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Hong Kong housing

Is land estimate of 1,200 hectares enough to solve Hong Kong’s future needs? No, experts say

Task force members warn factors not considered include the need for health care facilities for the ageing population and flats to attract foreign talent 

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 April, 2018, 9:03am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 April, 2018, 11:18am

Government projections of Hong Kong’s future land needs are being severely underestimated, experts warn.

Members on the land supply task force have questioned if the 1,200-hectare (3,000 acres) estimation by the Planning Department was adequate.

They spoke ahead of a public consultation where Hongkongers will be asked to choose to identify at least 1,200 hectares of land – equivalent to 342 Taikoo Shing estates – to address the city’s housing shortage and drive economic development in the next three decades.

The consultation, which will last five months, is expected to kick off on April 26 – but task force members said the projections have excluded a long list a key needs.

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They warn the department has failed to cover the extra demand for health care facilities   for the city’s ageing population and the push to improve the quality of life.

Other factors not taken into consideration included the need for affordable and quality flats to attract overseas talent and lure back second-generation Hongkongers who moved overseas decades ago. The government is targeting both groups as the city’s workforce ages and shrinks. 

According to authorities, a total of 4,800 hectares of land is the minimum requirement – with 3,600 hectares already identified – and so the city faces a shortage of 1,200 hectares.

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But task force member Stephen Wong Yuen-shan said: “To start a public debate based on 1,200 hectares is a wrong approach. It’s not even in the right ballpark. Without enough land, it’s our next generation who will suffer." 

Wong, who is also deputy executive director of think tank Our Hong Kong Foundation, added: “Hong Kong has developed seven to eight new towns in the past 30 years. But 4,800 hectares estimated for the next 30 years is equivalent to the size of 1½ of Sha Tin towns only."

 

While the department report and the bureau both mentioned previously that the estimate of 4,800 hectares was a ballpark figure and not exhaustive, Wong said the city 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, compared with 160 sq ft per person for Hong Kong.

Another task force member, who declined to be named, said: “It’s ridiculous that the demand for land does not take into account the rising demand for extra hospital beds when our society is having more elderly people ... It ignores people’s wish to live in bigger homes too.

“To say the city will need at least 1,200 hectares of land is misleading. We need a clearer direction.”

It’s ridiculous that the demand for land does not take into account the rising demand for extra hospital beds 
Task force member

The department's report says that due to market fluctuations, the projection excludes land demand from retail services, hotels, tertiary institutions, and long-term developments of the convention and exhibition sector. 

The report forms a key part of the city’s “2030 Plus” study which sets out the government’s territorial development strategy for the next 30 years.

Official statistics show the burden on the city is set to increase as the proportion of elderly people is expected to rise from 15 per cent in 2014 to 33 per cent in 2064.

The number of days elderly patients aged over 65 spend in hospitals is also six times more than younger people on average. 

Apart from making projections for various land uses, the Planning Department also reserves land for public facilities when requested by the Development Bureau. 

The task force member said they were surprised that less than five hectares were reserved for medical facilities in the next three decades – a stark contrast to more than 75 hectares reserved for columbaria and more than 35 hectares for education facilities. 

The department said the land reserved for medical facilities would be used for a Chinese medicine hospital and a testing centre. 

Task force chairman Stanley Wong Yuen-fai confirmed that many members had said the land projection was too conservative, but added: “I hope the public debate on 1,200 hectares can be a start, at least to address short-term needs.”

To start a public debate based on 1,200 hectares is a wrong approach. It’s not even in the right ballpark
Stephen Wong, task force member

“It’s impossible for the task force to review each of the land use projections within a short period of time. Some green groups also complained the government has reserved too much land for sewage treatment … If the public agrees that we should identify even more land, we can look for more options later,” Wong added.

In a reply to the Post, the department’s spokeswoman said the overall figure of 4,800 hectares was also an estimate based on the best available information. 

The department would increase the per capita provision of GIC space, referring to the amount of land designated for government, institute and community uses, from 2.2 square metres per person to 3.5 square metres per person. Such land use covers facilities such as hospitals, education buildings, community halls, post offices and public mortuaries.

Asked whether land reserved for more health care facilities stemmed from pressures of an ageing population, the department said some new policy initiatives related to the growing number of elderly people were proposed after the land projection.

The government would keep monitoring estimates of required land and make adjustments where necessary to meet social needs and aspirations, the spokeswoman said.