking focus and direction. But if it leads to more understanding of the long-term limitations of alternatives to reclamation, it may still contribute to progress towards consensus.
Lam says her vocal support for reclamation as an important option amounts to being candid about public concerns over the land shortage. There is also an element of consistency in her identifying five sites for reclamation outside protected Victoria Harbour which were also listed in a government consultation seven years ago when Lam served as development secretary.
The task force has mentioned the same five nearshore sites as options for reclamation.
Along with an assertion by housing minister Frank Chan Fan that reclamation could give Hong Kong another new town the size of Sha Tin, the chief executive’s latest remarks prompted environmentalists to express concerns that the government has been playing down the impact of reclamation on marine ecology which is integral to the city’s environment.
Her comments followed her announcement of short-term measures to ease the housing crisis, including a vacancy tax on new flats left unoccupied by developers, reallocation of sites earmarked for private housing to subsidised flats, and cutting prices of subsidised flats from 70 to 52 per cent of market value.
Reclamation is not a quick fix, but it is a long-established foundation of the city’s development of new towns that now house nearly half the population. What has made a difference over the decades has been a surge in environmental awareness that has redefined the issue.
So long as the authorities do not lose sight of people’s more environmentally conscious views and statutory environmental safeguards, there is no reason the reclamation strategy should not remain valid. The upside of a consultation on wider options is that it weighs alternatives and environmental concerns against a known long-term solution and tests the case for reclamation.