The development of New Territories Northeast has been studied for more than 10 years. It is among 10 major infrastructural projects announced in 2007. As public consultation enters the third stage, however, it has surprisingly turned political. This Motion calls for withdrawal of the development plan (the Plan). Frankly, it has room for improvement but may not be withdrawn under all circumstances in light of prevailing property market sentiments.
Lately, property prices in Hong Kong have risen beyond affordability. Shortage of land is the primary cause. Data shows that land stock for residential use amounts to 390 hectares only, and they would be taken up in the next few years. There is pressing need to find new land supply. Under the Plan, NTNE development would provide at least 150 hectares for residential use. Apparently, it is a major source of new supply. Imagine what would happen if the Plan is withdrawn? It would be tantamount to announcing another setback of the Government and further delays in new supply. What would the market think? It would interpret the setback as another round of shortage, attracting substantial speculative interest. Consequential hike in property prices would be unconceivable.
Moreover, the waiting list for public rental housing is approaching 200,000 families. The increasing demand might not be met without land supply for the purpose. According to Plan, public housing would take up at least 40 per cent of residential land use. It would be a major project and its significance needs no elucidation.
In fact, the community has reached a consensus to call for more land supply for public and private housing. After all, there is practically no better way to stabilize property prices. While the development is in public interest, we should also help indigenous farmers seek proper arrangements for relocation and rehabilitation. Withdrawal is not an alternative.
On the other hand, NTNE development is indispensable in meeting challenges ahead in the economy. The Hong Kong has been over-reliant on financial services for growth and is thus susceptible to financial instabilities. Diversification is imminent. As NTNE is next to Shenzhen and has several cross-border check points, it would create new economic activities and employment. A preliminary study estimates more than 50,000 new jobs. There are suggestions to build industrial parks that would interact with industrial clusters in the Pearl River Delta for development of information technology, environmental protection, logistics, high value-added industries, and scientific research. In fact, these new development and jobs would be renewed efforts to rebalance the economy.
As explained previously, NTNE development may not be withdrawn but there is room for improvement. In fact, those who support and those who differ both have good ideas on the Plan. I ask the Government to maintain dialogue with them and consider their views seriously. The project could afford minor delay.
In my view, there are areas for improvement, including the planned population. According to plan, the new development would provide 53,800 living quarters for 151,600 people. As the development would form 533 hectares of usable land and cost over $100 billion, it would be uneconomical in terms of land use to house so few people. Several studies suggest that the planned population might increase to 250,000 without upsetting balance of the Plan. Moreover, a larger population would better justify the comprehensive transport network.
On the other hand, commercial land use would only be 1 hectare or 0.1 per cent of the area. Agricultural land use, however, would be 54 hectares or 6.9 percent of the area. According to plan, adequate jobs would be provided for local residents. It is doubtful that 1 hectare of commercial land use would generate enough jobs to satisfy local demand. Furthermore, there are only 200 farmers among the affected but 54 hectares are reserved for agriculture. Are they out of proportion? Official data shows that there is plenty of land suitable for farming rehabilitation elsewhere in New Territories. I urge the Government to review land provision for rehabilitation in this development.
In addition, I fully agree that this development should reserve sufficient land for green belt and open space. However, land uses for open space, green belt, landscaped area, eco-park, agriculture, river and road, etc are taking up 55 percent of the area. I have no particular comment but would suggest a review as they might be ideas at earlier stages planning. Also, should we allow some flexibility in building a new town to cater for future needs? Of course, if the public agrees to retain them as planned, all should accept.
I always argue that conservation and development are not necessarily mutually exclusive. As long as there are good planning and supervision, they could get along hand in hand.
With this observation, I conclude my remarks.