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Land reclamation outside harbour put on agenda

HONG KONG: The option of resuming reclamation outside Victoria Harbour to increase land supply for flats has been raised by some officials during recent discussions among the government's top tier.

It is likely that Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen will mention the need to start a public discussion on land reclamation outside the harbour when he gives an account of the results of the consultation on subsidising home ownership in his policy address in October.

Reclamation along the harbour coastline is banned under the Protection of the Harbour Ordinance, which was passed by the Legislative Council in 1997.

An official familiar with the talks said there was a need to start public discussion on whether it was necessary to create extra space for new flats and other public facilities by reclaiming land outside the harbour.

"Possible sites for reclamation, such as Tsing Yi and coastal areas along Tolo Harbour, including Ma On Shan, are worth exploring," the official said.

Another official said some senior officials raised the idea at recent meetings on housing issues.

"When land shortage was mentioned as one of the problems facing the city, naturally some officials came up with the idea of exploring the option of reclaiming land outside Victoria Harbour. But we can't say a concrete policy direction has been decided at this stage," the official said.

In May, Tsang announced a public consultation on whether the government should subsidise people to become homeowners, and if so, who should be subsidised and what kind of method should be adopted.

Tsang will comment on the subject in his policy address if the government has further ideas on the issue after the consultation.

The chief executive promised last year that the government would adopt "new thinking" to tackle the land-shortage problem to enable the development of six new economic "pillars".

A person familiar with the government's position said the administration favoured providing subsidised housing by private developers rather than direct government participation in building Home Ownership Scheme flats.

"Even if the government gives the green light to provision of subsidised housing, the supply of flats would only be a few thousand per year so as to avoid adverse impact on property market," the person said, adding that the timing for starting the subsidised housing scheme had to be discussed in the months ahead.

The chairman of Tai Po District Council, Cheung Hok-ming, welcomed the idea of reclaiming land for subsidised housing, as it would introduce a younger working population in the ageing district. He said Tai Po's population had fallen from more than 310,000 to about 290,000 over the past 10 years.

"The idea is worth more in-depth public discussion," Cheung said. "Few sites in the New Territories are suitable for new developments, as they are either ecologically sensitive or have been designated for community facilities such as hospitals."

Sha Tin District Council chairman Wai Kwok-hung said the council would support the idea if the reclaimed sites were developed to include community facilities such as libraries and sport grounds, adding that transport infrastructure should be in place to cater for the growing population.

Kwai Tsing District Council chairman Tang Kwok-kong feared reclamation in Tsing Yi could affect the navigation channels to Tsuen Wan. He said the district already has a large proportion of public housing.

"Public flats already account for over 70% of housing in Tsing Yi, which means the district has a high rate of unemployment and domestic violence. We need a more balanced population," Tang said.

The president of the Hong Kong Institute of Planners, Tam Po-yiu, said he was not opposed to increasing the land supply through reclamation outside Victoria Harbour but warned of the political and public resistance in pushing through reclamation projects.

"People in Ma On Shan may want more recreational uses on new sites and the government may have to relocate the oil depot in Tsing Yi," Tam said. "Reclaimed land could bring in new synergy to old districts but the government will need a clear housing policy to support the move."

He said the government should make the best use of existing land before considering reclamation. "Sites in Tuen Mun and Lau Fau Shan have yet to be developed. There are also old sites that can be redeveloped." — South China Morning Post
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