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Hong Kong housing

Hong Kong land supply task force cites public support for massive reclamation and use of agricultural sites

  • Group presents long-awaited findings after public consultation, selecting eight of 18 options, including building on brownfields and Fanling golf course
  • Reservations expressed over developing country parks
PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 December, 2018, 4:09pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 January, 2019, 8:08am

A government-appointed task force on Monday unveiled its long-awaited recommendations on ramping up land supply in space-starved Hong Kong, citing “considerable” public support for controversial options such as massive reclamation and using agricultural sites.

Presenting the findings of a five-month public consultation on how to plug a supply shortfall that it concluded would be far more than the 1,200 hectares estimated by the government for the city’s housing and economic needs over the next three decades, the Task Force on Land Supply also backed the contentious option of using part of the Fanling golf course for building homes.

“We’re already running out of time,” task force chairman Stanley Wong Yuen-fai said. “The government should go full-speed ahead with all of the recommended options and face the challenges head on.”

The task force settled on eight out of 18 options it assessed, listing them out in no particular order of preference but specifying how much public support there was for each one based on a questionnaire and a telephone survey.

Wong said the eight choices could produce a total of about 3,250 hectares – 2.7 times more than the government’s “grossly conservative” predicted shortfall. Only about 300 hectares of the total would be available within eight years.

The government should go full-speed ahead with all of the recommended options and face the challenges head on
Stanley Wong, chairman, Task Force on Land Supply

In a statement, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said she would study the recommendations in detail and consider the way forward. She appealed for public support, echoing Wong’s call for differences to be set aside for the greater good.

The task force held up the government’s original plan to build an East Lantau Metropolis using reclamation as “key to breaking the stalemate of land shortage”.

“The artificial islands project stands out from others in terms of increasing land supply and building a land reserve,” vice-chairman Greg Wong Chak-yan said.

It would give the government a strategic advantage in controlling supply and dictating how much and how fast land should be sold in the market, he added.

While 58 per cent of 3,011 people in the phone survey supported the metropolis plan, 13 green groups opposed it in a joint petition, arguing that reclamation of 1,000 hectares was unnecessary as the remaining seven options combined would provide about 2,200 hectares.

Environmentalist have warned that the damage the East Lantau Metropolis would bring is irreversible.

They have instead urged the government to prioritise developing brownfield sites, which was supported by 79 per cent of phone survey respondents. In addition to using damaged agricultural land, the task force recommended redeveloping privately owned farmland as well.

The task force also proposed taking back 32 hectares of the 172-hectare Fanling golf course for housing when its land lease expires in 2020, citing 61 per cent public support for repurposing private recreational sites.

It said the move could alleviate the acute shortage of land in the short-to-medium term, while the remaining 140 hectares of the golf course could still support sports development.

Task Force on Land Supply dogged by accusations of conflict of interest

A government source said it was too early to indicate whether the controversial option would be accepted, while task force member and grass roots campaigner Ho Hei-wah revealed he was one of the few members in favour of redeveloping the entire golf course.

The Hong Kong Golf Club, which runs the Fanling site, issued a statement expressing “deep disappointment” over the recommendation, while the Hong Kong Golf Association urged the government to seriously consider its impact.

“The recommendation will not only kill any room for the further development of golf in Hong Kong, but also have significant negative impact on Hong Kong’s position as a mega-event capital, international financial and commercial centre, and Asia’s world city,” the club said.

The task force also called for the establishment of a dedicated, high-level body to fast track land creation and sustain a land reserve, free from economic fluctuations.

Hong Kong risks ending up the loser at golf course

Among the options that did not make the shortlist, developing country park land for housing had little public support, and the task force noted it would present hurdles such as legal challenges.

The only option it rejected was reclaiming part of Plover Cove Reservoir, the city’s second-largest water reserve, which had only 23 per cent support in the phone survey.

While the task force received more than 29,000 responses to its questionnaires and 68,300 submissions from different channels, the random phone survey of 3,011 people was considered the most scientific gauge of public opinion.

Government ‘exaggerated constraints’ in freeing up brownfield sites

Chan Kim-ching, founder of land concern group Liber Research Community, raised concern that not ranking the options would give the enable the government to selectively fast track or justify certain preferences, such as the Lantau reclamation, while stalling on options that involved vested interests.

“What I can foresee are more controversies involving land supply in the new year,” he said.

Additional reporting by Gary Cheung