23 February 2019
Over the next 30 years, Hong Kong would need 1.26 million new residential flats, or 260,000 units more than the government’s earlier estimation, a study showed. Photo: HKEJ
Over the next 30 years, Hong Kong would need 1.26 million new residential flats, or 260,000 units more than the government’s earlier estimation, a study showed. Photo: HKEJ

Housing shortage: Why land reclamation is a feasible option

With its blood reserve falling to an all-time low, the Hong Kong Red Cross mounted a publicity campaign to seek more blood donations.

Hundreds of thousands of citizens have responded to the call by trooping to blood donation centers across the city to give blood.

However, addressing the blood shortage could be a relatively easy task compared to alleviating the land shortage in Hong Kong, and apparently there is no silver bullet to this pressing problem.

The skyrocketing home prices and the never-ending waiting time for public housing due to an acute shortage of land supply lie at the root of our mounting social tensions.

And there is no way the government can restore harmony in society unless it is able to address public grievances over the worsening housing shortage.

In order to make land available for housing, the government is once again resorting to land reclamation, which has ground to a halt in recent years due to adverse court rulings and opposition from conservationists.

The government has several land reclamation projects in the pipeline. For example, it is planning to reclaim 130 hectares of land off the eastern Tung Chung coast on Lantau Island.

Once completed, the area is expected to provide enough space to build some 40,000 new homes by 2023.

In the meantime, the administration is also preparing for large-scale land reclamations in Siu Ho Bay near Lantau Island, Ma Liu Shui in Shatin and southwestern Tsing Yi.

Together, they can provide over 1,000 hectares of land on which about 300,000 new homes can be built.

A thousand hectares of new land might sound a lot, but a recent study conducted by the Our Hong Kong Foundation, founded by former Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, has suggested otherwise.

According to the study titled From Large-Scale Reclamation To An Ideal Home, our city would need 1.26 million new residential flats over the next 30 years, or 260,000 units more than the government’s earlier estimation.

To build these new homes, the study said, we would need an extra 3,500 to 4,000 hectares of land, or nearly four times more than what the government has proposed.

As to how we can come up with 4,000 hectares of new land, Our Hong Kong Foundation has proposed a “new rose garden project”.

(Editor’s note: The phrase “rose garden project” was coined by former British colonial governor Sir David Wilson back in 1991. It refers to his major policy initiative to restore public confidence in Hong Kong in the aftermath of the June 4 incident by embarking on massive infrastructure projects such as the new airport on Lantau Island.)

Under the “new rose garden project” , Our Hong Kong Foundation proposed that a man-made island be built off the southern coast of Cheung Chau, which will entail the reclamation of 2,200 hectares of land.

Once completed, the government can move the existing Kwai Chung container terminal to the new artificial island, thereby making available premium land parcels along the Kwai Chung harbor for building new homes.

Apart from that, the foundation also suggested other locations for land reclamation, including Lamma Island, Tuen Mun, Cheung Kwan O and Po Toi Island.

The government should also consider moving the Stanley Prison to Po Toi Island in order to vacate the land it is now occupying to build new residential units.

Although land reclamation will reignite controversy and trigger a backlash from environmental groups, we still believe it is a feasible option and therefore deserves further public discussion and government scrutiny.

Reclaiming land from the sea will definitely prove much less troublesome than retrieving rural land in the New Territories from existing inhabitants and landowners.

There is the bitter lesson of the recent Wang Chau incident, in which the government has stirred up a firestorm of controversy by trying to take back land from local villagers and container yard operators.

However, in order to protect the legitimate rights of major stakeholders and convince our society that reclamation is a necessary move, the government must consult the public thoroughly, and guarantee transparency as well as accountability throughout the process.

Moreover, the administration must come up with solid ways to minimize the negative impact of land reclamation on the environment.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 8

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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