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How and where to find more land

A recent industry conference examined options for easing Hong Kong’s land supply problems.

Built around the theme of “Developing Novel Solutions to Hong Kong‘s Housing and Land Supply Dilemma,” the 2018 annual conference of the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors (HKIS) tackled key issues head on. The eight influential guest speakers discussed such controversial subjects as reclamation, public and private housing and the secondary market, and were eager to share their opinions.

Guest of honour Raymond So, the Under Secretary for Transport and Housing, set the scene by noting the shortage of land, which led to the imbalance in housing supply and demand. However, the target of the long-term housing strategy is to provide 460,000 new units between 2018 and 2028, and So outlined six initiatives designed to achieve this broad objective. His presentation was followed by a robust exchange of views involving experts from the government, real estate developers, non-profit organisations, think tanks, and other interested parties.

In particular, Director of Lands Thomas Chan emphasised that land supply is the key to real estate development, whether for residential, industrial or commercial use.

“By aligning modern technology and approval standards, we can enhance transparency in streamlining and shortening processes,” he said. “We are making good progress. Further areas to be examined will include GFA calculation, site area calculations, site coverage definition and non-building areas.”

According to Augustine Wong, executive director of Henderson Land Development, there will be an estimated shortfall of 230 hectares in overall land supply in 2046, based on the report of the Task Force on Land Supply (TFLS).

He noted too that the model by Hong Kong 2030+ shows that two major factors may have been overlooked - demand for investment properties among people who don’t live in Hong Kong and possible demand from local residents wanting to buy second, vacation homes.

“For new supply, redevelopment is the logical way forward,” Wong said. “Many buildings are over 70 years old, and the structures are made of concrete which usually lasts only 50 years.”

Explaining that the term “city” is derived from a Latin root meaning “befitting a citizen” Peter Smith, an architect, planner and urban designer, noted that today’s urban environment must be made more liveable.

“We need to examine practical solutions for sustaining a liveable city,” he said. “We are now at the end of a long public relations exercise on land supply. The TFLS proposed 18 options; half of them were described as either too conceptual or controversial. Some seem less than feasible, at least in the short term, while several others appear to be undesirable.”

Stephen Wong Yuen-shan, the deputy executive director of the Hong Kong Foundation and head of the Public Policy Institute, urged the government to speed up reclamation.

“With a goal of 9,000 hectares of new land, I want everything done as soon as possible,” he said. “To me, the only real option is reclamation. I don't care where, but we need to kick-start large-scale development plans again.”

He added that the proposed East Lantau Metropolis (ELM) represents a single artificial island, where 70 per cent of the residential units could be designated for public housing.

“It’s the only option for building new infrastructure instead,” Wong said. “Existing capacity is already overloaded.”

He added that new capacity is needed not just for housing, but also for businesses, schools, hospitals, roads and railways. Since 2000, there has been a lack of new town development, with Tung Chung being the most recent, and it was now time to take the next required step.

Francis Neoton Cheung, Doctoral Exchange convenor and chairman, suggested that it took inventive thinking to solve the land supply problem.

“The ELM plan proposed by the government may be too big, so we should try to break the reclamation scheme into a series of smaller islands, with the second airport as featured in our Hong Kong Vision 2050,” Cheung said. ”We should consider further reclamation off North Lantau and near Tung Lung Chau to create 40 sq km of developable areas. The land supply problem is difficult but not intractable if we think outside the box. We should think beyond 2047 and consider how to extend beyond Hong Kong’s current boundaries.”

Considering more immediate issues, Joseph Tsang, JLL’s managing director for Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, noted that there is a lot of focus these days on housing supply, with talk usually centred on new land supply from the primary market. However, better use of secondary stock could help to resolve the situation.

Overall, the conference audience was impressed by the range of ideas advanced and the opinions expressed. The event provided insights into the work of the TFLS, led by Stanley Wong Yuen-fai, and the 18 land supply options put forward for consultation since the end of April.