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Hong Kong housing

Give the job of finding land to a dedicated body to solve Hong Kong’s land shortage crisis, says advisory task force

  • Fast-tracking land creation in a sustained way would be sheltered from the vagaries of economic cycles, says Task Force on Land in report released today
  • Report outlines eight concrete options to find land, including brownfield sites, private farmland and land reclamation
PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 December, 2018, 7:21am
UPDATED : Monday, 31 December, 2018, 9:02am

Hong Kong should have a dedicated body to fast track land creation and build up a land reserve sustainedly, free from economic cycles, to tackle the city’s land shortage crisis, government advisers suggest.

The advisers also urge top officials to monitor the overall assessment on land demand and supply with input from different policy bureaus so that they can provide “timely alerts” on land shortage arising from social changes.

The Post has learned that these are part of the recommendations made by the Task Force on Land Supply, which will release its report today , after a five-month public consultation gauging views on how to find the land to support the city’s housing and economic development over the next three decades.

In its report of more than 100 pages, the task force proposed a “comprehensive and sustained regime of land supply” before shortlisting eight concrete options to find land. The preferred options, as reported earlier, include using brownfield sites, private farmland, part of a 170-hectare golf course in Fanling and massive reclamation to the east of Lantau Island.

The first key element of the new regime, the task force stressed, would be “sustained” land creation, which covered a long process, from preliminary studies, technical assessments to public consultations and approval procedures.

“Land creation, in particular the preliminary studies, should be undertaken in a sustained manner and free from external factors such as the economic cycles,” the report reads.

“With an adequate land reserve, the government could supply land required for public and private purposes in a flexible and timely manner in accordance with the changing needs of the community, policies and actual circumstances.”

Land supply task force gives its backing to Lantau reclamation plan

The task force’s call for sustained efforts to find land contrast with the approach of the Donald Tsang administration, which halted land and housing supply measures during a market depression in 2002 and left behind a shortfall for his successors to struggle with.

The suggestion also came as land production in Hong Kong has been hit by constant delays due to uncertainties arising from the long process. For example, objections to land clearance, and objections from district councils and lawmakers vetting a funding request could postpone, sometimes even block, a project.

To create land continuously, a more regular and vigorous review of the demand and supply situation, overseen by top officials, would be necessary, because existing exercises were plagued by red tape, the task force noted.

“As the overall assessment on land supply and demand involves the long term policies, initiatives and resource allocation of different bureaus, it is desirable for the [strategic planning] … to be steered by the most senior echelon of the government,” it said.

The latest review of the overall land supply and demand, published in 2016, came almost a decade later than the preceding version in 2007, and its estimate of a land shortfall of 1,200 hectares was slammed by the task force as “grossly conservative”.

How a fire in 1851 triggered Hong Kong’s first reclamation project

To expedite action, the task force suggested the government go beyond the existing framework, in addition to cutting red tape.

One possibility, it wrote in highlights, was “setting up a dedicated body to coordinate and handle large-scale development projects”. It did not elaborate on the idea.

Hong Kong has had ad hoc bodies steering large-scale projects in the past. The Airport Core Programme, comprising 10 major infrastructure projects including a new international airport at Chek Lap Kok, reclamation, roads and rail and a new town, was overseen by a steering committee chaired by then chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang and started in 1991. The airport was completed in 1998.

Lee Wing-tat of the think-tank Land Watch said that Anson Chan’s committee was indeed “very powerful” as the 10 major infrastructure projects were completed within 10 years’ time.

“If it can be done then, why can’t it be done now? It’s because we don’t have a powerful, high-level person and a committee to coordinate,” he said.

If this process is transparent, each department will have to work hard to get things done
Lee Wing-tat, Land Watch

He suggested there be a high-level committee also chaired by the chief secretary to oversee land formation, planning and housing supply to break the deadlock between bureaus and departments.

Lee also added that there needs to be a land supply progress report, so that the chief secretary can explain where there was slippage and what caused it.

“If this process is transparent, each department will have to work hard to get things done,” he said.

He suggested that to fast track the process for large-scale projects, the government could consider allowing the self-financing Housing Authority to be in charge of the first phase of reclamation. That way, it would not have to go through the Legislative Council for funding and ensure that the houses built by the authority would be for the public benefit.

Lantau reclamation will use construction waste, says development chief

The Post previously reported that the task force selected eight preferred land options which had gained majority support during the public consultation.

Altogether it would free up about 3,000 hectares, but only about 300 hectares would be available within eight years from the three short-term options, including building on brownfield sites, using private farmland, and using part of the Fanling golf course.

Long-term options recommended include reclamation outside Victoria Harbour, massive reclamation to the east of Lantau Island, developing more new towns in the New Territories, redeveloping the cargo terminal in Tuen Mun, and using underground space.