The HKSAR Government should thoroughly resolve the land supply issue, because it represents over half of the problems plaguing Hong Kong and concerns the direction of public opinions and development prospects.
Land policy encompasses all public policies. Whether they deal with economic development, social development, housing issues, livability issues, livelihood projects, infrastructure or community facilities, all public policies more or less involve land supply. Resolving the land supply issue alone is a solution to over half of the problems that Hong Kong has to face and concerns the direction of public opinions and development prospects. The HKSAR Government should show greater courage, determination and motivation, rising up to the challenge to thoroughly solve the land shortage problem that has plagued Hong Kong for many years.
Northern Metropolis is new strategic breakthrough
The biggest highlight of the Policy Address delivered by the Chief Executive is the construction of the Northern Metropolis with a total area of 30,000 hectares over the next two decades. From a macro perspective, it is not only a vision that plans for new development opportunities for Hong Kong and combines “developing land, building additional housing, and promoting innovation and technology (I&T)”, but also a driving force for Hong Kong to integrate into overall national development.
According to the Northern Metropolis Development Strategy, the vision is expected to develop about 600 hectares of housing and economic land, accommodate 2.5 million residents, and provide around 650,000 jobs. More notably, its cross-regional planning concept of “twin cities, three circles” breaks through the inherent administrative boundaries between Shenzhen and Hong Kong, which has strategic and forward-looking significance in promoting in-depth integration of the two places to jointly promote cooperation in the fields of economy, I&T, and ecological environment. Indeed, this is the first time that the concept of cross-regional planning has been introduced since Hong Kong’s reunification, demonstrating the courage of the Chief Executive and her administration in adopting a new mindset to chart Hong Kong’s future as they fully understand the importance of in-depth integration into overall national development.
Nevertheless, the Northern Metropolis is a fairly long-term plan and whether it can progress as smoothly and as quickly as the public would expect depends on the Government’s ability to execute it. Otherwise, the idea will remain stuck on the drawing board, no matter how good it is.
Firstly, regarding transportation facilities, the development of the Northern Metropolis will be driven by a transportation system with railways as its backbone. This includes expansion of the Northern Link to cover the Lok Ma Chau Loop and the new Huanggang port, and external transport links to the Hong Kong-Shenzhen Innovation and Technology Park, which will play a pivotal role in whether the San Tin Technopole is able to secure a pool of talents and improve the flow of resources. However, constructing railways in Hong Kong often takes more than 10 years, and project overruns and delays are not uncommon. In contrast, infrastructure projects in Shenzhen progress very rapidly. In addition, as set out in the “14th Five-Year” Plan, Shenzhen has to complete the reconstruction of the Huanggang and Luohu ports by 2025, but the branch line extension project of the Northern Link has yet to get started. Therefore, there are evidently many gaps in development between the two places in reality, which is not satisfactory. “Twin-city cooperation” must not be just a tagline. The Government should reform the administrative mechanism and work processes as well as streamline the statutory procedures as soon as possible so that Hong Kong can develop together with Shenzhen at the same pace.
Another element of stimulating the development of the Northern Metropolis is to establish a complete I&T ecosystem and value chain to attract Chinese and foreign high-quality I&T companies to move into the San Tin Technopole and form an industrial cluster together with Shenzhen Science and Technology Innovation Park, and then spearhead Hong Kong’s economic transformation. In this regard, the Government could emulate the measures taken by its two major competitors, Singapore and South Korea, such as providing more attractive tax incentives and even leasing land to eligible companies for free in order to improve the incentives for I&T companies to move into the San Tin Technopole. At the same time, Hong Kong should leverage its strengths in basic research to mutually complement with the Mainland’s expertise in commercialising scientific research results in order to secure key opportunities that will help Hong Kong’s all-round development in scientific research.
Speed up housing construction for better livability
Housing is the foundation of people’s livelihood. With an average living space per capita of only around 160 square feet, “living in small and expensive dwellings” is an accurate portrayal of many Hong Kong families. Actually, the current-term Government’s approach has always been to meet the challenges head on to resolve the issue, including earmarking land to produce public housing units for the upcoming 10-year period, increasing the supply of transitional housing, and implementing tenancy control on subdivided units. However, the one issue that is of most concern to the public is when they can buy their own home. Two-thirds of the 330,000 public housing units targeted for construction in the upcoming 10-year period will be completed in the “second five years”, so the average waiting time for public housing will still likely to rise through the roof in the short term. Therefore, the Hong Kong Housing Authority and the Hong Kong Housing Society must shorten the housing construction procedures and introduce new construction methods to speed up the construction progress.
Regarding livability, the Government has revised the Hong Kong 2030+: Towards a Planning Vision and Strategy Transcending 2030 to raise the target for per capita living area to 215-237 square feet. However, to make “nano flats” of just 100+ square feet disappear completely, besides constantly including a minimum clause for unit area in future land sales plans, the Government should also study the possibility of preventing “nano flats” from appearing in redevelopment projects involving “old leasehold buildings” or land premiums. In the long run, the Government must actively create land to advance the visions of the Lantau Tomorrow and the Northern Metropolis projects, while shortening the land development process and where feasible, increasing the plot ratio (multiplier) to break the deadlock over the imbalance between housing supply and demand in order to achieve a win-win situation of “increase in area and increase in units”.
This is a free translation. For the exact meaning of the article, please refer to the Chinese version.
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