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Artificial islands will ease land shortage and provide job opportunities

From hazardous subdivided flats to growing public resentment and protests, Hong Kong’s land shortage crisis has become a destabilising factor for the city’s development, one that the government simply cannot ignore any longer.

Both the last and current administrations, knowing the importance and urgency of good housing policies, have always put land supply and residential developments at the centre of their political platforms. The Chief Executive’s 2018 Policy Address, released in early October, was a loud statement of the government’s determination to finally overcome resistance and tackle the problem by pushing forward the ‘Lantau Tomorrow Vision’.

The proposed initiative involves development of artificial islands with a total area of about 1,700 hectares, which will be able to house up to 1.1 million people and provide some 340,000 jobs. As Hong Kong’s chronic problem of overcrowding is going to continue in the future, the city should plan for new housing developments and land reserves sooner rather than later. Otherwise, it’s a very real possibility that the number of subdivided flat dwellers will double or triple the current 200,000. While detractors are fiercely against the construction of artificial islands, even calling it a massive waste of taxpayers’ money, I personally think it will ultimately be worth all the cost and effort. As Hong Kong’s economy is likely to be dealt a big blow by the US-China trade war, this reclamation project could create employment opportunities for those whose jobs will be affected by the economic downturn.

Looking back at the five-month public debate over land supply that began in April, it’s easy to see that most suggestions were just minor remedies that would have had very limited effects on long-term supply of housing and land. Instead, they were used by politicians as pawns in the legislative by-elections. Many such proposed solutions yielded little results and didn’t help with the big picture. 

The development of brownfield sites, despite complex logistical issues regarding reclamation and relocation, can bring around 900 hectares of residential land, according to scholars. In addition, infrastructure construction in and around brownfields will be relatively convenient; therefore, if the government can come to agreements with major developers and land owners, we can hope to see residential projects being completed in a short period of time. Based on the Land Sharing Pilot Scheme proposed in the Policy Address and the government’s pledge that 70% of housing units on newly developed land will be for public housing, it can significantly shorten the waiting time for hundreds of thousands of public housing applicants.

The 2018 Policy Address may not be perfect, but if the government is showing the conviction to actually execute its plans, I believe that most people will be happy with the results. Do you?