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Hong Kong housing

Land supply consultation ‘rigged’, ex-Hong Kong planning official says of public exercise to tackle city’s housing crisis

He questions objectivity of those leading the five-month effort culminating in a report, claiming they have already decided on their preferences

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 September, 2018, 6:03pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 September, 2018, 11:13am

A former planning official has slammed Hong Kong’s public consultation on how to find more land to ease the city’s housing crisis as “rigged” and “ill-conceived”.

Augustine Ng Wah-keung, an ex-assistant director of planning, asserted he had not taken part in the exercise in any way because he believed it was badly designed and that those leading it had already decided on their preferences, casting doubt on their objectivity.

“Personally, I feel the consultation is quite ill-conceived,” Ng said on Saturday during an RTHK programme. “It’s very bad.”

The five-month exercise is led by the government-appointed Task Force on Land Supply and aims to find ways to plug a 1,200-hectare shortage for housing and economic development in the world’s least affordable property market. It ends next Wednesday.

Ng’s comment came before the task force is expected to submit a midterm report to Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor next Monday.

The report, requested by the city’s leader to prepare for her policy address on October 10, will only include what the public have said about the five most talked-about land supply options. Yet it will not contain any analysis indicating the amount of support or opposition behind each one. The final analysis will be completed at the end of the year.

Ng said the consultation, which included 18 options, could not inspire meaningful discussions.

“Anybody who’s got some planning education knows that the fewer the topics, the more meaningful the discussions will be,” he added.

Ng argued that many task force members had already expressed their preferences for options such as reclamation and a government partnership to develop some 1,000 hectares of privately owned farmland in the New Territories.

When some members have already adopted their own positions, this leaves an impression on people of things being very rigged
Augustine Ng Wah-keung, ex-planning official

These two proposals will be included in the midterm report. The other three options to be included are developing country park peripheries, developing damaged agricultural land known as brownfield, and building on a golf course in Fanling.

“When some members have already adopted their own positions, this leaves an impression on people of things being very rigged,” he said.

After serving as assistant director, Ng went on to become the first head of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, between 2008 and 2010, before leading the Estate Agents Authority for a year.

But on the same radio programme, former director of planning, Ling Kar-kan, countered that the task force had been doing a meaningful job.

“Had the government introduced its land policies without this consultation, there would have been many people asking why it did not consult them,” he said. “Now, many people in society have taken part in or at least know about the consultation.”

However, Ling – elected vice-chairman of the Housing Society this month – believed local officials would not make their decisions solely based on public opinion.

“Sometimes the government will have to make difficult decisions for the public good,” he said. “This consultation will help the government comprehensively understand what the public has been thinking.”

Reclaim 2.6km-long strip in harbour to ease housing woes, architects say

Speaking separately on Saturday, Raymond So Wai-man, undersecretary for transport and housing, urged the public to recognise the importance of reclamation as a major source of land.

“Whenever the word reclamation is mentioned, people speculate [whether] the government has some pre-assigned agenda to do it,” So said. “But we still have to face the reality that reclamation ... has been one of our major sources of new land.”