South China Morning Post
Hong Kong’s leader has shot down her vocal predecessor’s controversial push to build flats on the fringes of the city’s country parks, and defended the civil service against his claims they lack a sense of urgency in implementing government housing policy. Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, speaking ahead of her weekly Executive Council meeting on Tuesday, said there were numerous strategies for increasing land supply and her administration had adopted a more long-term and sustainable one. “Some governments examined the feasibility of converting land use on a plot-by-plot basis, like ‘breaking rocks with a hammer’,” Lam said, referring to an old practice when prisoners or low-income workers extracted small rocks for large-scale construction projects in the 1950s.Do you have questions about the biggest topics and trends from around the world? Get the answers with SCMP Knowledge, our new platform of curated content with explainers, FAQs, analyses and infographics brought to you by our award-winning team. “But we believe we have to make long-term plans to find new land, instead of only changing the usage of particular pieces of land.” Lam’s comments came as part of a lengthy rebuttal to her former superior, ex-city leader Leung Chun-ying, who criticised her administration in a wide-ranging interview on Monday. Leung’s increasingly vocal and specific critiques of government policy have sparked speculation he plans to make a bid for the city’s leadership again next March. Lam, who oversaw Hong Kong’s land policy as the development chief from 2007 to 2012, was promoted to chief secretary after Leung won the chief executive election in March 2012. She was elected city leader five years later, months after Leung announced he would not seek a second term. Leung last week called on the government to revive his heavily debated proposal for the construction of public and subsidised housing on the periphery of country parks, noting it was Lam’s government that had terminated his plan. Ex-Hong Kong leader has government on the defensive. Is he planning a comeback? Critics warned that Leung’s proposal should not be done at the expense of established procedures. Asked to comment on the proposal, Lam on Tuesday said increasing land supply through rezoning risked upsetting residents. “Whenever you make changes in the use of land, some people who enjoyed the original use would oppose it or feel disappointed, regardless of whether it’s a huge country park or a small recreational space,” she said. Lam and Leung have adopted starkly different approaches to tackling Hong Kong’s land and housing shortage – a problem long described by Beijing as a “deep-seated issue” and root cause of 2019’s social unrest. During his tenure, Leung advocated allocating land on the periphery of country parks for housing, and identified hundreds of sites that could be rezoned for residential use, many of which involved amendments of statutory plans. After Lam took his place in 2017, she championed massive land-reclamation projects, including a controversial 1,700-hectare project that would create artificial islands to the east of Lantau Island for new towns and business districts. Highlighting her years of experience in land supply, Lam also said on Tuesday that her administration would adopt “breakthrough” measures to reclaim private land for public purposes, and was carefully supervising the work of Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po in increasing land supply. “In the end, we have to look at the effectiveness [of policies], which can’t be measured overnight,” she said. “Conclusions based on simply looking at the amount of land supplied by a particular date would often be biased.” Hong Kong families face average wait of 5.8 years for public housing Last Friday, Sun Hung Kai Properties said it would be willing to give up some land in Yuen Long that had lain idle for decades so the government could build public housing. Their offer came a day after authorities announced they planned to seize the lots either way. That site, combined with two others the government has threatened to strip from private owners accused of hoarding land, could accommodate as many as 1,600 flats. Leung, now vice-chairman of Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, said in another recent interview that the government’s efficiency at implementing projects was undermined by the lack of a “do or die” attitude and sense of urgency among civil servants. “Everyone enjoys freedom of speech, especially the freedom to criticise the government,” Lam said. “The civil service and I have the breadth of mind to accept criticism.” The city’s leader, who noted the government already had dedicated departments specifically devoted to looking at internal efficiency issues, said the 170,000-strong civil service deserved the public’s support. “I cannot say our work is perfect. That’s why we always talk about reforms in the government to streamline procedure, structure and improve efficiency,” she said. “But Hong Kong, as a relatively complicated city, has operated normally every day – that’s because of the civil servants’ diligence and dedication. I hope you all can agree on that.”This article Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam dismisses predecessor’s land demands and defends long-term approach to solving city’s housing crisis first appeared on South China Morning PostFor the latest news from the South China Morning Post download our mobile app. Copyright 2021.