Hong Kong housing

How Hong Kong’s land supply consultation is really not about public debate on housing

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 June, 2018, 6:34pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 June, 2018, 10:03pm

After working behind closed doors with no published meeting minutes for eight months, the government-appointed Task Force on Land Supply presented to the public a dim sum menu to select land from.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam proclaimed this exercise as a “big debate” through which the public can decide on the sources of land that Hong Kong can draw on to solve its housing problem.

In fact, there is no debate.

The task force has decided on every issue without any public debate. Its members pushed their agenda from within while the public cannot do so.

One member told the media that Hong Kong will need 9,000 hectares of land in all instead of 4,800 hectares, an amount calculated by the government’s long-term 2030 Plus development blueprint, which projected the shortfall at 1,200 hectares. Not realising this member’s dual role as the vice-chairman of a pro-government think tank, the public is easily misled into believing that his opinion and the task force’s are one and the same.

The public has no opportunity to debate the facts and data that drive land demand and supply.

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The task force accepted the 1,200 hectares land shortfall, an assumption that many experts conclude is grossly inflated. A glaring example is planning housing capacity for a population of 9 million, when the Census and Statistics Department has forecast population to peak at 8.22 million in 2043, decreasing to 7.72 million in 2066.

The task force refused to include land supply sources such as land reserved for small housing, short-term land leases and temporary government-assigned land. Yet, it accepted the recommendation of one of its members to include a reservoir for development.

No options in the survey questionnaire were proposed by individuals or organisations outside the task force or the government.

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The only action that the public can take is to react to the survey questionnaire, the structure and contents of which had not been debated by the public.

The questionnaire steers readers to choose the easy options which would yield large areas of land to meet the 1,200-hectare requirement: reclamation, the East Lantau Metropolis and development in the New Territories. These three options happen to be what the government advocates. The questionnaire is constructed such that, if the 1,200-hectare criteria is to be met, one has to choose at least one of the above three options.

Rather than a genuine “big debate”, the HK$12 million public engagement effort on land supply is nothing but the usual government public relations show. The public had been consulted. Box checked.

Tom Yam, Lantau