Hong Kong housing

Will Hong Kong’s search for land benefit the public or developers? Commit 70 per cent of space for public housing to ease doubts, think tank says

Commit 70 per cent of space for public housing to ease doubts, think tank Land Watch says

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 May, 2018, 6:44pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 May, 2018, 10:22pm

At least 70 per cent of land eyed for new flats in the next decade should be used for public and subsidised properties if the Hong Kong government wants to rally support for controversial ideas to ease the city’s housing crisis, including working with private developers, a think tank has urged.

Land Watch, which met members of the government-appointed Task Force on Land Supply on Thursday, said it generally supported most of the 18 options put forward by the official body for a five-month public consultation which began last month.

The options ranged from using privately held farmland in the New Territories to building on the fringes of Hong Kong’s cherished country parks.

But the think tank said it would only back the plans on the condition that most of the land freed up was used to benefit the wider public.

A firm commitment on this from officials would show they had the public interest at heart, and would ensure the new flats were affordable, Land Watch chairman Lee Wing-tat said.

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“The public will say, what’s the point of this public consultation if the land is just going to be used to build luxury flats?” Lee said.

“By making a policy statement it can help reduce public concern or worries that the government is just going to benefit developers.”

Tapping into some 1,000 hectares (2,470 acres) of farmland held by Hong Kong’s major developers is one of the 18 options put forward to address the city’s projected shortfall of at least 1,200 hectares of land needed for development in the next three decades.

Lee said no less than 70 per cent of each construction project stemming from the current land search should be made up of public or subsidised housing.

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“A public-private partnership is indeed one of the speedier methods to increase land supply, but they should lay down very strict conditions,” Lee said.

Officials should also consider capping the amount of land to be sourced from private developers at 200 to 300 hectares, he added.

“This is to make sure the future land supply will not just be dictated by developers,” he said.

Stanley Ng Wing-fai, the think tank’s project convenor, said the government should use the Land Resumption Ordinance – which allows it to forcibly claim any land in the city, with compensation for the owner, if the takeover is for public use – to take back space if agreements could not be reached with companies.

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Only 150 hectares of private agricultural land is estimated to be available in the short-to-medium term, according to the task force, as some may be in ecologically sensitive areas. Another 300 hectares would be available in the medium-to-long term.

Stanley Wong Yuen-fai, chairman of the Task Force on Land Supply, noted the group's recommendations to increase the ratio of public housing, but said the consultation could not state the specific use for each land supply option.

There are multiple land supply options and not all of them can even be used for housing
Stanley Wong Yuen-fai, Task Force on Land Supply

“We wouldn't be able to do it,” he said. “There are multiple land supply options and not all of them can even be used for housing.”

Some medium-to-long-term options, such as the development of the East Lantau Metropolis man-made island, did not even have a town plan yet, he said.

On the other options, the think tank also suggested the government commit to using 70 per cent, or a major portion, of residential land gained from reclamation to build public housing.

It also supported relocating the Kwai Tsing container terminal and building on the fringes of country parks if the government had a clear policy stipulating total park area would be gradually increased.

Lee said the proportion of flats built in the next decade that are public should be increased to 70 per cent from the current 60 per cent. The current official target is for 460,000 flats to be built by 2027, with 60 per cent, or 280,000, as public housing.

“Increasing private housing supply cannot adjust the high property prices or solve Hong Kong’s housing problems,” Lee said. “Only public and subsidised housing is affordable.”

Wong noted that the long-term baseline for the government's housing targets was a public-private housing ratio of 60-40.

“If the majority opinion believes this ratio needs to be increased, then it will be reflected in our consolidated report to the government,” he said.

Additional reporting by Ernest Kao