What to expect when public consultation begins to deal with Hong Kong’s 1,200-hectare land shortage
Over the next five months, Hongkongers will be asked to choose the best of 18 ways the city can address its impending land crisis – but in the end it will take political will to tackle the thorny issue
To solve Hong Kong’s housing shortage, would you prefer to tear down a storied golf course for flats, or develop the fringes of the city’s much loved country parks? Or both?
These questions will be put to the public in a five-month consultation from Thursday. The land supply consultation, launched by a government-appointed committee, will give the public 18 options to choose from, each a different way of finding space to build more homes and drive the economy for the next three decades.
Why is there a need for a public consultation?
With almost all readily available land in Hong Kong used up, the city’s housing shortage has put society, developers, land owners, the government and assorted other vested interests at loggerheads over how and where to find land for future development.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor wrote in her election manifesto: “To tackle the housing problem, we must find more land. We must draw on the collective wisdom of society and recognise the need for compromises and give-and-take in order to find a solution that benefits the community as a whole.”
Lam in September set up a task force, comprising 22 experts and eight government officials, to review a list of land supply options, and consolidate each option’s pros and cons in preparation for the public consultation.
The goal ultimately is to let the public reach a consensus through the consultation, dubbed “a big debate” by Lam, so Hong Kong can build a land bank to meet the city’s long-term development needs.
How will the consultation work?
The 18 options are divided into three categories based on the amount of time each would take to produce land.
Four short-to-medium-term options, such as developing brownfield sites and tapping into agricultural reserves of private developers, would provide land in about a decade’s time. Also among those options was building on all or part of the current site of the exclusive Hong Kong Golf Club, in Fanling.
Six medium-to-long-term options, which include near-shore reclamation outside the Victoria Harbour and developing the fringes of country parks at two pilot areas, would take 10 to 30 years to come to fruition.
The remaining eight, such as building flats on top of the city’s busiest container terminal, are more conceptual ideas because it remained unclear how viable they were and how soon they could become reality.
During the five-month consultation period, written submissions will be collected from the public. At least two surveys will also be carried out, an online one and street interviews at 40 rolling exhibition booths set up in Hong Kong’s 18 districts.
Those surveyed will be asked to pick the proposals they deem more feasible to fix a shortage of 1,200 hectares (3,000 acres) of land to cover housing and economic needs.
How much land does Hong Kong need?
According to the government’s planning blueprint for the next 30 years, Hong Kong requires 4,800 hectares of land. Authorities have already identified 3,600 hectares of land, so the city faces a shortage of 1,200 hectares – equivalent to 342 Taikoo Shing estates.
However, both the task force and experts believe the shortfall is much higher than 1,200 hectares as the projections do not take into account extra demand for health care facilities for the city’s ageing population and bigger flats to improve quality of life.
For example, one task force member said Hong Kong would need 60 per cent more space just to catch up with the per capita living space of Singapore, at 270 sq ft per person.
For that to happen, the city would need 9,000 hectares, which would be about the size of three Sha Tin new towns, instead of the planned 4,800 hectares.
What happens after the consultation?
The task force said Professor John Bacon-Shone, director of the Social Sciences Research Centre at the University of Hong Kong, would be in charge of analysing the results of both surveys.
The panel will prioritise different land supply options, according to the results of the public consultation, by November. It will draw up a broad framework of recommendations on the overall land supply strategy in a report for the government for further consideration.
Does this mean Hong Kong’s housing shortage will be solved?
Task force chairman Stanley Wong Yuen-fai said there was “no quick fix” for the city’s housing crisis.
“There is no single option that can meet the projected shortage, so we’ve got to adopt a multipronged approach,” he said.
Authorities and experts hope that the public consultation will provide a direction for the government to proceed in with its land search, but many also say ultimately it will be up to the government’s political will and determination in tackling the thorny issue.