HK government considers building housing sites on privately-owned land in New Territories

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Hong Kong’s Task Force on Land Supply said earlier this week that government should consider allowing some privately-owned land in New Territories to be converted into housing sites, in order to ease the city’s housing supply shortage problem.

The panel, which was set up by the government in September this year and is responsible to look for alternatives to boost housing and land supply, held its sixth meeting earlier this week and concluded that making use of privately-owned farmland plots in New Territories could be an alternative to help alleviate the issue of land shortage in the city. Most of such land has been left idle for a long period of time, which made it difficult for developers to utilize it for residential use, according to reports.

The panel also noted that a public-private partnership model is suitable for such projects. In particular, it suggested the government to form a partnership with private developers to build either public or subsidized housing on existing land they already own.

However, some pointed out that such partnership model would raise concerns on government-business conflict of interest, and fuel concerns that developers would once again be the ones that gain the most from the scheme, as it is likely that developers would aim to profit from the large amount of land plots they own.

“It would be up to the government to make sure there is an open, fair and transparent mechanism in place to make sure that all the development will meet a very stringent threshold,” said Stanley Wong Yuen-fai, chairman of Task Force on Land Supply, at a press conference following the meeting. He also noted that such threshold means there would be no incentive for developers to reserve land.

The partnership model is not the only criticism the public raised in regards of the government’s handling of the city’s housing problem.

“I am not sure if many of us likes how the government keeps talking about New Territories all the time. What about the lands in Hong Kong Island and Kowloon? Everyone knows the prices being quoted for housing in these areas are obviously not affordable for most residents in the city,” a board member of an established Hong Kong property developer told Harbour Times.

“I have not noticed the government doing a lot to tackle this problem. At this rate, I don’t see the land supply shortage in Kowloon and Hong Kong Island being solved in the next five to ten years,” he said.

“Another problem is that the government continues to push on proposals to build estates on land designated for country parks in New Territories,” the source added. “In my view, country parks should be public spaces and should provide an essential balance in terms of urban planning… but it seems the government has now turned to country parks as a quick fix to the city’s housing shortage problems.”

Country parks currently account for about 40 percent of the city’s total land space. Earlier this year, it was reported that the government has proposed to

build public flats and homes on the edges of the country parks in Tai Lam and Ma On Shan.

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