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William Tsang Wai-him, senior researcher at Our Hong Kong Foundation (OHKF)

Restarting land reclamation can solve shortage of land in Hong Kong, says think tank

Think tank believes resuming large-scale reclamation projects can boost economic activity and infrastructure development while addressing population growth

Jimmy Chow

William Tsang Wai-him, a senior researcher at Our Hong Kong Foundation (OHKF) think tank, talks about how large-scale reclamation in Hong Kong can provide sufficient land for future growth.

Does the foundation have a long-term strategy to address Hong Kong’s land supply problem?

We believe resuming large-scale reclamation projects, such as the ones we did from the 1970s to 1990s, is necessary so there is sufficient land to boost economic activity and infrastructure development, and address population growth. Development has long been inseparable from reclamation. It is an important source of land for public and private housing. To ensure the stability and sustainability of long-term land supply, OHKF suggests the government restart large-scale reclamation projects, and [the foundation has] proposed a number of sites.

Has the OHKF identified potential sites?

OHKF supports the development of the East Lantau Metropolis near Kau Yi Chau and the Hei Ling Chau Typhoon Shelter. OHKF also supports the New Territories North development project to support modern industry by using brownfield sites and abandoned farmland in the northern New Territories and connecting the development area via the Northern Link to establish a new town which makes same-district employment possible. Even if the projects can be implemented, we still face a supply shortfall of 4,000 hectares. Given the acute shortage of land, OHKF believes Hong Kong needs a more ambitious plan for land creation to support long-term development. We have identified 25 potential reclamation sites, proposed by the government in 2012. Apart from the East Lantau Metropolis, south of Cheung Chau is the only area in Hong Kong where large-scale reclamation is possible. Construction of an artificial island of more than 2,000 hectares could be considered. The land created may be considered for the relocation of the existing logistics services at Kwai Chung Container Terminals and brownfield sites to make room for development. The Kwai Chung Container Terminals, together with the surrounding logistics sites, and the government’s proposed Tsing Yi South reclamation have nearly 1,000 hectares. They are in the heart of the urban areas with a developed track network and can be considered for the development of mainly subsidised housing to satisfy socio-economic and livelihood needs. Reclamation in Po Toi Island may also be considered for the redeployment of government facilities, such as prisons, while the land can be used for the development of higher value projects. Since the coastal waters near Cheung Chau and South Lantau have been classified as recreational use, coupled with the high development value of Lamma Island, OHKF opposes the classification of the coastal waters of Lamma Island for recreational use. Those sites together with Tuen Mun, Tseung Kwan O and West Lamma, can provide more than 3,500 hectares of land.

What solutions do you have to increase land supply in the short to medium term?

The key suggestion is to release the land reserves of private owners. Private landowners have a considerable amount of land [mainly in the New Territories], but development of these sites is made difficult as a result of a lack of infrastructure, town planning processes and determination of land premium. A rough estimate shows that the combined land reserve of three major developers is close to 1,000 hectares. OHKF believes that the government should promote public-private partnerships to increase housing supply. OHKF also recommends that the government establish a mechanism to collaborate with private landowners and provide policy support, enabling them to use their land reserve for residential developments within designated areas. In the meantime, private landowners are required to allocate a portion of the said land to the government for the development of subsidised flats. All such proposed public-private partnerships should be designed with the objective of solving the housing problem and creating a decent and dignified living environment for the people of Hong Kong.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Reclaiming land is the solution