CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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The conundrum of uneven distribution of land

HONG KONG (SE): The government was urged to use existing land resources properly to help the grassroots during a forum organised by the Catholic Messengers of Green Consciousness on the justice of land use in Hong Kong at St. Vincent’s Chapel, Win Tin Sin, on July 30. The forum was organised in response to a five-month consultation launched by the government about the supply of land in the next three decades, which ends on September 26.
Camille Lam Chi-kwan, town planner and a member of Liber Research Community, said that according to their research, over 800 hectares of land need to be developed in the coming 10 years to cater to the increasing population. By 2046, 1,670 hectares of land have to be supplied for development.  
She also observed that newly developed land is most often given to private developers and that some land reserved for public housing has been used to build luxury buildings. The speculation on private property is now out of control. 
She said while the government claims that there is a need for reclamation to solve the shortage of land, there are many other options available such as 1,300 hectares of brownfield land, vacant government sites in the New Territories, as well as small house and the short-term rental sites. 
She said there is no guarantee that more would be available for the grassroots after reclamation as evidenced by the West Kowloon reclamation, where only a small percentage of land has been set aside for public housing. 
She was critical of the move to collaborate with private developers in using agricultural land in the New Territories for infrastructure and residential development, noting that it would only be to the developer’s benefit. 
She pointed out that uneven distribution of land is the problem, not shortage, and that the government needs to improve measures to control property speculation.  She also believes that the government is taking advantage of the housing problem to launch its pet projects and urged concerned groups to disseminate correct information to make people aware of the real issue.
Father Anthony Chang Sang-loy said that the key to justice lies in proper distribution, sharing of resources and the development of all people in society. He said the benefits to the grassroots should be considered first as they are the ones that most in need of help. 
Moreover, Father Chang observed that while improving the living environment of people is important, the quality of residential buildings and their surroundings should not be the only consideration. 
From a wider point of view, he said that the impact on the ecosystem should be a concern. He added that land resources should not be monopolised by a small circle of vested interests.
Participants in the forum expressed concerns as to how the voice of the public might affect government decision-making. Some questioned the sincerity of the authorities in launching the public consultation, some pointed to the challenges of protecting the environment while others said they held out no hope of changing the government’s mind. 
Father Chang called on those present to actively respond to the consultation by having more discussions and giving more support so that the government might see the need to make a proper response.  
The Catholic Messengers of Green Consciousness organised three more forums related to the issue on August 6, 13 and 20. Topics discussed included the possibility of developing the Fanling Golf Club and the brownfield sites instead of reclamation, the plight of those living in subdivided flats and the huge demand for public housing. 
The group also encouraged parishes to have more discussions on the housing issue to draw more attention to the needs of the marginalised.

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