Land task force does its job despite fights ahead

  • Hong Kong government-appointed team completes a selfless task by pointing the way forward on sites for housing, but the hardest work is yet to come
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 January, 2019, 8:30pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 January, 2019, 2:26am

There were no festive cheers for the final report submitted by the Task Force on Land Supply for housing to the government.

It covered no new grounds because all its recommendations had been previously reported and dissected. The public didn’t trust the task force and the government treated it as no more than a convenient tool. No wonder its members looked more relieved than happy now they could all go home after facing the most unrelenting criticism for performing a thankless public service.

But if news stories about the report have been underwhelming, it’s mostly because the task force has achieved something rare: a reasonably convincing public consensus. Nowadays, that’s not front-page material.

There is general agreement that development of brownfield sites in the New Territories should be a top priority. Another is to convert idle agricultural land. A third is to take back at least part of the 172-hectare golf course in Fanling for development. All three are listed as priority options for development in the short-to-medium term in the task force report. Even the pan-democratic and localist opposition could live with the three recommendations.

Land supply task force cites public support for reclamation plans

In the short-to-medium period, the government claims Hong Kong is short of 815 hectares to meet housing needs, which accounts for over 60 per cent of the total shortfall of 1,200 hectares. There are 1,300 hectares of brownfield sites in the rural districts, but only 540 are viable for development without extensive planning and building of basic infrastructures. Major developers hold land banks of about 1,000 hectares in agricultural land.

Meanwhile, the task force proposes a partial resumption of 32 hectares of the Fanling golf course.

At least on paper, there is enough land to go around. But the next big fights will, of course, be over money. Those who own private brownfield sites and others who have occupied public sites illegally for long periods will demand an arm and a leg as compensation. Since they represent mostly rural interests, any compensation scheme will be viewed suspiciously by urbanites and the opposition parties that represent them.

The government is likely to propose public-private cooperative development with the big developers for their land banks. There will, inevitably, be accusations of collusion. Thankfully, it doesn’t need to develop all 1,000 hectares, but about half of that.

It won’t be plain sailing, but the task force has charted a viable way forward.