In her policy address last month, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor stressed the need to identify fresh land resources to build new homes, ensure economic development and create more cultural and recreational facilities in order to make Hong Kong more livable.
The reality, as of now, is that many Hongkongers are living in cramped yet expensive housing units, including sub-divided flats in run-down residential apartments and industrial buildings.
In the meantime, the average waiting time for public rental housing flat applicants is continuing to lengthen, and private property prices in the city are continuing to skyrocket.
Given this situation, lifting the citizens out of appalling living conditions and addressing the issue of soaring rent of commercial properties, in order to curb business operating costs in Hong Kong, have become the most urgent tasks lying before the government.
In a bid to ease the land shortage, the government rolled out the “Enhancing Land Supply Strategy” in 2011, under which a number of options were put forward for study and public discussion, such as retrieval of rural land, urban renewal initiatives, land rezoning, reuse of ex-quarry sites, rock cavern development and reclamation projects, or the so-called “six-pronged approach”.
The problem of land shortage has always been of great concern to the Association of Engineering Professionals in Society (AES) to which I belong.
In recent years, we have expressed various views on the issue and endorsed different proposals to boost land supply in Hong Kong.
Last year, the government established the Task Force on Land Supply in order to facilitate public consensus on various land supply options.
In our submitted proposal to the Task Force, the AES expressed its full support to land reclamation projects, topside development of existing transport and public utilities infrastructure, making better use of vacant land lots in the New Territories such as developing the brownfield sites, developing two pilot areas on the peripheries of country parks, as well as raising the development density of “Village Type Development” Zones (VTDZs).
It is our sincere hope that the government can act promptly and accordingly after it has collected public views on the land supply options, discussed the public views and made decisions, and avoid both inaction and indecision.
As a matter of fact, land reclamation has proven instrumental in Hong Kong’s development over the last 100 years or more, with the total area of reclaimed land aggregating some 7,000 hectares.
These 7,000 hectares of reclaimed land account for 25 percent of the developed areas in Hong Kong, and are home to 27 percent of the city’s population, and 70 percent of local business activities.
Of the nine existing new towns, six of them (i.e. Tsuen Wan, Sha Tin, Tai Po, Tuen Mun, Tseung Kwan O and Tung Chung) were built on reclaimed land to different extents.
The merits of reclamation lie in the fact that it won’t have any major impact on the planned use of existing land, not to mention that it doesn’t entail taking back privately owned land lots or relocating the residents living on retrieved land.
The AES is definitely in favor of the “Lantau Tomorrow Vision” project proposed by Lam in her recent policy address, under which artificial islands will be built in the adjacent waters of Kau Yi Chau and Hei Ling Chau, as well as in the waters off the northern Lantau and Tuen Mun.
The “Lantau Tomorrow Vision” project, which is an elevated version of the “East Lantau Metropolis” plan first put forward by the previous government in the 2014 policy address, can facilitate the overall development of the entire western part of Hong Kong, while providing the city with huge new land reserves.
As such, we just can’t see any reason why Hongkongers shouldn’t give the initiative a “like”.
The AES is confident that the Lantau reclamation won’t lead a public financial crisis as some people have claimed. That is because the huge infrastructure project will be spread over more than a decade, meaning that the government won’t have to inject a huge portion of its fiscal reserves into the project in one go.
While the Task Force on Land Supply is still preparing its final report on its public consultation findings, we suggest that the government start working now on the funding request for a study on the project, to put it before the Legislative Council in order to expedite the project.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov 7
Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting
[Chinese version 中文版]
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