Govt must act now on reclamation studies

    10/04/2018 - 09:00

    This article appeared originally in the China Daily on 04 October,2018.
    Authors:Patrick Lau,former director of lands of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government.


    Patrick Lau argues that opposition filibustering on this crucial solution to HK's housing issue is shortsighted

    Hong Kong's private housing is now infamous for its diminutive flats, regularly crammed to the ceiling and commanding exorbitant prices to rent or own.

    The scarcity of land available for development has also driven up rents for shops, offices, and even car parking spaces. Property prices in terms of square footage rank among the highest, if not at the top, of world cities and affect the cost of living and doing business.

    New land does not emerge from the clouds, hence any practical hope for a sufficient land reserve that Hong Kong badly needs lies in creating land from the surrounding waters.

    Yet opponents to land reclamation and related large-scale infrastructure projects necessary for housing development dismiss it as unjustified in terms of actual need, a threat to the environment, and a waste of public money. A handful of legislative councilors have continued to oppose approval of funding for large-scale planning and feasibility studies to find solutions to the land and housing problems.

    Opponents to reclamation proposals have also criticized massive reclamation as going against the objective of sustainable development. What is missing from their narrative is that sustainable development rests on meeting society's needs.

    The younger generation can be forgiven for not knowing a significant amount of our existing infrastructure stands on reclaimed land. Everything which is vital to Hong Kong, from hospitals to schools and public housing estates as well as railroads and highways, offices and recreational spaces and the airport, would not exist today without land reclamation.


    The most ambitious of the 18 possible options to increase land supply put forth by the Task Force on Land Supply calls for reclaiming the sea off Eastern Lantau to develop a new metropolis. This option stemmed from "2030+", the government planning study report which was published two years ago. Aiming higher, Our Hong Kong Foundation has now suggested more than doubling the size to 2,200 hectares to create an Enhanced East Lantau Metropolis (EELM). The project would create a new land mass nearly half the size of the Kowloon Peninsula and would enhance Hong Kong's ability to become a more livable city.

    The foundation's EELM is a long-term vision backed by objective data and preliminary feasibility studies. In this regard, four renowned town-planning consultancy firms have provided professional insight on economic, engineering, transport and environmental aspects of the proposal. The EELM study report is far from conceptual. Its 75 pages are well worth reading for anyone who cares deeply about Hong Kong's long-term development.

    Critics often nitpick government proposals, deriding them as either trivial in impact or overly ambitious. But the pressures facing our society are far from trivial and a proper solution demands an ambitious approach. The impact of creating more usable land will be far reaching. It will define our quality of life. It will establish a new norm for residential flat sizes, the prevalence of public facilities and recreational facilities as well as the pace of urban redevelopment befitting a world-class city.

    The EELM proposal could serve as a starting point for detailed study by the government to establish more precisely just how much new land Hong Kong will need in the longer term, and the scale of reclamation proposed by the foundation can be adjusted to meet the government's own forecast of our community's needs.

    Hong Kong has been suffering the undisputed consequences of inertia in the past to develop new land. Opposition today to large-scale reclamations would deny the government the opportunity to act decisively on the accumulated land deficit as well as envisaged demand for land. We cannot allow filibustering to jeopardize our future and that of generations who follow us. The time to act is now.