Potato just too hot for ideas man

Editorial | Mary Ma 16 Apr 2018

The Task Force on Land Supply, led by housing veteran Stanley Wong Yuen-fai, will soon consult the public on alternatives to meet the shortfall in land for residential use.

There will be 18 options, which is just too many for the purpose, although the consultation will be spread over five months. Will it be able to narrow them down to a few practical ones?

At the weekend, Wong gave the consultation a soft push on the airwaves. The alternative he touched upon was controversial, hinging on government-developer cooperation, or, depending on which side you're on, collusion.

According to Wong, the government would be responsible for constructing public infrastructure, in exchange for developers building on their vast reserves of farmland and handing over a number of flats equal in value to the infrastructure for use as public housing.

Such a public-private partnership has been endorsed by Executive Council convener Bernard Charnwut Chan, but he said it's important to assure the public there would be no collusion.

The proposal isn't a totally new idea as it had been touted by some prior to Wong's task force starting its work last year.

However, if it didn't draw so much criticism back then, why is it mired in controversy this time, soon after Wong spoke about it on radio? That's totally difficult to fathom.

To be fair to Wong and other task force members, what they've been doing is a thankless task. If fulltime bureaucrats have been unable to come up with acceptable master plans to make up the shortfall in land, why should the part-timers be expected to be capable of making a difference?

It casts a bad light on well-compensated bureaucrats who, one must reiterate, are paid from the public payroll.

Since the task force held its first meeting in September, the body has come a long way, looking at a range of notions, including some rather unconventional ones, like filling up reservoirs to create land, or building skyscrapers on a platform elevated on top of the container terminals.

There may be 18 options for the public to consider. However, each one will be a tough choice for one reason or another.

Government cooperation with developers has the merit of speeding up home supply through efficient use of the latter's vast reserves of farmland, which are almost enough to meet the existing shortage of 1,200 hectares.

But critics are springing up to portray the idea as a dirty deal to channel benefits to developers. Conservationists have simply rejected it, saying farmland has to be preserved for agriculture.

Then, there's the Fan Ling golf course that conservationists are describing as a perfect solution. But that would probably be a long shot given the legal challenges that are bound to come.

There's also a suggestion to reclaim land outside the harbor, but opponents insist this should never come before brownfield sites.

It's strange that Wong - who's mainly an adviser - is put in the position of bearing the brunt of criticism, despite the excellent work done the task force.

It's ludicrous that his suffering is making life easier for the bureaucrats.

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