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You cannot have your cake and eat it


Today, I went to TWGHs Yow Kam Yuen College to meet over 400 students face-to-face and communicate with another 5 000 students via live broadcast. The event was a debate competition co-organised by the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals and the Y.Elites Association Limited, and the debate topic was "How to choose between housing development and other land uses in Hong Kong?" The debate adopted a novel format in which participants were required to play roles as businessmen, villagers, environmentalists or government officials. After the debate, they could swap roles and look at the issue from different perspectives.

When I talked with the students today, I asked them if they wanted to have their own place by the time they reached 30. All the students in the hall nodded. I told the students that if we were to address the housing needs in the coming 20 to 30 years, we had to start planning right away to identify available sites.

When asked by some students when their housing dreams could come true, I said that we need to strive to increase housing supply and create more opportunities for upward mobility for our young people. To increase housing supply, we need land. To create more opportunities for upward mobility, we need economic development. I also briefed the students on the development plan for the North East New Territories. Characterised by low-density development and meeting high planning standards, this plan will provide essential land for housing development for today's students and other young people, while also reserving land for modernised farming.

Land and housing are sometimes compared to flour and bread. There can be no bread without flour. Similarly, there can be no housing without land. Our attempts to rezone land have often been met with strong resistance from local residents. The community should accept trade-offs between different land uses. After all, you cannot have your cake and eat it. While this is a difficult choice to make, we have to rise to the challenge.

The one-hour discussion was brightened by the students' wisdom and their hopes for the future. I sincerely hope that all members of the community, particularly District Council members and local residents in the districts concerned, will be able to see things from different perspectives, just as the students did today. For the sake of the whole community, let us make these difficult choices together and take concrete steps to tackle the land and housing problems that we face.

May 20, 2014