【明報專訊】THE Task Force on Land Supply has proposed that the government should give priority to eight options. Of these options, the only one that Chief Executive Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor remains non-committal about is the partial development of the Fanling Golf Course. She has said instead that "it would probably be irresponsible" for the government to fully accept suggestions put forward in any report. Using land on Private Recreational Leases and reclaiming land from the sea are among the options supported by over 60% of people. What Lam has said shows that there is a gap between the opinion of government officials and that of the public. Now the question is whether the government should respect mainstream public opinion. If the government insists on rejecting the proposal of the task force, it should first convince the public by providing reasons grounded on stronger public support and principles of overriding importance.
There will be a shortage of 800 hectares of land in Hong Kong over the next eight years. In its report the Task Force on Land Supply proposes that priority be given to three short- and mid-term options. They are the development of brownfield sites and private agricultural land and the partial development of the Fanling Golf Course. Even if all three proposals are accepted by the government, they will only provide 300 hectares of land or so. Chairman of the task force Wong Yuen-fai said openly that there was no reason for the government not to accept all options. However, Lam thinks that whether the government should take back the golf course is still a "controversial" issue in society. She thinks that it should be considered together with the views of stakeholders using the land and the public in another consultation exercise conducted by the Home Affairs Bureau.
The lease of the golf course is to expire in 2020. Last March the Home Affairs Bureau launched a 6-month consultation to review the Private Recreational Lease policy. The government's interdepartmental working group put forth a number of proposals, including taking into account the contribution of private sports clubs to promoting sports development in Hong Kong when considering the renewal of their leases upon expiry. What Lam has said has inevitably aroused public concern about whether the government will use the conclusion of the Home Affairs Bureau's review to reject the task force's suggestion of taking back part of the land of the golf course.
The public consultation of the Home Affairs Bureau targets mainly the users of private recreational sites. It is meant to reflect the opinions of stakeholders and the emphasis is on their interest. In contrast, the report of the Task Force on Land Supply prioritises the opinion of all people and the common good. The report of the consultation of the Home Affairs Bureau should not have precedence over the report of the task force. There is no painless option for increasing land supply. Controversies are inevitable. It is difficult for Lam to justify her reservations about the option of taking back the Fanling Golf Course only on the grounds that it is controversial. If such a logic could be accepted, none of the 18 options to increase land supply could be executed.
The question of the Fanling Golf Course is a question of land supply as well as social justice. Hong Kong suffers from a severe shortage of housing in the short term. The Hong Kong Council of Social Service has urged the government to set up a $1 billion fund to build only 2,000 transitional homes. The 32-hectare land of the Fanling Golf Course is right there before us. It can be used to build thousands of flats after 2020. There is no reason for the government to let it go. The purpose of the big debate on land supply is to identify mainstream public opinion and to help the government to overcome all obstacles in the search for land to put up housing. If the government bows to the rich and the privileged now, it will be remembered forever for its notoriety for turning its back on public opinion. It will never be able to redeem itself from the heavy political price that it has to pay.
overriding : more important than anything else in a particular situation
notoriety : fame for being bad in some way
redeem oneself : to do sth to improve the opinion that people have of oneself, especially after one has done sth bad