20 October 2019
Stanley Wong (R), chairman of the Task Force on Land Supply, and Dr. Greg Wong, vice-chair of the panel, speak to reporters after the committee held its six meeting on Tuesday. Photo: HKEJ
Stanley Wong (R), chairman of the Task Force on Land Supply, and Dr. Greg Wong, vice-chair of the panel, speak to reporters after the committee held its six meeting on Tuesday. Photo: HKEJ

Panel moots use of private NT farmland for housing in PPP model

A committee looking into land supply issues has suggested that privately-owned idle farmland in the New Territories be put to use for residential development to alleviate the city’s housing problem. 

The Task Force on Land Supply, a government-appointed panel, said on Tuesday that authorities should consider allowing agricultural land held by private developers be converted into housing sites.

Making the most of many privately owned land plots in the New Territories can help ease Hong Kong’s current situation of tight land supply, the panel said, adding that a public-private partnership (PPP) model could be a good idea for such projects.

The mission of the 30-member task force, which began operations on Sept. 1, is to explore different options and priorities regarding land supply, as well as to engage the community in related discussions to build consensus for further consideration by the government.

After its sixth meeting on Tuesday, chairman Stanley Wong Yuen-fai told media that the discussion centered on how to turn land owned by developers into residential estates, especially the agricultural land located in the New Territories, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

According to Wong, it has been estimated by the government that such agricultural land covers a combined area of no less than 1,000 hectares, which he believes can have a positive impact on Hong Kong’s land supply in short and medium terms if developed properly.

To achieve the objective, the task force proposed the adoption of a public-private partnership model.

Under the model, the government will be responsible for providing infrastructure and developers will sell a portion of the units they build to the government as well as pay full land premium.

Wong promised there will be a fair, open and transparent mechanism established for the public to understand clearly the land selection criteria if the model wins support from the society.

In an attempt to ease concerns, Wong stressed that participating developers will not benefit from public money, and that there would be no incentive for them to reserve land because such a partnership will set a high threshold and will not fit every privately-owned land plot.

Lau Chun-kong, a professional surveyor and a member of the task force, stressed infrastructure support from the government is a short-term means that would effectively increase the amount of land plots.

Once infrastructure, like roads and drainage, is ready, development intensity of land can be increased, he noted.

Dr. Edward Yiu Chung-yim, a real-estate expert and former lawmaker from the architectural, surveying, planning and landscape functional constituency, criticized the proposed partnership model, saying that it is likely to help developers reap huge profits from the large amount of land plots they own as most of the flats they build will end up being sold by themselves.

Given those concerns, Yiu suggested that the government should buy back agricultural land before commissioning developers to build housing estates on them. That will be the only way to deter collusion between government officials and businessmen, Yiu said.

As for developing countryside land plots into residential land, Dr. Greg Wong Chak-yan, vice-chairman of the task force, said the panel’s conclusion was that the sites are too small individually and too scattered and hence unlikely to be potential sources of land supply.

That said, he added that the issue could be included as one of the options when the government conducts public consultations, following up on the discussions of the task force.

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