DAB urges govt to invoke law to reclaim private land for housing

September 12, 2019 17:15
DAB chair Starry Lee (C) wants the government to tackle political and livelihood issues at the same time. Photo: HKEJ

The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) is urging the government to invoke an existing law to forcibly take back land from private owners for use in building public housing units.

Party chair Starry Lee Wai-king said the government aims to build 315,000 public homes over the next 10 years under the Long-Term Housing Strategy, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

However, the amount of land the government currently holds will only allow for 248,000 homes to be built in 10 years, meaning there will be a gap of 67,000 units if it fails to secure more land, Lee said in a press conference on Wednesday.

The DAB wants the government to use the Lands Resumption Ordinance to reclaim land in the New Territories to boost the land supply in the short to medium term.

The average waiting time for public housing has been extended to between five and six years from three years.

Lee urged the government to focus on reclaiming so-called brownfield sites, which refer to land that has been zoned for industrial or commercial use but is now mainly used for other purposes such as storage dumps, and using land parcels already intended for building public homes.

According to DAB lawmaker Edward Lau Kwok-fan, there are currently about 700 hectares of brownfield sites, and if the government can reclaim 25 hectares each year, 75 hectares will be made available in three years fill the estimated gap.

The pro-establishment party put a front-page ad in a local newspaper on Wednesday to promote its proposal.

Earlier, DAB representatives met with Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to express their expectations on her annual policy address and make suggestions on land and housing issues.

Lam had previously voiced reservations about invoking the ordinance.

She told lawmakers during a question-and-answer session in the Legislative Council last year that the ordinance, which she likened to an imperial sword, should not be invoked arbitrarily because landowners whose private ownership is being infringed upon will apply for judicial review against the government, and that could lead to a situation where “haste makes waste”.

Asked if the DAB is pushing for the use of the ordinance because the government has changed its attitude on the matter, Lee only said that while Lam did not positively respond to the proposal during the meeting, DAB representatives will try to meet with Secretary for Development Michael Wong Wai-lun regarding the matter.

Lee said that although the government had faced judicial reviews in the past for invoking the ordinance and won each time, that should not be used as an excuse to avoid doing it again since any policy will no doubt encounter resistance.

Two-pronged approach

The DAB chairman also said the administration, apart from restoring social order as soon as possible, needs to address the people's housing woes.

Tackling political and livelihood issues at the same time will show that the government is determined to resolve deep-seated problems in society.

In response to inquiries, the Development Bureau said the government always takes any suggestions on increasing land supply seriously and reviews them with an open attitude.

The government will continue efforts to reclaim more land for development, including 500 hectares in the Wang Chau Phase 1 Development Area, the Kwu Tung North and Fanling North New Development Areas and the Hung Shui Kiu New Development Area, a spokesman for the bureau said.

Meanwhile, Democratic Party lawmaker Andrew Wan Siu-kin noted that the DAB had previously voted against all of his motions urging the government to invoke the ordinance to boost land supply for public housing.

He asked whether the DAB's apparent U-turn was simply an attempt to use a livelihood issue to solve a political problem, namely to increase its chances in the District Council elections scheduled for Nov. 24.

On Thursday morning, DAB's Lau said in a radio program that the party advocates adopting a multi-pronged approach to boost land supply.

The party believes that land sharing and reclamation efforts are very slow, and as such, the administration needs to adopt other effective means to increase land supply, Lau added.

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