Land grand debate laid to rest

It's increasingly clear that although the Land Supply Task Force has put forward 18 options for the public's approbation, the only one that impresses Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is reclamation outside Victoria Harbour - a source of new land she has eyed since her time at the Development Bureau.

Mary Ma

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

It's increasingly clear that although the Land Supply Task Force has put forward 18 options for the public's approbation, the only one that impresses Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is reclamation outside Victoria Harbour - a source of new land she has eyed since her time at the Development Bureau.

Two key messages were evident at her media gathering two days ago. First, it will be too late for the task force to submit its report at year-end - Lam wants it in time for her next policy address due in October. And second, reclamation is the only way to go.

Isn't it ironic? If reclamation has always been her preferred solution, why did she even bother setting up the task force, and appointing veteran housing adviser Stanley Wong Yuen-fai to lead the lengthy review and consultation, when - except for some diehard conservationists opposing reclamation - the public at large would be supportive of the idea?

Lam's confession is making a mockery of the task force's work.

In hindsight, Wong and other members may have been simple and naive if they had genuinely believed they were given a free hand to create a grand debate on land supply, as promised by the administration.

If reclamation is the only solution turns Lam's crank, I fear it could take a very long time - say 10 to 15 years - before new sites are created to be used for housing.

Then, would it be too long to reignite the hope she pledged to rekindle with her measures announced just before her first anniversary in office? Without a swift boost in land supply, the measures may backfire to further fuel private home prices, as greater emphasis shifting to public housing would lead to less supply in the private market.

I wonder why the government hadn't made its intent clear much earlier. The development confirms a long-standing belief the task force and its consultation are merely tools to create a political cover

The grand debate on land supply as promised is a deceptive slogan. While Lam said she could now say with confidence that reclamation outside Victoria Harbour was the way to go, the message is clear she's kicking aside the grand debate that Wong and others have been working diligently to generate.

A lot of taxpayers' money has been spent in doing the public relations work for the consultation. While PR consultants are paid generously, society is largely left uninterested. If there's been noise, it's all about criticism.

As Lam is working on her second policy address, reclamation is set to be a prominent part of it. But what does it mean? It implies the search for space on land has failed - despite brownfields and farmland waiting to be tapped.

Demand for subsidized housing is bound to increase, in light of the plans to make Home Ownership Scheme units cheaper. But where is the land in the short term?

Shunting aside the grand debate doesn't answer the question.