A public engagement exercise on land supply options has been underway for about four months now. Spearheaded by the Task Force on Land Supply, the so-called big debate is scheduled to be wrapped up toward late September.
However, although the Task Force has put forward 18 options for discussion, it appears the public discourse so far has been focused overwhelmingly on whether to take back the Fanling golf course or how to develop farmland in the New Territories through public-private partnership (PPPs).
There has been very little or even zero attention to other options, such as the development of rock caverns in our city.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor had in the past, when she was serving as the Secretary for Development, been a strong advocate for developing caverns in Hong Kong.
The Civil Engineering and Development Department earlier published a territory-wide Cavern Master Plan, in which it identified 48 Strategic Caverns Areas (SCVAs) across the city that hold potential for strategic development.
According to the plan, these caverns, once fully developed, can become new home to certain large public facilities, such as sewage treatment works and service reservoirs, thereby releasing the land which these facilities occupy elsewhere.
By moving the facilities into caverns, land which they currently sit on in open areas will be freed up, which can then be used for housing projects.
Meanwhile, some in the government have also pointed out that quite a few private columbarium operators have expressed interest in developing caverns.
It is because even though readying a cavern may incur huge costs, there could still be substantial profit margins expected for operating columbaria in those cavern areas.
Besides, relocating private columbaria deep into mountain caves can help the operators avoid causing nuisance to local residents, and reduce public opposition to such facilities to a minimum.
However, some officials have stressed that although developing caverns is a feasible option, there is still a major downside to it: it would probably take at least 10 to 15 years to get a cavern project up and running, not to mention the related fire safety and transport issues that need to be overcome.
In other words, as they have described, while developing caverns may be a viable option, there will be a very long way to go before it can truly ease our land shortage.
As to the concern over whether the chief executive would have enough time to incorporate the preliminary findings of the Task Force’s public consultation into her Policy Address to be delivered on Oct. 10, government sources say they are quite optimistic about such prospects.
The sources pointed out that there are currently eight government representatives on the Task Force. As most of them have been co-chairing public consultation forums regularly over the past several months, they would have got a fairly good idea of the public opinions on the 18 options.
Given this knowledge, they would be in a position to give substantial inputs on this issue for it to be incorporated into the Policy Address.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug 30
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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