AFTER years of delay, the government is making preparations for the requisition of land for Northeast New Territories development at long last. However, it deserves close attention whether anything untoward will happen when actual compensation and demolition work is underway just like the previous campaigns for conservation and "non-relocation and non-demolition".
The requisition of land and the demolition of buildings as part of the development of the new regions of Kwu Tung North and Fanling North will begin in the second half of the year. The Panel on Development of the Legislative Council will meet next week to deliberate on whether to approve funding for the first phase of the plan. The government explains that the plan will be implemented in two phases. The first phase will be the development of 168 hectares of land (equivalent to the area of nine Victoria Parks). The demolition, compensation and construction involved will cost $47 billion. It is expected to supply 21,000 apartments, including 18,000 public housing apartments. The second phase will be the development of 247 hectares of land. Estimates of the cost have yet to be made, but it is predicted that the whole project will cost more than $100 billion and will be completed by 2031. More than 70,000 apartments will be supplied, 68% of which will be public housing.
Hong Kong will be in need of at least 4,800 hectares of land over the next 30 years. Up to now the government has found 3,600 hectares of land, including the new development regions of Kwu Tung North and Fanling North. Over the next 10 years, these two regions will support the government's supply of housing. Still, the government has to find land to put up housing on an ambitious scale to cover the 1,200-hectare shortfall in land. Initiated in 2008, the Northeast New Territories development plan has suffered a lot of setbacks. It is not until now that applications for funding for the construction are being made, which will mark the first step in the requisition of land. The slow progress reflects the government's low efficiency in developing land resources as well as the difficulty of developing brownfield sites and new regions.
According to the report of the Task Force on Land Supply, the development of brownfield sites and the creation of more new development regions are the options supported by the most people, both supported by more than 80% of citizens. During the big debate on land supply, many people argued that all the problems could be resolved by invoking the Lands Resumption Ordinance. Some opponents of land reclamation from the sea also stressed that as Hong Kong's brownfield sites totalled more than a thousand hectares in area, the principle of "brown first, blue and green second" should be adopted for the search for land. But we need to be practical and look at how things actually work when it comes to increasing land supply. Rather than chanting empty slogans and talking emptily about principles, it is better to look at real examples. The case of Kwu Tung North and Fanling North illustrates the importance of a multi-pronged approach rather than the reliance on the development of brownfield sites.
No doubt the government should convince the public with action. It must not always take the easy way out and give in to pressure from the rich and powerful. The government spent tens of billions of dollars on the resumption of land and compensation to develop Kwu Tung North and Fanling North. In contrast, the vast swathe of land occupied by the Fanling Golf Course is right in front of us, and it takes nothing to take it back. Concerned about the community's ability to accommodate the population, the Task Force suggests requisitioning the golf course land east of Fan Kam Road, which is 32 hectares in area, as a beginning. If the government rejects this suggestion categorically, the legality and justifiability of all of its future action to resume land will be challenged by some people, who will query why the government fails to reclaim free land from the golf course.