After much anticipation, the Task Force on Land Supply has finally unveiled its proposals on the various options to increase land supply in Hong Kong and is inviting comments from the public until sometime in late September. The issue of persistent land shortages shares many common attributes to that of another chronic problem plaguing Hong Kong, namely, insufficient manpower. They are both longstanding in nature, inherently controversial and can make or break Hong Kong’s ability to remain competitive as an international city.
There have been on-and-off efforts in the past to tackle the issue of land supply in the SAR but these have mostly fizzled out over time with such initiatives (and results from consultation exercises) consigned to the bottom drawer. This is why of the several options put forward by the Task Force, many come across as deja vu.
Proposals for the redevelopment of brownfield sites, repurposing caverns, public-private partnerships, relocation of the Kwai Tsing Container Terminals, as well as the idea of building up a land reserve that can be tapped into as and when needed, have all been raised before as possible solutions to the dire shortages and high prices that businesses and the average citizen have to cope with.
Perhaps an important ingredient not mentioned in the Task Force’s consultation paper is the need for leadership from and commitment by the Government to take forward the wishes of the community. These qualities are especially important when framed in the context of such polarising issues as reclamation. As pointed out in the Task Force’s consultation paper, reclamation is more attractive compared to other options because it is not saddled by legacy issues (that would give rise to such conditions as private land resumption, household resettlement and modification of land use), offers higher yield to effort, and provides greater flexibility for land use planning.
Another old chestnut is the daunting amount of red tape that developers have to deal with when they apply for a change in use of land. The requirement to clear hurdles – complicated by inconsistencies in vetting criteria across departments – often means that an inordinate amount of time, not to mention money, would have to be budgeted for project development. We are therefore gratified to note that the Development Bureau has recently set up a steering group to “consolidate and rationalise the standards and definitions adopted by the three departments (Planning, Lands and Buildings Departments) in scrutinising development projects without prejudicing relevant statutory procedures and technical requirements.” We understand that the steering committee will also be represented by the private sector, a development that is also very much welcome.
One last thought on finding more land. For all the talk about and excitement over the Greater Bay Area, it would perhaps make sense for Hong Kong to broaden its focus beyond the space within its borders. This would open up more options while also promoting liveability and sustainability at considerably lower economic, social and environmental costs.