Now is the time to make tough decisions on future land supply
Chief Executive Carrie Lam has offered her ideas – including large-scale reclamation; rather than dismiss these out of hand, the measures deserve careful consideration
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, to her credit, has tried to boost land and housing supply with more initiatives in her second policy address. Some proposals, however, were immediately shot down by critics without being closely examined. Controversial as they are, the measures deserve more careful consideration if we are to tackle the housing conundrum.
That the two key proposals have been viewed with scepticism is to be expected. The scale of reclamation under the Lantau Tomorrow Vision – the equivalent of 42.5 West Kowloon cultural districts – is daunting. Add to that the estimated cost of at least HK$500 billion – the equivalent of half of the city’s fiscal reserves. Also of concern is a land sharing pilot scheme, under which the government will allow development on private farmland in return for keeping 60 to 70 per cent of the new floor area for subsidised housing. If the experiences of similar private-public partnership projects are any guide, concerns about collusion and abuse are not unfounded. The online petition and protest against the reclamation projects underline the opposition from some sectors. The sentiment also was reflected in a sharp plunge in Lam’s popularity and public satisfaction rate with the policy address, according to surveys by the University of Hong Kong’s Public Opinion Programme.
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That said, it would be wrong to dismiss the ideas altogether. Those who challenge the government need to consider whether there are better alternatives. Indeed, reclamation has been an effective way of creating new land for development since colonial years. There would not have been new districts and towns like West Kowloon, Tseung Kwan O and Sha Tin had the government shied away from reclamation. The chief executive’s pledge of using advanced technologies to avoid damaging marine ecology is a positive step. It is incumbent upon the government to better explain the merits of the measures and try its best to address public concerns.
The pursuit of massive reclamation does not mean the other options in the land supply consultation can be cast aside. The conversion of industrial buildings into interim housing and the rent exemption incentive to encourage the elderly living in under-occupied public housing flats to relocate to smaller units may help supply if the response is good. But much more needs to be done to meet the demand for affordable housing in the short and medium terms.
Having spent the past year debating land supply options, it is time we act. Whether there will be enough land for affordable housing and economic growth hinges on how we choose today. Inevitably, tough decisions must be made.