The solution to address the housing problem of people in Hong Kong thoroughly, as the Chief Executive says, rests on the determination to sustain land supply. The Government has spared no effort to increase land supply by adopting a multi-pronged approach and pressing ahead at full steam with various development projects in order to provide enough land to meet the housing, economic and social development needs. The efforts also aim at improving the living conditions in Hong Kong with a view to meeting public aspirations for “larger homes”. In her latest Policy Address, the Chief Executive has gone the extra mile and put forward the Northern Metropolis Development Strategy (the Development Strategy), which proactively plans for the future by mapping out new action directions and approaches for the long-term development prospects of Hong Kong.
Multi-pronged approach to identify land starting to bear fruit
It was released last year that about 330 hectares of land had been identified to produce about 316 000 public housing units for the 10-year period from 2021-22 to 2030-31, marking the first time public housing production has outstripped the estimated public housing demand in the period under the Long Term Housing Strategy. According to the updated figures this year, about 350 hectares of land has been secured to produce some 330 000 public housing units for the coming 10-year period. It is another record high, and it proves that our multi-pronged approach to identify land has started to bear fruit. We will closely monitor the progress of land delivery, in particular that of projects in the latter half of the 10-year period, and submit reports to the Chief Executive on a quarterly basis.
Do we need to make a bigger pie?
The latest figures show a decrease in population this year. Does it imply that the demand for housing land will shrink? As a matter of fact, according to the projections compiled by the Census and Statistics Department, Hong Kong’s population by the 2040s will reach 8.11 million, representing an increase by over 600 000 from the existing figure. This population estimate is projected under the baseline scenario only. In the high population projections, the population might reach 8.8 million, representing an increase by more than one million. As regards domestic household figures, the average household size is expected to be on the decrease, dropping from 2.8 to 2.6 some time later. Therefore, we must make good preparation for the continuous growth of population and domestic households, for which a buffer must also be in place. Besides, in view of the double-ageing of our population and building stock that may require intense efforts for redevelopment in the long run, there is a substantial need to develop adequate land for relocation of the households affected by the redevelopment programmes.
“Larger homes”, a vision rather than empty talk
The issue of “shrinking homes” has long been a “pain point” for society. We hope to improve the living conditions to meet public aspirations for “larger homes”, and to promote child-raising, family-building and “ageing in place”. Consideration has been given to the assumption that the average living space per person would be about 215 square feet and 237 square feet after home space enhancement of 10% and 20% respectively. For an existing 4-person public housing unit of under 400 square feet, it will come to about 480 square feet after an assumed 20% home space enhancement.
The said standards, namely home space enhancement of 10% or 20%, will be adopted in public housing developments involving longer term planning, such as the Kau Yi Chau artificial islands (producing 150 000 to 260 000 flats, of which 70% will be public housing units). With the results of our efforts to identify land becoming more and more prominent in the coming 10 years, land supply will outstrip demand. Towards the latter part of the last five-year period, we will have the opportunity to improve the living space of public housing units with the new standards. For private housing, there are suggestions that the Government should set the minimum size (e.g. 200 square feet to 210 square feet) in selling land or when carrying out redevelopment projects. The Government will consider the suggestions in due course. It is our hope that enabling Hong Kong people to have “larger homes” is anything but empty talk. However, time is entailed in fulfilling such vision.
The Northern Metropolis Development Strategy
In the Policy Address, the Chief Executive has put forward the Development Strategy, which goes beyond the past in terms of space, concepts, policies and institutional arrangements. A new paradigm for a new future is demonstrated by virtue of innovative planning and layout. The Development Strategy represents a breakthrough from the policy directions carried over from the past, with the northern part of Hong Kong relatively underdeveloped in favour of the Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. It also represents a breakthrough from the long-standing situation of home-job imbalance, as there will be an abundance of population and job opportunities within the metropolis. Furthermore, the metropolis has diverse habitats, including wetlands and large areas of fish ponds. The Development Strategy puts forward that a proactive conservation policy should be formulated and implemented to create a quality living environment.
The Development Strategy has a clear positioning for the Northern Metropolis with emphasis on innovative and technology. It also seeks to strengthen the cross-boundary transport infrastructure links between Hong Kong and Shenzhen, thereby forming a spatial framework of “Twin Cities, Three Circles” covering the boundary control points economic belt from the west to the east and the more inner parts of the hinterland, and turning the area into the most important area in Hong Kong that facilitates our development integration with Shenzhen and connection with the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area (GBA). This will enable Hong Kong to fully grasp the opportunities brought about by the development of the GBA and the 14th Five-Year Plan to better integrate into the overall national development.
Getting started with the work
The Development Strategy is a conceptual strategic plan, and it needs refinement and detailed studies. We will get started with the work immediately. Some of the recommendations put forward in the Development Strategy can be followed up in the upcoming development studies. Take the studies related to the new development areas in the New Territories North (NTN NDAs) to be funded by an approximate amount of HK$1 billion approved by the Legislative Council (LegCo) as an example. In view of the Development Strategy, we will extend the scope and adjust the baselines in the studies. In the case of the investigation for the San Tin/Lok Ma Chau Development Node, the areas adjoining the study area and the 20-odd hectares vacated by the Lok Ma Chau Boundary Control Point can be covered. The tender for the study related to the NTN NDAs is now in progress. We are confident that the tender will be awarded by the end of the month, and the study will commence thereafter. It is expected to be completed within 36 months.
Separately, as some of the recommendations of the Development Strategy are not covered by the existing studies, we need to kick start new studies to cover Lau Fau Shan/ Pak Nai/Tsim Bei Tsui as well as Ma Tso Lung area as recommended by the Development Strategy. We are confident that the preliminary study will commence by the middle of next year. It is expected to be completed within 18 months, and the planning and engineering study will follow.
Streamlining Development Control
To further expedite land supply, streamlining development control is also one of our work priorities. The Permanent Secretary for Development (Planning and Lands), Ms LINN Hon-ho, Bernadette, said at the press conference on the relevant initiatives in the “Policy Address” last Friday that our current work focused on reviewing development processes as stipulated in legislation pertaining to town planning, land resumption, environmental impact assessment, road works and reclamation.
As pointed out by Ms LINN, there are four main review directions, namely:
Firstly, shortening the statutory timeline as much as practicable. For example, we are striving to shorten by half the maximum span of 17 months for preparing or amending a statutory plan as permitted under the current Town Planning Ordinance;
Secondly, doing away with repetitive procedures as far as practicable. For example, at present the public may raise objections against the same development project under different ordinances. In the case of objection against public housing development in a certain place, the same objection can be raised in the planning, road construction and land resumption stages respectively. We are trying to avoid such repetition if the same objection has been dealt with under an ordinance;
Thirdly, facilitating parallel processing of different procedures as far as practicable. In the case of reclamation, we are examining the feasibility of carrying out reclamation in parallel with preparing or amending the statutory plans in respect of the proposed land uses; and for land resumption projects, the feasibility of simultaneously kick-starting the land resumption process and embarking on the detailed works design right after the planned uses are approved; and
Fourthly, rationalising obsolete or controversial arrangements. For instance, anyone can put forward a rezoning proposal involving private land owned by others under the prevailing arrangement, which may give rise to unnecessary controversies and undue delay in the procedures.
Our target is to submit the concrete proposals to the LegCo in the first half of 2022 and put forward the amendment bill in the same year.
Racing against time Making all-out efforts to identify land
In a nutshell, we must make all-out efforts to identify and produce land. The demands of our society is loud and clear. Hong Kong must move forward, and being slow is not an option. We must race against time.
10 October, 2021Back