Editorial:The lack of progress in finding land and build housing calls for simplification of procedures

【明報專訊】Hong Kong has a pressing land and housing problem. Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said that the government will redouble its efforts in the coming year and continue to show ''the courage to open up land''. But she has not come up with anything new. The ''five ways to increase housing and land supply'' that she mentioned are directions that have been talked about for a long time, but she has failed to commit herself to specific measures, such as the reintroduction of the vacancy tax on first-hand buildings and a review of urban planning regulations to shorten the time for land development.

It takes a government's perseverance, as well as the courage to stick to its policies despite short-term fluctuations in the economy and property prices, to tackle the problem of land and housing. However, views differ as to whether this government has demonstrated such perseverance and courage. The government can argue that land development cannot be accomplished overnight, and that the anti-extradition storm and the pandemic that have hit the city one after another have caused disruptions to its work on finding land and putting up housing. But now the situation in Hong Kong has generally stabilised, and the government is facing less resistance to its governance. It can now do more practical work. It must find land and put up housing with much greater efficiency to make up for lost time. Carrie Lam mentioned that the government is simultaneously promoting large-scale development projects in Tung Chung and North District and is making good use of brownfield sites and farmland to increase land supply. It is also implementing a Land Sharing Pilot Scheme and reclaiming private land. However, if the authorities really have the determination and courage to find land, they can definitely make greater and faster steps to search for land and construct housing. The Land Sharing Pilot Scheme, which is a public-private partnership, has not seen the active participation of developers. In the year before last, the government proposed in the policy address to invoke the Lands Resumption Ordinance more to build public housing, but so far only 3 plots of land, totaling 1.2 hectares, have been recovered. Very little progress has been made in the implementation of the Lantau Tomorrow Vision project. Late last year, the Finance Committee approved funding for its research, and contracts with consultancies were approved only last month. As the government is making slow progress in finding land and building housing, it must be more decisive in terms of the resumption of land or near-shore land reclamation so that the situation will not deteriorate further. It cannot baulk at action just because of the opposition of vested interests. In addition, the authorities must drastically streamline the land development procedures and effectively improve the efficiency of land creation.

The Kwu Tung North New Development Area was proposed when Carrie Lam was Secretary for Development. But it remains incomplete even though more than ten years have passed. To significantly speed up the creation of land, it is necessary to break down barriers. To re-examine urban planning regulations and procedures for environmental assessments is not to forgo environmental protection. It is about whether it is possible to compress the procedure and save time. In terms of housing policies, the government has achieved some breakthroughs in terms of rental control and offering financial support to those waiting for public housing. But the government can still do a lot of things. A few years ago, the government proposed a vacant tax for first-hand properties to increase housing supply in the market. Now Carrie Lam has suddenly refused to promise to relaunch the initiative citing the ''free economy'' and ''a simple tax system''. It is not understandable why the government has fundamentally rejected something that it thought was achievable in the past. That also makes people doubtful about the government's courage.

明報社評 2021.07.16:覓地建屋進度不理想 精簡流程須大破大立




■/ Glossary 生字 /

commit yourself to sth:to give an opinion or make a decision openly so that it is then difficult to change it

accomplish /əˈkʌmplɪʃ/

to succeed in doing or completing sth

efficiency /ɪˈfɪʃnsi/

the quality of doing sth well with no waste of time or money


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