Striking a balance in land development in Hong Kong

May 28, 2013 / By

Land has always been a scarce resource. In Hong Kong, land suitable for development is even scarcer given the city’s hilly terrain and the restriction on developing protected green space, which limit further expansion of urban developments. Therefore, the local government is finding ways to “increase” long-term land supply, and one of the approaches adopted is through land reclamation outside Victoria Harbour.

In late May 2013, the government launched a public consultation for a reclamation project in Tung Chung on Lantau Island, which is one of the latest generation of new towns in Hong Kong. The consultation aims to study the development potential of extending Tung Chung by reclaiming 134 hectares of land at the eastern and western part of the area to meet the increasing housing need. The majority of reclaimed land will be on the eastern side while reclamation on the west is limited by the ecological value of Tung Chung Bay. The land is expected to be available in 2021 for development and could potentially yield a maximum of 53,000 residential units upon completion.

However, the scale of the reclamation project has touched the nerves of green activists. Their concern is that the reclamation will cause ecological damage and, in particular, threaten the habitat of Chinese white dolphins. Some activists have even urged the government to leave the entire Tung Chung Bay free of development.

Source: Planning Department

While the cause of ecological conservation is commendable, it should not be forgotten that the housing supply shortage is one of the catalysts of the latest market upturn, which pushed home prices higher. In fact, locals have been complaining about high property prices and their inability to get on or move up the housing ladder. To ease the supply-demand imbalance, boosting housing supply is definitely a crucial measure, and creating new land through reclamation is likely to be one key avenue, especially when the availability of developable land in urban areas is extremely limited. Meanwhile, the government is now launching public consultation for open discussion, and it is my hope that the government carries out a comprehensive environmental assessment as well as discusses the issues with concerned groups before finalising the development plan. I reckon that some compromises will be required during the process before an agreement is reached. If the impact on the environment is truly minimal, perhaps we should put our focus more on social well-being, so that there will be adequate land for the sustainable development of the housing market in Hong Kong in the longer term. Of course, it is inevitable that there will be more citizens who place a higher value on safeguarding the environment versus economic development as Hong Kong becomes a wealthier place. But that is a debate for another time.


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