After seven months of ongoing “demonstrations” Hong Kong’s heavily criticized government is now looking at land issues in a bid to “mollify” some of its many protesting residents.
Hong Kong papers reported that officials have set their eyes on the city’s sprawling “Disneyland” resort, with a plan to “convert” part of its land reserved for expansion into “public housing plots” for about 20,000 transitional homes.
Frank Chan, Hong Kong’s Secretary for Transport and Housing, made a public appeal to the “Walt Disney Company” to withdraw restrictions in its deal with the city’s government on the “use and density” of a 60-hectare chunk of land.
“The land had been earmarked for the theme park’s future development, but has been vacant for years and the precious space could be unlocked for housing projects.
The government has a contract with Disney that the land will be specially reserved for future extension projects, and should not be used for residential purposes,” Chan told lawmakers during a Legislative Council meeting.
He suggested it was high time the company shouldered its social responsibility and made better use of the plot since the park’s expansion has never materialized.”
Pressure groups say “prefabricated homes” could be built there to alleviate the plight of those living in the city’s “notorious” subdivided units, which are smaller than a “standard parking lot”, before the government and Disney work out a long-term plan for future development.
The groups say the “cramped” living conditions and the housing “shortage” have become a “disgrace” and the government cannot afford to have a vast “fairyland” that is in stark contrast with the harsh “reality” many locals have to live with.
A spokesperson for the Hong Kong resort said Disney would start discussions with the authorities on all proposals to develop the site.
The waterfront park on Hong Kong’s “Lantau Island” opened in 2005 as the first project in Asia owned and operated by the US entertainment conglomerate through a joint venture with the Hong Kong government.
In 1999, Disney secured an option with a validity period of 20 years to buy a neighboring site for phased expansion, with the right to extend the option for another decade, when Hong Kong sought to woo “Micky Mouse and Donald Duck” to diversify its portfolio of tourist attractions.
The related “Option Deed” also stipulated that no residential homes should be built there, on top of a rigid “height and ratio caps” to ensure unobstructed sea views for the existing resort as well as “conformity” in the idyllic, low-density landscaping.
Now, despite the “contractual” obligations, officials and lawmakers from both the establishment and opposition camps are piling “pressure” on Disney to release the land to built “temporary” homes for the hundreds of thousands on an ever-growing waiting list for public housing, while the government is “grappling” with a land production bottleneck.
Pressing housing “woes” are part of non-political factors “blamed” by Beijing and its local loyalists for the mass “protests and violence” initially triggered by a now-retracted China “extradition” bill.
This is also against the “backdrop” of Disney taking its time to expand the park and add new “attractions” after four years of “back-to-back” losses, and the company has put future “development plans” on ice.
Worse still, the months of “social turmoil” since June has dealt a further blow to the park’s attendances, even though Disney is yet to release full year figures for 2019. The usual crowd of tourists from mainland China and Southeast Asia is “long gone” and popular rides, shops and restaurants have fallen quiet.
Disney revealed in early November that “revenue” from the Hong Kong resort between July and September had already “dropped” by US$55 million, offsetting increases booked by its Shanghai and Paris parks during the same period.