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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

行政長官林鄭月娥發表施政報告,提出多項短中長期土地供應計劃,包括提前研究新界北棕地發展、「土地共享先導計劃」及「明日大嶼願景」大型填海發展計劃。政府承諾新增土地提供的單位,七成屬於公營資助房屋,同時又推出措施增加過渡房屋及資助房屋供應,總算為解決本港土地房屋問題,帶來一絲希望和曙光,然而能否說到做到、執行起來會否走樣變形,還看政府施政能量和決心。施政報告提出的開發私人農地公私營合作計劃,尚有不少問題需要釐清,才可以釋除官商勾結疑慮。

政府需要建立土地儲備,重奪土地供應主導權,不能由發展商主導,本港為了長遠發展亦需要大規模填海。施政報告提出新增土地提供的單位,七成屬於資助房屋,應可有力駁斥「填海所得土地不過用來建豪宅」一類民粹說法。

社會上有說法質疑興建人工島耗資數千億元,將「掏空庫房」,為計劃扣上「大白象工程」標籤。大白象工程是指造價昂貴但沒有實際效用的工程,本港土地房屋供不應求,人人希望住大些住好些,興建人工島滿足殷切需求,難言是「大白象」。所謂「掏空庫房」之說也是偽命題,既忽略工程開支是分開數十年支付,亦沒有考慮興建人工島可帶來的巨大土地價值,遑論商業經濟效益。

與「明日大嶼」相比,「土地共享先導計劃」(即公私營合作開發農地)隱憂可能更多。根據計劃,發展商發展手上農地,地積比可以申請提高,惟新增樓面面積需與政府「共享」,當中不少於六至七成需用作興建資助出售房屋,發展商要向「土地及建設諮詢委員會」提出申請,並要依足現行城規程序。

現時土建會負責審批發展商自資興建的行人天橋和隧道,確保項目可兼顧公眾利益,成員以測量師、工程師等專業人士為主,另有一些政府委任的學者。土建會大部分成員屬非官方人士,惟部分人士與發展商關係密切,有成員更是由地產業界提名,難免令人關注土建會是否合適的獨立審批機構。政府若要將審批重任交予土建會,有需要改變其成員構成,加入更多民間監察聲音,消除官商勾結疑慮。

■Glossary

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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