Environment & Health Hong Kong

HKU scholars spark controversy after proposing to reclaim Tai Po reservoir for housing

Scholars from the University of Hong Kong (HKU) have been criticised after advocating large-scale reclamation across the city to increase land supply for housing.

Chau Kwong-wing and Lawrence Lai Wai-chung from the Ronald Coase Centre for Property Rights Research presented the results of a study on Wednesday, proposing “for the sake of brainstorming” to reclaim the entirety of Tai Po’s Plover Cove Reservoir.

Plover Cove Reservoir Tai Po

Plover Cove Reservoir. Photo: Google Maps.

“The site covers an area of 1,200 hectares and has the potential of providing a total supply of about 300,000 housing units,” wrote Chau and Lai’s research team in a press release.

“The damage to the environment will be less for the reservoir as the cost of damaging the original maritime environment was paid off when building the reservoir.”

The team added that reclamation has played a historically important role in creating new land in urban areas such as Tung Chung, Tseung Kwan O and Hung Hom – a process that was halted by the 1997 Protection of the Harbour Ordinance.

“Housing price volatility is partly a result of the pegged exchange rate system and partly the general perception that housing supply in Hong Kong cannot be easily increased,” said Chau at the press conference.

“The only way to reduce housing price volatility… is for the government to plan for and build up a huge land bank for the foreseeable future.”

‘Nonsense’

The study sparked angry reactions from Hong Kong’s environmentalist community. Environmental group Green Sense responded in a press release, claiming that its conclusions were “nonsense” and unhelpful for studying urban planning.

Chau Kwong-wing Lawrence Lai Wai-chung HKU University of Hong Kong professor real estate construction

Professors Lai (L) and Chau (R). Photo: University of Hong Kong.

“The Plover Cove Reservoir is Hong Kong’s second-largest reservoir by volume,” wrote the group. “Proposing to reclaim the reservoir ignores the stability and safety of the supply of potable water to millions of Hongkongers.”

Green Sense said the study ignored the concept of sustainable development. It said that uncontrolled immigration and property speculation were the true causes of the housing shortage.

In a Facebook post, urban planning scholar Chan Kim-ching questioned the intentions of the scholars in conducting the study: “I can’t seem to find where the study received its funding, but the conclusions only protect the interests of the government and real estate firms.”

An HKU spokesperson told HKFP that the study was not funded by any external individuals, organisations or companies.

Speaking on Commercial Radio Thursday morning, Professor Lai claimed that the idea to reclaim the entirety of the Plover Cove Reservoir was merely an exaggerated scenario that the team brainstormed for discussion purposes.

Repossessing idle land

Apart from reclamation, Chau and Lai suggested repossessing idle plots granted to developers in the New Territories as a way for the government to increase land reserves.

Chan Kim-ching

Urban planning scholar Chan Kim-ching. File photo: Stand News.

They suggested that the Hong Kong government should repossess any idle land after 2047 – the year when the “One Country, Two Systems” arrangement promising autonomy and the continuation of the city’s “capitalist way of life” – is set to expire. The government has nevertheless maintained that it has the constitutional authority to grant land leases extending beyond 2047.

See also: No need to worry about land lease expiry after 2047, says Development Sec.

According to the study’s estimates, major property developers own some 1,000 hectares of land in the New Territories.

HKU scholars spark controversy after proposing to reclaim Tai Po reservoir for housing