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Hong Kong housing

Risk to green areas must not be overlooked in Hong Kong homes push

  • A study has revealed that more than half the private farmland in ecologically sensitive wetland areas have owners linked to four major property developers
PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 December, 2018, 6:17pm
UPDATED : Friday, 28 December, 2018, 9:01pm

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor must be fully aware of the sensitivity of the government’s plan to co-develop land with private owners to help boost housing supply. That is why she pledged to follow the principles of fairness, openness and transparency when announcing the so-called land sharing pilot scheme in her policy address. Details remain scanty, giving rise to speculations and worries, some of which are not unfounded.

According to a study based on company research, over half the private farmland in ecologically sensitive wetland areas have owners linked to the city’s four major property developers. The area comprised 15 per cent of wetland conservation and buffer zones. Some of the areas were also found to have violated government rules on land use in the past. The findings, released by land concern group Liber Research Community, have fuelled concerns that the pilot scheme could override well-established planning safeguards and damage the wetlands in the New Territories.

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The scheme aims to make better use of private land for short- and medium-term housing needs, with a target of turning 60 to 70 per cent of the new floor area into government-subsidised housing. While the concept is worth exploring, the perception of business collusion should not be brushed aside. The government was accused of being unfair in awarding public-private partnership projects in the past. The concerns would inevitably become even bigger when environmentally sensitive sites are involved. There were cases in which owners first damage the conditions of their property to lower the conservation value before applying for redevelopment.

Critics may be relieved to learn the government has no plan to change wetland planning restrictions. Indeed, projects in such areas would have difficulty meeting the requirement of increasing housing supply in the short and medium term, according to the Development Bureau. Officials also stressed there would be transparent criteria and procedures to ensure projects would be fair and open. Even so, the possession of sensitive areas by developers means there is always pressure for development. The environmental risk must not be overlooked as we exhaust options to meet housing demand.