Joseph Goebbels, the notorious minister of propaganda in Nazi Germany, once memorably said: “A lie told once remains a lie, but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth.”
Goebbels would never have dreamed that what he said in the 1930s would become reality more than 80 years later in a city halfway around the world known as Hong Kong, where the public is beginning to buy into the notion that the city is plagued by a shortage of land, after government officials have repeated that a thousand times.
Not only has Secretary of Development Paul Chan Mo-po been repeating the pressing need to tap into the land in our country parks to build public rental housing flats in the face of a land shortage, but the Our Hong Kong Foundation think tank headed by former chief executive Tung Chee-wah is also pitching this idea in its latest research report.
It said that over the next 30 years, Hong Kong may need an extra 9,000 hectares (90 square kilometers) of land to house its growing population.
The truth is that a mere 16 square kilometers of land now houses 2.43 million people in public housing estates.
If our population really hits 8.97 million in 2044, the upper limit of the Statistics Department’s estimated range, we would just need an extra 11 square kilometers of land.
As we can see, the perception that Hong Kong is seriously short of land is only a myth that has been fabricated by the government to hide the hard truth: even though there is actually no shortage of land for public housing in our city, a lot of the vacant land is off limits to the Housing Authority because it is either designated for particular uses or owned by powerful entities such as the People’s Liberation Army or exclusive country clubs.
For example, as much as roughly 16 square kilometers of land in Hong Kong is designated for “warehouses and open storage areas” by the Town Planning Board.
This alone is enough to build homes for 2.43 million people.
That is not to mention a further 17 square kilometers of land that is designated as “vacant land/construction in progress” but which, in reality, is mostly sitting idle.
This category of land could house a further 2.43 million people or more.
These types of land are often located in areas that are much more accessible than country parks and already have basic facilities in place, such as underground water pipes.
Aren’t they more ready for building homes on than our countryside?
In other words, there is a lot of vacant land in our city, only that much of it is not at the government’s disposal, hence the so-called shortage of land.
To put it more bluntly, the land shortage is just a common fallacy and is the direct result of unequal distribution of public resources in our city.
Despite the fact that there are a lot of alternatives out there, the reason our government is still casting its greedy eyes on the land in our country parks is simple: these parks are not owned by any vested interests, and no powerful people would stand in the way, even when concrete mixing trucks and steam shovels roar across our countryside.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov. 17.
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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