Public-private partnership suggested to address Hong Kong’s land issue

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With plenty of land in the New Territories held in the hands of the developers, the government is proposing to work with them to get more land for affordable housing, saying it could be a win-win solution to the city’s dire housing problem.

Under the proposed partnership, the government will provide infrastructural facilities in the vicinity of the private land to the developers, who will have to build a certain number of public homes to return the favour.

This comes as the task force on land supply is set to hold a public consultation by the end of this month, putting eighteen options on the table, allowing the public to vote for their preference.

Out of the eighteen proposals, this public-private partnership is believed to be a highly feasible one that can be put in place faster, according to Executive Council convener Bernard Charnwut Chan at a media event last Sunday.

The chairman of the task force Stanley Wong said it is estimated that major developers are holding at least 1,000 hectares of agricultural land in the New Territories, land that can help ease housing demand in the short to medium term.

Mike Koo, president of Hong Kong Chamber of Professional Property Consultants Limited, told Harbour Times that he agreed this is an efficient plan and it can happen quickly.

“As the proposal only involves the government and the developers, an agreement can be reached faster with fewer parties involved,” Koo said.

“This special preferential policy will give incentives for the developers who hold lands that have no transportation facilities around them. This saves them the time and effort to build infrastructure for their development projects,” he added.

“Constructing infrastructural facilities, when initiated by the government, can be done much faster than reclamation or developing the country parks. My only concern is political disputes will disrupt the development plans,” Koo explained.

He believed the developers have the extensive experience in land use planning to know how to integrate public housing and commercial use to strike a balance.

Another insider from the real estate industry, Calvin Tse, chairman of Hong Kong Real Estate Agencies General Association, also told Harbour Times that he believed it is a good proposal, as it can increase home supply.

“We should actively consider it,” Tse said. “To make this work, land premium would be the key though. The government and the developers have to negotiate about it to give bigger incentives for the later to change the use of land.”

Tse also offered an alternative that he thinks deserves some discussion.

“There are private clubs at prime locations in the heart of the city. If we can relocate these club facilities to the edge of the country parks, we can release the land in the urban area to build more homes. This way, we are not compromising the city’s club facilities either,” Tse said.

While the real estate agents support the proposal and see it as an opportunity to ease the urgent need for affordable housing in Hong Kong, green groups bash the idea.

“It is a destructive act, a wrong approach to housing solution,” Greenpeace campaigner Andy Chu told Harbour Times.

“The government always says it aims to increase land supply but it neglects the available options it has,” said Chu. “There are plenty of brownfield and even a golf course, the lease of which is going to expire soon. They are not doing land use planning right.”

He said the public-private partnership proposal is the government’s tactic to try to steer the focus of the discussion.

“Out of the eighteen options, the government singled out one to try to influence public opinion, to get people focusing on the farmland in the New Territories,” Chu said.

“They should consider other options before setting their eye on the irreversible resources.”

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