A breakthrough in economic development

Updated: 2017-09-06 07:51

(HK Edition)

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A breakthrough in economic development

Public expectations are running high for the Task Force on Land Supply as the new expert panel convenes its first meeting today (Wednesday) after Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor appointed its 30 members last Tuesday. Indeed, establishment of a special panel tasked with finding solutions for Hong Kong's land shortage could herald a breakthrough not only in tackling the city's current housing crisis but also its overall economic development in the long run.

Because of the lack of developable land, coupled with a surge in demand from both external investors and local buyers encouraged by historically low lending costs, home prices in the city have kept rising over the past several years. They have reached levels that are now beyond the affordability of average households. As a result, tens of thousands of low-income families have to live in tiny subdivided flats in either old residential buildings or deserted industrial ones. They have to put up with fire hazards and squalid living conditions that are normally seen only in Third World countries.

A space-starved Hong Kong has also seen land costs for commercial and industrial operations in the city continue to escalate over past decades. This has, to a significant extent, contributed to the exodus of local manufacturers which have established their new production bases across Guangdong province and beyond. The hollowing out of domestic industries has eventually led to the local economy relying too much on a few sectors - particularly the financial and real-estate sectors. This situation has in turn helped aggravate the city's wealth gap and resulted in slower upward social mobility for young people - a development that has contributed to social discontent and political wrangling.

Few would argue that it is imperative for Hong Kong to generate sufficient developable land to cope with the needs of housing and economic diversification if the city is to pursue sustainable development and build a harmonious society.

The creation of an expert panel to look into land-supply problems and come up with feasible proposals that can build consensus among the public is a crucial move in the right direction.

Hong Kong does not lack land resources but the consensus on how the city can make best use of the untapped land in the city. Most members of the new task force are experts from the relevant professional sectors and from both the public and private sector. Aside from the possession of necessary expertise the job requires, these experts are free from the influence of interest groups. We can trust they would come up with proposals that are practical, workable and even-handed. Indeed, the exclusion of big developers and representatives of other interest groups from the task force will make the panel all the more impartial and credible. More importantly, the task force will vigorously engage and consult the public, as required by its job description, along with its research work. This will ensure the proposals they are expected to come up with will take public views into consideration.

Unfortunately, like many other initiatives taken by the government, the move to form a special task force to look for land immediately drew criticism from the opposition camp - even before it started work. By taking issue with this important policy move, the opposition again show they really do live up to their name.

(HK Edition 09/06/2017 page8)