OHKF Releases Land and Housing Policy Research Report
Opening Speech by Mrs Eva Cheng
8 July 2021
I would like to welcome all of you today to the official launch of the research report by Our Hong Kong Foundation calling for accelerating urbanisation in the New Territories.
The shortage of land and housing is a serious problem that has gripped Hong Kong for many years. OHKF was founded as a think tank in 2014 during the tumultuous period of the "Occupy Central" movement. At that time, Mr C.H. Tung deeply felt Hong Kong was besieged by many deep-seated conflicts and structural problems that needed urgently resolution. Topping the list of problems is land and housing.
Backed by rigorous research and scientific analysis, OHKF has published 16 research reports on land and housing over the past seven years, addressing a range of topics:
• We were the first to propose resuming large-scale reclamation in East Lantau, as a response to severe shortage of land;
• Foreseeing that housing supply would keep plummeting, we have come up with annual scientific forecasts of housing supplies since 2016 over a five-year period, and issued early warnings;
• In search of land to plug short-term and medium-term housing supply shortfall, we proposed three years ago to develop two idled government sites in Shap Sze Heung of Sai Kung, which would bring in 20,000 to 30,000 residential units;
• As early as 2017, we had proposed to relocate the Kwai Tsing Container Terminal in order to free up land for residential use, and to build an artificial island south of Cheung Chau through reclamation;
• We also recommended making use of brownfield sites with the proviso that sound plans are put in place to resettle and support the logistics industry that depends on brownfield sites for their operation;
• Back in 2015, we had raised the suggestion to re-examine the ecological value of country parks, which make up of 40% of Hong Kong’s total area, to ensure that the 40-year-old policy governing country parks can keep up with current standards and societal needs.
OHKF has been relentless in our efforts to persuade the government to seek land for housing construction. Regrettably, the problem remains unsolved due to both objective constraints man-made factors, such as frequent filibustering in the Legislative Council in the past few years; the deeply entangled and extensive vested interests in land ownership and land use rights; a straight-jacket "procedural justice"; lengthy and encumbering red tapes, the social chaos, and the COVID-19 pandemic. It therefore came as no surprise that normal operations have been turned upside down.
Now, with the implementation of the National Security Law in Hong Kong and the improvement of the electoral system, everyone can breathe a sigh of relief. The constant internal rift that paralysed Hong Kong should be a thing of the past! Now, we can reasonably expect the Hong Kong SAR Government to be able to get down to business and improve people's livelihood, start a new chapter for Hong Kong, and bring new hope to the people!
Over the years, the land and housing policy recommendations put forward by OHKF have always reflected what the people have been longing for, which include:
• To live with dignity, not just having a roof over our head. We believe that the per person living space in Hong Kong should be increased from 170 to 270 square feet, on par with Singapore. This is not an unrealistic target.
• The vast majority of Hong Kong people aspire to own their properties but without becoming "mortgage slaves". We hope that, like Singapore, 18-year-old citizens in Hong Kong would be able to buy HDB flats from the government at affordable prices. As the saying goes: "People who own the place they live will put their heart to the place they live in”. OHKF believes that a 70% home ownership level will provide the bedrock for social stability. We also understand that some people don’t see themselves buying a home and being an owner. For grassroots citizens who wish to rent and stay in public housing, their waiting time should be three years instead of six.
• What Hong Kong needs are not discrete buildings scattered in small parcels of land but sizeable new towns with proper urban planning! We want not just sites! We want towns!
• We believe what Hong Kong people need most is not simply new housing units every year, but a holistic and long-term housing policy! We want not merely housing units. We want a good housing policy!
Once upon a time, Hong Kong was the envy of the world as the "Pearl of the Orient" and the leader among the "Four Asian Dragon". Our vigour, energy, speed and efficiency are second to none in Asia and even the whole world.
In the past, developing new towns like Yuen Long, Tseung Kwan O and Tung Chung took only 7.5 years on average from initial planning to the moving-in of the first batch of residents. Today, New towns take an average of 17 years to complete!
We must ask: With housing demand keeps growing over the years, can the government take drastic measures to cast off the procedural shackles and speed up the development of land and housing? Special circumstances in extraordinary times call for special policies. If projects that the government originally plans to complete in eight to ten years could manage to get rid of all the administrative bottlenecks and bureaucratic red tapes to finish in four to five years, wouldn't that alleviate the short-to-medium-term housing shortage and shore up public approval of the government’s efficiency?
As for long-term land demand, we always believe that Hong Kong must plan its land development with an over-arching vision and strategic thinking. Hong Kong needs a land bank. How can we not have a strategic land reserve? The money spent on land creation is not consumption but an investment. It is a way to add value, create wealth, and ensure the stability of people’s livelihood and the prosperity of different businesses.
Many research reports published by OHKF have pointed out that Hong Kong needs at least 9,000 hectares of new land in the next 30 years to create a liveable city with high-quality living space. In addition to reclamation projects such as "Lantau Tomorrow Vision", OHKF advocates large-scale development of the New Territories. Employing a multi-pronged approach to build a land bank is essential to Hong Kong success.
Many people are accustomed to seeing the New Territories from the so-called "Central Business District Perspective", regarding the New Territories as a mere outer zone. However, if we take an enlightened view from the top and adopt a "Regional Perspective", we would find that the New Territories is not an outer zone but a hinterland that vastly extends Hong Kong's competitive edge. Well-planned development of the New Territories will help Hong Kong better integrate with the Greater Bay Area and more strategically connect with the international market. This will facilitate mainland’s domestic and international “dual circulation”, highlighting Hong Kong’s crucial position as an international hub. This is the right strategy to take, and one that will take Hong Kong into a new era.
And this is indeed the theme of the forum today: "accelerating the urbanisation of the New Territories". We look forward to receiving everyone’s input and opinion. Let’s work together to build a better Hong Kong for ourselves and our next generation!
Thank you very much.
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