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Building consensus in finding land for housing development

The summer holidays are just over, but the Government has not stopped its work in addressing people’s pressing needs for residential housing. The Long Term Housing Strategy Steering Committee (SC) released the consultation document on the Long Term Housing Strategy (LTHS) early last week, which proposes a total housing supply target of 470 000 units over the next 10 years. To achieve this target, the Government and the whole community should work together to increase land supply.

Early this year, the Chief Executive outlined the blueprint for land supply in his Policy Address. Over the past 10 months or so, the Government has adopted a multi-pronged approach to substantially increase land supply in the short, medium and long terms through optimal use of existing land and identification of new land for development. Besides expediting the review of various land use zonings for conversion to residential use, the Government also launched the plan for the Fanling-Sheung Shui-Kwu Tung New Town, the Stage 1 Community Engagement for the Study for Housing Sites in Yuen Long South, the Stage 2 Public Engagement for the Tung Chung New Town Extension Study, the Stage 2 Community Engagement for the Hung Shui Kiu New Development Area and the Stage 2 Public Engagement on selecting near-shore reclamation sites outside Victoria Harbour and relocating public facilities to rock caverns.

I will work very hard with my colleagues in all relevant departments to expedite all the work related to increasing land supply. During the process of searching and developing sites, we need to handle and overcome technical problems of different types and difficulties, including those related to infrastructure, transport and the environment.

First of all, the infrastructure capacity of any site, which mainly includes transport, water supply and sewerage infrastructure capacity, has to be able to cope with the needs of the resident population on that site. The capacity problem exists not only in rural areas or outlying islands but also in developed areas. Secondly, increasing development density in either new towns or developed areas will add pressure to the existing transport systems, and it takes time to plan and implement enhancement measures or new transport networks. Thirdly, we have to take into account air quality, noise, ventilation and other environmental impacts for the development on any site, so as to provide a desirable living environment for the community. Obviously, it takes time to study and resolve these problems, but the Government definitely has the technology, the capital and the determination to resolve these technical problems, so that suitable land can be developed.

However, besides resolving these technical problems, we also need the community’s and the locals’ understanding and support. We understand that the residents affected by land development have their own needs and aspirations, which we should listen and respond to. Yet, to address the needs for housing land, we hope that during the process of site search and development and town planning, all of us can discuss the issue together calmly and make compromises between the interests of individuals and those of the whole community, so as to seek consensus as far as possible and make realistic choices.

In July this year, I was invited to attend a forum organised by a think tank on land supply. During the exchange, some people mentioned that over 40 per cent of Hong Kong’s land area is covered by country parks, and in the face of the acute shortage of land and the community’s huge demand for residential housing, is country park land still not to be used at all? Some of the participants opined that this is not necessarily so and that this subject can be discussed and explored. Furthermore, in discussions with industrial and business professionals and District Council members on the land supply issue, some people mentioned the development of Lantau Island. They pointed out that the development and planning of Lantau Island should not be limited to Lantau north, although most of the island is covered by country parks and much of the land is zoned “Conservation Area”. Yet, is such land not developable at all? In the past, the development of country park land was regarded as a topic not for discussion - even taboo - but is the subject still not to be touched on or discussed today?

The consultation document on the LTHS sets out the total housing supply target for the next 10 years, but land supply requires longer term planning. We need to think about our housing needs for the next 20 or even 30 years. What will the community’s living space and Hong Kong’s landscape be like 30 years from now? The vision of our future planning is shared by every one of us, and the community should have open discussions to build a consensus and identify the mainstream opinion, so as to make choices. While the SC focuses on the total housing supply target for the next 10 years, the community should also think about and discuss the land supply issue, so that this major obstacle to achieving the target can be overcome.

After the issue of the consultation document by the SC, I am glad to see that quite a few impartial and reasonable debates and discussions are taking place on how the community should make choices among different aims and aspirations. I believe the community will uphold the same open attitude in discussing the land supply issue.

8 September, 2013