The government’s projections of Hong Kong’s future land needs are being severely underestimated, experts warn ahead of a public consultation exercise on land sourcing options later this month.
Hongkongers will be asked by the government’s land supply task force to choose their preferred options to identify at least 1,200 hectares of land – equivalent to 342 Taikoo Shing estates – to address the city’s housing shortage and drive economic development in the next three decades.
The consultation, which will last five months, is expected to kick off on April 26.
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But several task force members questioned if the 1,200-hectare (3,000 acres) estimation by the Planning Department was adequate, noting that individual bureaus – from which data was consolidated – had excluded a long list of key needs.
For example, they said the projection in the department’s report failed to cover the extra demand for health care facilities in light of the city’s ageing population and the push to improve the quality of life.
Other factors not taken into consideration included the need for affordable and quality flats to attract overseas talent and lure back second-generation Hongkongers who moved overseas decades ago. The government is targeting both groups as the city’s workforce ages and shrinks.
The report added that due to market fluctuations, the projection also excludes land demand from retail services, hotels, tertiary institutions, and long-term developments of the convention and exhibition sector.
The department report forms a key part of the city’s “2030 Plus” study which sets out the government’s territorial development strategy for the next 30 years. According to authorities, a total of 4,800 hectares of land is the minimum requirement – with 3,600 hectares already identified – and the city faces a shortage of 1,200 hectares.
“Hong Kong has developed seven to eight new towns in the past 30 years. But 4,800 hectares estimated for the next 30 years is equivalent to the size of 1½ of Sha Tin towns only,” said task force member Stephen Wong Yuen-shan, who is also deputy executive director of think tank Our Hong Kong Foundation.
Another task force member who was briefed by the department on the land projection, declined to be named but said: “It’s ridiculous that the demand for land does not take into account the rising demand for extra hospital beds when our society is having more elderly people … It ignores people’s wish to live in bigger homes too.”
Official statistics show the burden on the city is set to increase as the proportion of elderly people is expected to rise from 15 per cent in 2014 to 33 per cent in 2064. The number of days elderly patients aged over 65 spend in hospitals is also six times more than younger people on average.
Apart from making projections for various land uses, the Planning Department also reserves land for public facilities when requested by the Development Bureau.
The task force member said they were surprised that less than five hectares were reserved for medical facilities in the next three decades – a stark contrast to more than 75 hectares reserved for columbaria and more than 35 hectares for education facilities.
The department said the land reserved for medical facilities would be used for a Chinese medicine hospital and a testing centre.
While the department report and the bureau both mentioned previously that the estimate of 4,800 hectares was a ballpark figure and not exhaustive, Wong said the city would need 60 per cent more space just to catch up with the per capita living space of Singapore at 270 sq ft per person, compared with 160 sq ft per person for Hong Kong.
“To start a public debate based on 1,200 hectares is a wrong approach. It’s not even in the right ballpark,” Wong said, “Without enough land, it’s our next generation who will suffer.
“To say the city will need at least 1,200 hectares of land is misleading. We need a clearer direction,” the other member said.
Task force chairman Stanley Wong Yuen-fai confirmed that many members had said the land projection was too conservative, but added: “I hope the public debate on 1,200 hectares can be a start, at least to address short-term needs.”
“It’s impossible for the task force to review each of the land use projections within a short period of time. Some green groups also complained the government has reserved too much land for sewage treatment … If the public agrees that we should identify even more land, we can look for more options later,” Wong added.
In a reply to the Post, the department’s spokeswoman said the overall figure of 4,800 hectares was also an estimate based on the best available information.
The department would increase the per capita provision of GIC space, referring to the amount of land designated for government, institute and community uses, from 2.2 square metres per person to 3.5 square metres per person. Such land use covers facilities such as hospitals, education buildings, community halls, post offices and public mortuaries.
Asked whether land reserved for more health care facilities stemmed from pressures of an ageing population, the department said some new policy initiatives related to the growing number of elderly people were proposed after the land projection.
The government would keep monitoring estimates of required land and make adjustments where necessary to meet social needs and aspirations, the spokeswoman said.