Hard decisions still lie ahead over sites to ease Hong Kong housing crisis
- The provision of homes will form a core part of the legacy of Chief Executive Carrie Lam, and the head of a government task force, which has come up with eight recommendations, has stressed the urgency to do so
The report of the government’s housing land supply task force did not only highlight eight preferred short- and long-term development recommendations. Task force chairman Stanley Wong Yuen-fai went beyond its brief to impress upon the government a sense of dire urgency: “We’re already running out of time. The government should go full speed ahead with all the options and face the challenges head on.” The challenges of course are political. They remain to be resolved, as implicitly acknowledged in the response of Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor that she would study the options and consider the way forward, and in her call for differences to be set aside. Conflict is bound to be sharpened by controversial options such as massive reclamation and development of brownfield and private recreational sites and agricultural land.
The task force may have conducted a random phone survey to tap into public opinion without the self-interest that coloured submissions to a public consultation. And this may have confirmed viable support for the most ambitious options. But its report cannot solve controversies, some very political, among different stakeholders. Indeed, many conflicting views reared their heads the moment the report was released. Eventually it comes down to sustained political will from this government and its successors. That does not just mean making the right choices, but also striking the right balance between different interest groups and selling the results to the public. The ball is now in the government’s court.
Reclamation, an effective way of creating new land for development since colonial years, remains the ultimate long-term solution. Public support for reclaiming land outside the harbour in the random sampling of opinion is significantly stronger than in responses volunteered to questionnaires, but less so for the planned East Lantau Metropolis reclamation. That should serve as both an incentive to try to consolidate support, and a caution against pushing for reclamation simply to avoid conflict with vested interests. Too much is at stake in building confidence in massive reclamation by not addressing legitimate environmental and conservation concerns. The task force sees east Lantau as key to building a land reserve, with a dedicated authority to fast track housing land creation.
That said, only 300 hectares of the potential 3,250 hectares in the eight development options will be available in eight years. The priority is to exploit the most accessible options. In a sign of the hard decisions that lie ahead, the government has already declined an opportunity to say whether it will accept the controversial suggestion to redevelop 32 hectares of the 172-hectare Fanling golf course. One thing is certain: a core part of Lam’s legacy as chief executive will be light or darkness at the end of the housing tunnel.