To boost land supply, give a little and gain a lot

In our search for land, rather than looking for winners and losers, everyone should lose a bit so we all, collectively, come out on top

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 August, 2018, 5:46pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 August, 2018, 10:30pm

Everyone engages in spin to advance their own agenda. NGOs are no different, though you would expect a well-funded and experienced group like Greenpeace would do it with a little more finesse.

The green activist group this week took 30 people from low-income families to survey a large expanse of brownfield areas long turned into scrapyards and container sites in Yuen Long. The trip was to convince them that there is plenty of unused farmland, often illegally occupied, for housing so that there is no need to build in and around country parks.

Can these greenies get any more condescending and insulting? If I were poor and had children to worry about, I wouldn’t give a hoot where the government built public housing – reclaimed land, country parks, golf courses, abandoned farmland – so long as we don’t have to live in filthy flats smaller than a standard prison cell.

By the way, no one is saying we should build in country parks. Rather, one proposal is to build on two fringe sites at the edges of country parks. These are not protected under the Country Parks Ordinance.

Don’t get me wrong. I agree it’s disgraceful and politically corrupt that the government doesn’t prioritise turning some or most of an estimated 1,300 hectares of brownfields, mostly in the New Territories, into development sites.

Land supply consultation is just a charade

But it’s not an either-or, as various vested interests fight over their preferred options against rival claims. With more heat than light, we have turned the search for land into a zero-sum game, with no one willing to give an inch; and an ineffectual government that could not convince anyone to choose, let along optimise, the various options.

We do have plenty of land; it’s us who can’t agree on where and how to build what. The government claims it needs to look for more than 1,000 hectares, otherwise the city will have a shortfall of 43,000 flats by 2027. Who knows? Official estimates tend to be a joke.

A public consultation is under way on 18 options to yield land. Apart from a few implausible ones, why not commit to most of them? In our society today, compromise is not part of our political discourse. Instead, it’s all self-righteousness and self-interest all the time.

In our search for land, rather than looking for winners and losers, everyone should lose a bit so we all, collectively, come out on top.