Editorial : A glimpse of hope in tackling Hong Kong's land and housing problems

【明報專訊】CHIEF Executive Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has proposed various short-, mid- and long-term land supply schemes in her policy address, including advancing the studies on developing brownfield sites in the northern New Territories, a "Land Sharing Pilot Scheme" and a mega land reclamation project dubbed "Lantau Tomorrow Vision". The government has promised that 70% of the housing units on the newly developed land will be reserved for public and subsidised housing. Measures have also been proposed to increase the supply of transitional and subsidised housing. The policy address has finally provided a glimpse of hope to solving Hong Kong's land and housing problems. However, it will depend on the administrative robustness and determination of the government to ensure that words are translated into actions and the schemes are implemented without being warped or distorted. There are still many problems in the public-private partnership scheme proposed in the policy address to develop private agricultural land. To address public concern about collusion between the government and the business sector, these problems must be clarified.

The government must build land reserves and resume its control over land supply. The property developers should not be the ones controlling land supply. Large-scale land reclamation from the sea is necessary for Hong Kong's long-term development. According to the policy address, 70% of the housing units on the newly developed land will be subsidised housing. This is a strong refutation of populist arguments such as "all land reclaimed from the sea will only be used to build luxury flats".

Some people claim that spending hundreds of billions of dollars on building artificial islands will empty the government's coffers, and they label the scheme "a white elephant project", i.e. a costly project which does not have any practical use. Hong Kong has been suffering from a short supply of land and housing while everyone wants more spacious and comfortable housing. Building artificial islands will satisfy the ardent demand. It can hardly be called "a white elephant". The claim that it will "empty the government's coffers" is a fake issue. On the one hand, it has ignored the fact that the project expenditure will be spread over a few decades; on the other hand, it has not taken into account the huge land value created by the construction of the artificial islands, not to mention the commercial and economic benefits.

Compared with "Lantau Tomorrow Vision", the "Land Sharing Pilot Scheme" (i.e. the public-private partnership scheme to develop private agricultural land) may have more underlying cause for worry. According to the scheme, if property developers want to develop their agricultural land, they may apply to increase the plot ratio, but they have to "share" the added floor area with the government, at least 60% to 70% of which will be used to build subsidised flats for sale. The developers will have to apply to the Land and Development Advisory Committee (LDAC) and must comply with the current town planning procedures.

The current task of the LDAC is to vet and approve footbridges and subways built and financed by property developers to ensure that the public interest has been taken into consideration in these works. Members of the committee are mostly professionals, such as surveyors and engineers. Some scholars have also been appointed by the government. Most LDAC members are non-official members, but some of them have very close relationships with the developers. Some members were even nominated by the real estate sector. It is inevitable that the public is concerned about whether it is appropriate to assign the LDAC to play the role of an independent body for assessing and approving applications submitted by developers. If the government must assign this role to LDAC, the composition of its members must be changed. To ease the public's concern about collusion between the government and the business sector, those representing citizens' monitoring role must be appointed to the committee.

明報社評2018.10.11:政府大刀闊斧增供應 土地房屋問題現曙光







dub sb/sth : to give sb/sth a particular name, often in a humorous or critical way

warp sth : to distort, wrest, misinterpret, give a false colouring to sth

ardent : very enthusiastic and showing strong feelings about sth/sb

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