Hong Kong’s five-month public consultation exercise on land supply – informally known as the “big land debate” – ended on Wednesday, with a report expected to be submitted to the government as early as the end of this year.

Stanley Wong Yuen-fai, chairman of the Task Force on Land Supply, said on Thursday that they collected approximately 65,000 written opinions, 28,000 online and physical questionnaires and 3,000 phone interviews.

Stanley Wong Yuen-fai
Stanley Wong Yuen-fai (centre). Photo: Citizen News.

“I believe that, when there is a report that reflects public opinion, the government should follow it. But if the government has some other considerations… and choose not to implement an option that we recommended, I believe the government must explain their decision to society,” Wong said on a radio program.

The government-appointed task force launched the consultation in April, claiming that at least 1,200 hectares of land was needed for housing and commercial needs. It provided 18 options to increase Hong Kong’s land supply and invited the public to express their preferences.

Wong said the group will try to prepare a report by the end of the year, but it may take longer if more public discussions occur.

Task Force on Land Supply
Task Force on Land Supply. Photo: GovHK.

Wong said the consultation was done in a way that reflected public sentiments: he claimed that the report will include the views of the “silent majority” in society, namely people who do not strongly support or oppose any particular option.

Preliminary observations

On Monday, Wong submitted a list of “preliminary observations” to Chief Executive Carrie Lam, which were outlined in a letter but did not include statistics. In the letter, Wong wrote that Lam had requested the preliminary observations to assist in preparations for her October Policy Address.

The letter suggested that developing brownfield sites – degraded or previously developed land – in the New Territories was a “generally supported” option, and the community “generally agrees” with developing private agricultural land reserves.

Wang Toi Shan
Brownfield site in Wang Toi Shan, June 2017. Photo: Liber Research Community.

“As to whether the sites under private recreational leases should be used for housing development or other purposes, discussions in the community mainly focus on the site of the Fanling Golf Course, and the views are rather polarised,” the letter read.

Liber Research Community, a land research group, criticised the preliminary observations for being misleading and biased. In a Facebook post, the group said that the letter anonymously quoted pro-establishment voices and passed them off as public opinion.

“It is a clear consensus among the public to develop the Fanling Golf Course, but the letter said the views were ‘polarised’… as if there was no mainstream opinion. No need to say that the ‘sports sector’ and ‘business community’ have a different view – actually [it is referring to] the ruling elite like Tommy Cheung Yu-yan and Natalis Chan,” the post read.

Cheung, a pro-establishment lawmaker, and Chan, a well-known entertainer, had previously expressed opposition to using the golf course for housing.

Liber hidden government land
Liber Research Community members. Photo: Handout.

Wong told reporters on Wednesday that the task force had no pre-determined stance, and even if the chief executive did not follow their preliminary observations it would be normal.

“I don’t understand why some civil society groups think we are biased. If you look at the preliminary observations, there were no statistics, so how could we say which was more or less popular? We only listed the opinions that we heard a lot,” Wong said.

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.