Hong Kong housing

Military and mainland sites suggested by citizens task force as alternative land sources for Hong Kong

Most of the 100 participants at a large-scale community discussion said preserving the environment and minimising the impact on existing communities were non-negotiables

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 May, 2018, 11:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 May, 2018, 2:19pm

What matters to Hongkongers as the space-starved city looks for more land to build homes?

About 100 people at a forum held at the University of Hong Kong on Saturday said preserving the environment and minimising the impact on existing communities were for them non-negotiable.

Organised by the Citizens Task Force on Land Resources – a group of professionals from various sectors – the three-hour session was the first large-scale community discussion since officials last week launched a five-month public consultation on 18 options to boost land supply.

Camille Lam Tsz-kwan, a member of the group, said the panel appointed by the government had prioritised a set of values and concerns in arriving at the options but “these might not be what the public thinks are important”.

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“Before choosing any land supply options, it’s important to know what principles and criteria the public values,” the town planner said.

Participants ranging from subdivided flat residents to think-tank researchers and environmental activists were asked to vote on 12 principles that the city should not compromise on.

[We are] trying to provoke a debate. If there is no debate, how are things going to change?
Paul Zimmerman, Citizens Task Force

The majority agreed that the three most important principles Hong Kong should stick to included minimising environmental impact, making sure existing communities were not unduly affected, and social justice.

What they meant by social justice was a fair distribution of land resources, free from a monopoly by a minority. Land development should also be in the interest of the public.

The group also proposed 16 land supply options that had surfaced over the years.

Those that did not overlap with the government panel’s 18 options included using 60 hectares (148 acres) of space reserved for Hong Kong Disneyland’s expansion; renting land from mainland China such as Guishan Island to the southwest of Lantau Island; and using military sites that were underutilised by the People’s Liberation Army.

The participants were then split into groups to deliberate which options best fit the principles they had voted on.

A participant from a group that supported developing military and brownfield sites said: “We can’t give up our environment, that’s our bottom line. Any damage done to it is irreversible.”

Task force chairman Paul Zimmerman said the discussion would allow the public to look at the issue from different perspectives, free from the framework set by officials.

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“What this discussion is trying to do is to empower [the public] with ideas that otherwise would not take place in the government public consultation,” he said. “The Citizens Task Force is trying to provoke a debate. If there is no debate, how are things going to change?”

Meanwhile, the government’s Task Force on Land Supply held its first closed-door workshop with district councils in New Territories West on Saturday.

During the meeting, members explained to the group the options they had put forth to get 1,200 hectares (3,000 acres) of land to cover housing and economic needs in the next three decades. The consultation period ends in November.