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How Much Is the Public Willing to Sacrifice for Land Supply?

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Stanley Wong, the chairman of the Task Force on Land Supply, has just released a report estimating that Hong Kong needs 800 hectares of land for development in the next ten years.

Although it appears that Hong Kong has an abundance of country parks, deserted farmlands and brownfield sites, the Task Force is having a hard time sourcing land for housing development. The key reason is that the government will almost certainly be met with opposition from relevant stakeholders if they were to acquire any one of the aforementioned land types.

Resuming land for residential development may affect the interests of various groups and organisations. First of all, such ventures can cost the government money. As brownfield sites are mostly privately owned, their development involves compensation and subsequent bargaining between the government and land owners. How can compensation metrics be set up so we can avoid the possibility of collusion? Secondly, let us consider the non-monetary sacrifices that we may have to make. Country parks, for instance, are a place where people go to relax and enjoy open space and fresh air—all available to us for free. Another example would be historic sites and temples in the city, important attractions to foreigners which contribute to Hong Kong’s city image and tourism. We need to ask ourselves: are we truly willing to give these up?

Solving Hong Kong’s land supply problem is poised to be a long battle that comes with huge time, labour and financial costs. Each land supply option involves the interests of tens of thousands of people, and each of them has different perspectives and acceptance levels. It can easily take the society years just to reach a consensus, let alone achieve any material results.

Hong Kong’s severe land shortfall has been a persisting problem. It is disheartening to see that when calculating housing units, mainstream pundits only focus on the number of newly developed units, while completely ignoring the availability of second-hand units. This is an old habit that has affected the public mentality. A lot of public housing applicants thus labour under the misconception that it is only fair for the government to put them in newly developed public housing. Recently, the government’s plan to turn some public housing units that are soon to be finished into Green Form homes has received strong backlash, with distractors interpreting the plan as a ploy to reduce public housing supply and prolong the waiting period for applicants.

In actual fact, the government has repeatedly explained that successful applicants of Green Form flats will have to surrender their public rental housing units in order for other applicants on the waiting list to move in. This creates a win-win situation that helps homeseekers become homeowners while also accommodating those looking for public rental housing. With housing prices staying high, Green Form flats are virtually the only way for low-income citizens to own a home.

As the Task Force offers a wide range of land supply options and welcomes the public to share their views, we are being given a great opportunity to help the government make practical and constructive decisions on a matter that is crucially important to us all. I hope that the Task Force’s public engagement endeavours can inspire Hongkongers to consider the options with an open and sensible mindset and be willing to make necessary compromises for the greater good.

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