Pricey? Tiny? Cramped? It’s Your Land, So Use Your Voice

property trend

The Task Force on Land Supply has just released a report offering 18 different land supply options divided into three categories—short-term, mid-term and long-term—and is asking the public to share their views and opinions on these possible solutions. Characterising the Hong Kong people’s living conditions as ‘pricey’, ‘tiny’ and ‘cramped’, the report attributes housing problems to the city’s land shortage and points out that Hong Kong needs at least 800 hectares of land for development within the next 10 years. After analysing all 18 options, it’s easy to see that Hong Kong doesn’t actually suffer from land “shortage”—the problem is that each of these options could impact the interests of relevant stakeholders. Simply put, every choice has its flaws and may anger different groups of people, which is why the government needs strong public support in order to increase the speed of this city’s land development and subsequently solve the land supply problem. To this end, I encourage you to seize this great opportunity to voice your views and concerns, and give the government the public support that they need to properly address this issue.

With land shortage an imminent problem, I personally support all four short-term options proposed by the Task Force, and am particularly interested in the option of tapping into the private agricultural land reserve in the New Territories. The report estimates that major developers are holding no less than 1,000 hectares of agricultural land in the New Territories, which can potentially provide 500,000 public and private housing units. We have reasons to believe that developers, being commercial companies, would be happy to take part in such a development plan as long as it is reasonable. The trickiest problem would be preventing collusion between the government and businesses. The idea of setting up an organisation independent of the government to oversee the scheme is laudable, but still may not eliminate possible collusion. Through past development projects that required land premiums, the public has gotten the impression that developers exert a huge influence over land development rights, and hence suspected collusion. Even if this were not the case, the fact is that it did hold back many development schedules.

In addition, the option of developing brownfield sites also gets my vote, as it can improve rural and suburban environments while increasing housing supply. Unfortunately, this planinvolves facilities and people currently operating on brownfield sites, and it would be ‘mission impossible’ for the government to relocate them to appropriate alternative sites to continue their operations. It is not just housing land supply that’s in shortage in Hong Kong, but also industrial and commercial land supply. I think it would be a painfully long process for brownfield sites to be converted into residential projects. The other two short-term options are finding alternative uses of sites under private recreational leases, and relocation or consolidation of the 95 land-extensive government recreational facilities. However, the only recreational site whose lease is soon to be renewed is the Fanling Golf Course, while other sites will not be able to be of help yet. Additionally, the government has to take into account the interest of sports lovers and cannot possibly convert all the aforementioned sites and facilities to housing developments—I frankly have my doubts about these two options achieving substantial results.  

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