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Hong Kong housing

Boosting land supply not just choosing between country park development and reclamation, concerned parties argue

From urban studies professor to ex-Observatory chief, holistic comparison of 12 proposals urged

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 October, 2017, 9:34pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 October, 2017, 11:13am

Alternatives to boosting land supply in space-starved Hong Kong should be studied more urgently than forcing people to choose between developing country parks and additional reclamation, concerned parties have argued after controversial remarks by the city’s leader.

Some also believed the problems of unaffordable housing and undesirable living conditions stemmed from government policies and that feeding more land into the system would not address the issue.

Fears escalated after Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Monday offered to exchange preservation of the city’s scenic country parks from development for reclaiming more land outside Victoria Harbour.

“It is all a matter of trade-offs,” Lam said. “If you allow the government to do more reclamation outside Victoria Harbour, maybe we need not touch the country parks at all.”

But Professor Ng Mee-kam, director of the urban studies programme at Chinese University, claimed Lam’s focus on the two options contradicted the government’s own long-term blueprint of developing a sustainable city by 2030 and beyond.

“The basic principle of sustainable development is to restore damaged environments as soon as possible, instead of creating more damage in green spaces,” Ng said.

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She explained that built-up areas comprised 25 per cent of the city’s land, with 40 per cent country parks. That meant 35 per cent was still unused and unprotected.

A large chunk of this land included brownfield sites, or damaged farmland, she said, adding that the government should make developing them a higher priority.

This damage is not just ecological
Professor Ng Mee-kam, Chinese University

“This damage is not just ecological. All the damage comes with social, economic, environmental and health implications.”

Ng added that worsening affordability and living conditions were caused by a series of interconnected policies such as high government premiums for selling land, the controlled release of sites for sale, and an unwillingness to fully realise the potential of large areas of village-type land in the New Territories through better planning measures.

“The New Territories have the most land in Hong Kong,” she said. “How long can the government defer looking at it? If we don’t change the system and feed more land into the system, who are we increasing the land for?”

There is an estimated shortfall of at least 1,200 hectares of land that the government needs to identify for the city’s long-term development.

Separately, it is estimated there are some 1,300 hectares of brownfield sites and that 930 hectares of land are set aside for village-type development.

Development minister Michael Wong Wai-lun on Wednesday said these sites were scattered across 642 villages and of various sizes as well as reserved for indigenous residents to develop small houses. He said the government believed these sites were not suitable for high-density housing developments.

Lam Chiu-ying, a former Observatory chief and the chairman of the Countryside Foundation, said climate change and rising sea levels meant reclamation would cost much more than in the past because the land needed to be raised higher to prevent flooding.

“The best way [to increase land supply] is of course to develop existing, unprotected land,” he added.

The government set up a task force in August to study 12 proposals to increase land supply, including the suggestions from the chief executive and Ng.

The government has also commissioned the Housing Society to conduct a study on developing the areas on the fringes of local country parks.

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Stanley Wong Yuen-fai, chairman of the task force, said no single option could solve the land shortfall because different proposals meant different levels of difficulties and amounts of time needed for supply to materialise.

Reclamation, for example, would take at least 15 years, he believed.

“There must be several options, instead of only two as the chief executive said,” Wong said. “It will not be a simple comparison of two options but a comprehensive comparison of all 12 proposals.”