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Published: 00:08, May 30, 2022 | Updated: 09:50, May 30, 2022
Housing supply breakthroughs should be John Lee's most tangible policy result
By Paul Yeung
Published:00:08, May 30, 2022 Updated:09:50, May 30, 2022 By Paul Yeung

John Lee Ka-chiu has obtained the mandate to become the next chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. In the next five years, his solemn promise of making Hong Kong a better place to live by strengthening the government’s overall governing capability and problem-solving capacity will guide the next administration in every step of its effort.

The most eye-catching phrase in Lee’s election manifesto was the “results-oriented” approach, which reflects a sense of pragmatism that is not only in line with his down-to-earth personality trait but also dovetails with the public’s expectation of the SAR government to effectively tackle those deep-seated problems plaguing Hong Kong society.

There is no doubt that one of those policy “results” that a large portion of local residents are yearning for is a meaningful achievement by the next administration in enhancing land and housing supply in the city. Homeownership is the anchor for a stable life; it gives a sense of security and helps boost people’s confidence in the future.

To be fruitful in tackling the city’s land and housing shortage, the next administration must think outside the box, rather than confining itself to the traditional thought pattern of land planning. It must reexamine relevant policies and procedures regarding land and housing supply, and make sure they fit in with the actualities of Hong Kong and meet the needs of home purchasers. Along with efforts on the proposed Northern Metropolis and other long-term projects, the SAR government should put in more effort on the following areas:

First, the government should reexamine land use in the New Territories. Developed land accounts for only 25 percent of Hong Kong’s total land area of approximately 1,100 square kilometers. Excluding the 443 sq km of country parks and reserved areas, the city still has more than 350 sq km of land available for development, a large portion of which is in the New Territories. Hence, the government should thoroughly review the land use in the northern part of Hong Kong, and rezone residential and industrial land to facilitate the development of the New Territories. The government should study the possibility of setting up a task force for formulating a comprehensive development plan for the New Territories to optimize the use of its nearly 900 sq km of land, including Lantau Island, to meet the development needs of Hong Kong.

Second, the government should speed up the process of rezoning land for residential use. Currently, the land-planning process is too complicated and tortuous, which is in effect a major barrier to increasing land supply. It takes at least six years for raw land, or land without a clear development plan, to transform into a “shovel-ready” site, which is ready for construction work. Conducting feasibility studies alone take about two years to assess the impact of the site development on nearby transportation, environment, etc., and it takes another year to complete the rezoning process required by the Town Planning Ordinance. The lengthy process hinders land supply and undermines the efficient use of Hong Kong’s land resources. The government should review and optimize the land rezoning procedures to facilitate the swift rezoning of government land, industrial land, agricultural land and green belt for residential purposes.

Third, the quantity and categories of subsidized housing should be increased. Homeownership is an important part of the housing ladder as it facilitates housing turnover. However, property prices in Hong Kong have soared so much in the past 20 years that housing affordability is out of reach for many ordinary residents. The authorities should substantially increase the number and types of subsidized housing; adjust the rates of subsidy based on the disposable income of qualified households; and create more entry points for various income levels to assist as many aspiring homeowners as possible to get on the housing ladder.

Another feature that stands out in John Lee’s policy platform is the “We and Us” notion, which articulates a governance philosophy aiming for a common goal of making Hong Kong a better home for all residents. Without any doubt, achieving breakthroughs on land and housing supply will be the most tangible policy result that manifests this governing philosophy.

The author is senior research officer of the One Country Two Systems Research Institute.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.  

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