Carrie Lam

Forcibly taking back privately leased plots and farmland for housing ‘would backfire’, Carrie Lam says

Chief executive rejects call to invoke lease regulations and brushes aside allegations of collusion with property developers

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 May, 2018, 3:00pm
UPDATED : Friday, 04 May, 2018, 7:19pm

Hong Kong’s leader on Thursday rejected calls for the government to forcibly take back privately leased land and farm plots to use for housing development, saying it could backfire. 

Grilled at the Legislative Council, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor brushed aside allegations of collusion with property developers, as she pledged to consider the public good over vested interests.

“You do not need to worry whether we have the sincerity, courage or determination … I have no responsibility to safeguard the vested interests,” Lam said, responding to a question by lawmaker Alice Mak Mei-kuen.

Mak, from the Federation of Trade Unions, had questioned the government’s decisiveness and courage in tackling the housing problem. Lam said: “In my governance ideology, there are no words for ‘vested interests’ – only ‘public interest’.”

A government-appointed task force recently kicked off a public consultation on 18 options for easing the space-starved city’s worsening housing shortage, with development of the 170-hectare Fanling golf course – one of the suggestions put forward – at the centre of the debate. The course is home to the exclusive Hong Kong Golf Club.

Community groups insist the course should be razed to build housing, while vested interests, including about 2,000 rich and influential club members, oppose that.

Democratic Party lawmaker Andrew Wan Siu-kin asked Lam: “Do you dare to promise Legco and the public … that once there is consensus over the ‘big debate’ on land use, you will say ‘no’ to the vested interests?”

Wan proposed the government invoke the regulations under private recreational leases and Lands Resumption Ordinance to take back the Fanling golf course, as well as large pieces of abandoned farmland and brownfield sites. The ordinance allows the administration to forcibly claim any land in the city, with compensation for the owner, if the takeover is for public use.

But, referring to the ordinance as the government’s “imperial sword”, Lam said it could not be used lightly as that could lead to legal issues. She cited the judicial review over the takeover of the old Wan Chai police station compound as an example, saying the matter had yet to be resolved after nine years.

Lam went on to respond to Democrat James To Kun-sun’s allegations on Wednesday that the proposal of public-private development of the land was to reward property developers, many of whom had voted for her when she ran for the top job last year.

Will Hong Kong’s ‘big debate’ on land supply just be led by fat cats?

“I did not owe anyone during  the chief executive election,” Lam said, adding that if she owed anyone a debt, it was her campaign team members for their efforts. 

Lam won the leadership race with 777 votes out of 1,194, many from the business sector. She also had several property developers on her campaign team. 

The chief executive called for confidence from lawmakers and said the proposal of public-private development was a good way to expedite land development in the New Territories.

Asked by Mak if she could put forward Fanling Lodge, the country estate reserved for colonial governors and now for the chief executive, as an option in the public consultation, Lam said it could be the 19th option if needed.

Responding to Lam, To said it was “an objective fact” the public had such concerns and warned the government to be aware of this if it decided to go ahead with public-private development. 

Lam said the government had no plans to impose a capital gains tax, but was studying the possibility of a vacancy tax on owners who hoard empty flats.