Hong Kong public expects results from land task force
More reclamation appears inevitable even though views are still being sought, but such a long-term approach to building badly needed homes is insufficient
It appears that the ongoing public consultation on land supply ended as soon as Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor made clear that reclamation would be inevitable. The directions become even clearer when the task force overseeing the so-called “great debate” revealed that reclamation and developing brownfield sites were two of the measures most supported by the people so far. While the way forward may seem like a foregone conclusion now, the government must realise that the two options cannot address the city’s housing crunch in the short-run.
That they have received the most support among a list of 18 options is hardly surprising. Reclamation is primarily rejected by environmentalists while brownfields are essentially downgraded agricultural areas used as car parks, garages and recycling yards. The interests affected by the two options are not as wide as those in other proposals and, although their levels of support may be higher, they may not be the choices of most people. It shows that even towards the end of the debate, a clear consensus has yet to be reached.
It owes much to the lack of focus during the five-month public engagement exercise. Even though task force members have proactively been reaching out to different sectors in society, the public has become increasingly sceptical about what can be achieved at the end. The pros and cons of some controversial options, such as converting the Fanling golf course into housing and building along the fringe of country parks, have yet to be fully made clear to the people. With the consultation still having a few weeks to go, interest groups are expected to step up efforts to try to shape the final outcome to their liking. The real debate may well begin when the task force presents preliminary findings to help Lam draft her second policy speech, due to be delivered next month.
Reclamation and developing brownfield sites cannot significantly enhance housing supply or dampen runaway property prices in the short-run. While the latter may provide some relief in 10 years, the former takes much longer to yield. The pressure on Lam to better address the immediate housing problems will only grow if the outcome of the consultation falls short of public expectation.