Given the already astoundingly high urban density and public backlash against massive reclamation, it seems the only place the government can find land to build new flats is the New Territories.
Apart from the Wang Chau housing project that has created a firestorm of controversy recently, large-scale development has been launched in northeastern New Territories, southern Yuen Long and Queen’s Hill near Fanling.
Among them, the Hung Shui Kiu new town project could be the largest and most ambitious in decades.
Under the plan, Hung Shui Kiu, a quiet neighborhood southwest of Yuen Long, will be turned into a self-contained new town of 714 hectares, 20 times larger than Wang Chau.
After completion, Hung Shui Kiu is expected to provide at least 61,000 residential flats, half of them public, and will be home to 218,000 people.
Aso, the new town will provide a wide variety of amenities, community facilities, office and industrial premises, shopping malls, hotels and logistics centers.
An estimated 150,000 new jobs are expected to be created.
As we can see, what we have here is a gigantic and ambitious town development plan that can change the lives of tens of thousands of our fellow citizens.
The problem is, do we have another Wang Chau fiasco in the making?
Given the lesson from the Wang Chau scandal, in which the administration has been accused of yielding to pressure and therefore avoiding building new flats on brownfield sites owned by powerful clan leaders, Hung Shui Kiu’s viability will depend on whether the government can retrieve brownfields successfully and fairly.
There are roughly 190 hectares of brownfields in Hung Shui Kiu waiting to be tapped compared with just 34 hectares in Wang Chau.
As was shown in the case of Wang Chau — and basically in any previous development projects in the New Territories — negotiations with local landowners over compensation for their land could be long drawn-out.
One can expect negotiations over brownfields in Hung Shui Kiu to be even tougher and more time-consuming.
The Legislative Council and the public are likely to put the Hung Shui Kiu project under the microscope for any sign of government collusion with local vested interests, leaving the administration less room for maneuver.
The Hung Shui Kiu project could become a political minefield for the administration.
In order not to repeat the mistakes of Wang Chau, the government must carry out an open and thorough public consultation and ensure transparency in the entire process.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept. 26
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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