A government-appointed body cites public support as a solution to Hong Kong’s dire housing problem in a recent report.

But a local research group says it has deliberately misinterpreted figures to sell the people something they don’t want by telling them they do want it.

On the quiet news day December 31, the Task Force on Land Supply submitted a report that prioritises eight options to free up land. Some of them have been controversial, such as reclamation around Lantau Island, using part of the Fanling golf course and developing the brownfield sites in the New Territories.

18 lucky options…

The task force was established in September 2017 by the government to review and evaluate land supply options. Last year, it put forward 18 options for public consultation.

The task force received 29,065 and 3,011 responses from questionnaires and telephone survey, respectively. It says in these two groups, 62 percent and 58 percent of the interviewees supports the reclamation plan to develop the East Lantau Metropolis (ELM), conceptually similar to the government’s Lantau Tomorrow Vision (i.e. massive reclamation east of Lantau Island).

It also collected 434,164 comments from the Public Engagement booklet.

“We received a total of 149,000 comments regarding the ELM. Around 63,000 of them oppose the plan, but they are mostly from petitions. This reflects that not a majority of people oppose the plan,” says Mr Stanley Wong, chairman of the task force.

But independent group Liber Research Community says Mr Wong’s comment is misleading and he misinterprets the figures to help the government sell the ELM development plan.

Expand the denominator… et voila! A minority!

“When you look at the figures, out of those 149,000 comments, 69,000 of them are about the attitude towards the plan. And among them, 63,000 of them oppose the plan,” the group says in a statement.

It notes that while the other 80,000 comments did not reveal the attitude towards the plan, they are about reasons and concerns.

“Among them, 52,000 comments mentioned conservation/environmental impacts and 99 percent of them said reclamation will impose negative impacts. Can this be interpreted as supporting the plan?” the group adds.

Mr Chan Kim-ching, a researcher from the group, says the report fails to reflect the real public sentiment.

“Since chief executive Ms Carrie Lam put forward the ‘Lantau Tomorrow’ plan, the public has become more aware of the estimated costs and impacts. There has been a strong sentiment against the plan since then,” he notes.

In the bag

Pro-democracy Civic Party also says the credibility of the Task Force’s report is undermined by Ms Lam, who has been actively promoting the ELM development plan (as the Lantau Tomorrow Vision) before the Task Force submitted the report after public consultations.

“The main reason for the lack of land is that land resources are in the hands of a few people with vested interests. If the close ties between the government and businessmen are not addressed, the government cannot stop homes from being expensive and small even by creating more land,” the party says in a statement.

The ELM development plan aims to provide around 1,000 hectares of land by building artificial islands between Lantau and Hong Kong Island. The ELM could accommodate 400,000 to 700,000 people and be the third central business district to drive long-term development of Hong Kong.

The plan has been supported by local think tank Our Hong Kong Foundation, which is founded by Hong Kong’s former chief executive Mr Tung Chee-Wah who has ties with real estate tycoons. In August, the think tank even proposed a plan twice as large in scale as the government’s plan.

But the plan has been heavily criticised for the long development timeline, its high cost that could use up Hong Kong’s fiscal reserves and potentially irreversible environmental and ecological damage.

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