Time to get smart for peace on homes

Editorial | Mary Ma 27 Dec 2017

The Task Force on Land Supply has held six meetings since its formation two months after Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was sworn in as chief executive.

Efficient, no?

The answer is probably "yes" in terms of the number of meetings. On average, the committee meets once every two and a half weeks. While that's surely a credit to its banker chairman, Stanley Wong Yuen-fai, it also underscores the urgency the administration is giving to Hong Kong's housing ills.

The housing problem is absolutely absurd. It's totally irrational for prices to keep soaring as living spaces get smaller, which defies basic common sense.

After six meetings, more than a dozen ideas aimed at increasing land supply have been discussed. Some are creative, such as the suggestion to build a "sky estate" on top of the Kwai Chung container terminals. There's also a proposal to fill up some reservoirs to create land.

If our housing woes are to be tackled, it's necessary to think outside the box. The ideas to build estates on reservoirs, atop cranes and stacks of containers, or at country parks are ambitious, but they're also so controversial that a substantial amount of time will be required to forge a community-wide consensus.

The out-of-the-box notions, however ambitious, would be too contentious to yield immediate remedies.

The proposal to tap private land reserves for mixed private-public development - as discussed at length during the sixth meeting held just a week before Christmas - is much more down to earth, a practical option that should be explored further.

At the end of the meeting, Wong said there are approximately 1,000 hectares of farmland being held by developers. They are spread across the New Territories and, if tapped, can increase land for housing supply in the short to medium terms.

Mixed developments are common elsewhere. In Britain, where housing supply is in acute shortage, developers are often required to set aside a designated number of newly developed units for use as public housing by local councils. Mixed development is part of the government policy to blur the social segregation fault line as affordable housing supply is increased.

The requirement is included as a condition in the development permission.

The task force's proposal that local infrastructure, such as connecting roads, be built by the government in exchange for an equivalent value of units in the new projects warrants serious consideration by all stakeholders: government, developers and the public.

There can be various forms of cooperation, and what suits Hong Kong best is up to discussion among the stakeholders.

However, no matter which form is adopted, the need to keep the collaboration mechanism fair and transparent can't be emphasized enough. Otherwise, even a good cause can be unnecessarily complicated by political brickbats.

As far as the public is concerned, ideas that can produce more affordable housing will be good plans.

Collusion is definitely wrong, but collaboration is just fine -they're never the same thing. The administration can rely on the public to support constructive collaboration.

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