Editorial:Achieving justice by taking back agricultural land

【明報專訊】THE STORM over the extradition bill might show no signs of cessation, but people still have to carry on with their lives. As the government prepares for the policy address next month, freeing up land from the New Territories by way of invoking the Lands Resumption Ordinance for building new housing has again become a hot topic. A pro-establishment political party has taken a U-turn to give its support for the idea. Some people from the real estate industry have also said they do not object to the invocation of the ordinance. The anti-extradition storm has unleashed people's anger at all sorts of injustice. It is necessary for the policy address to make justice manifest to people instead of simply handing out petty sweeteners. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary means. It is a step in the right direction to proactively invoke the Lands Resumption Ordinance, but the key still lies in the details of the operation. Property developers, naturally inclined to maximise their profits, may not easily surrender part of what they can earn. If the government's invocation of the ordinance is only a cosmetic exercise or if it offers "obvious favours" to property developers in other areas in exchange for their cooperation, ordinary citizens will certainly

not see that as justice done.

In the report released at the beginning of this year, the Task Force on Land Supply emphasised that a "multi-pronged approach" must be taken in order to increase land supply in the short, medium and long terms. Specifically, the task force suggested giving high priority to taking back 32 hectares of land on the east side of the Fanling golf course, developing brownfield sites in the New Territories and the farmland reserves held by private developers, as well as building an artificial island by reclaiming land off the eastern shore of Lantau Island. The task force's report, the outcome of big debate on land supply that lasted for nearly half a year, is a summary of the opinions of a wide spectrum of the public. The "prescription" it gave for the land problem is still valid and should not be abandoned. However, the government can make adjustments in its specific implementation as a response to public concern about social justice. For example, the task force advocated a "priority resumption" of 32 hectares of land for building new housing on the east side of the Fanling golf course out of practical considerations like infrastructure. But the government can still choose to take back the remaining 140 hectares of the golf course and make it fully open to the public, thus putting an end to the present arrangement of giving "conspicuous advantages" to a small group of the rich and powerful. As for developing privately held farmland reserves, the government also should do more to make justice manifest to the public.

After long years of acquisition, property developers currently hold over 1,000 hectares (over 100 million square feet) of agricultural land in the New Territories. A lot of such land has been left idle for a long time because of the lack of infrastructure. In order to unleash the potential for development of private farmland in the New Territories, there are no more than two options. One is the government's confirmation of the "public purpose" as the basis for invoking the ordinance to requisition private agricultural land for the building of public housing and public facilities. The other is to adopt the public-private partnership approach, meaning the provision of roads and infrastructure by the government to make it easier for property developers to develop the land in question in exchange for the developer's agreement to contribute part of the land to the building of subsidised or public housing.

If the government takes the initiative to invoke the Lands Resumption Ordinance, we must closely watch how it will "compensate" the developers. Even if the developers accept the current compensation rate, which is HK$1,300 or so per square foot of Zone A agricultural land, there are still many ways for the wealthy and influential developers to ask for favours from the government as "conditions for exchange" in other areas. The public will surely not accept it if the talk about the government's use of the ordinance to take back land turns out to be much cry and little wool, and the developers turn out to actually benefit more than what they give up.

明報社評 2019.09.12:收地可彰顯公義 關鍵在補償安排



經過多年收購,地產商手握超過1000公頃 (逾1億平方呎)新界農地,當中很多因為欠缺基建配套,長期閒置。釋放新界私人農地發展潛力,離不開兩大方法,一是由政府確立「公共用途」,引用《條例》收回私人農地,用來興建公營房屋和公共設施;一是以公私營合作模式,由政府提供道路基建,方便地產商發展相關土地,換取地產商同意將部分土地用來興建資助公營房屋。



cessation:the stopping of sth

cosmetic:improving only the outside appearance of sth and not its basic character

conspicuous:easy to see or notice

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