Leung Chun-ying

Government must deal with problem of staggering number of unused flats

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 July, 2012, 12:00am


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When Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying announced the line-up of the Executive Council, around the dinner table the question was: Franklin Who? A number of media interviews later, we are not much the wiser as to what Franklin Lam Fan-keung brings to the table other than a strong interest in the development of residential towers and shopping malls, particularly on Lantau.

In his interview ('Leung can rebound from his 'bad start'', July 15) he again espouses the idea that the 'key is to increase the supply of land and housing'.

However, government statistics show that currently there are around 230,000 vacant flats in Hong Kong. This is a staggering number of unused flats for a population of seven million and indicates that the problem is not one of supply but rather of hoarding for speculation and affordability.

If our chief executive is to rely on Mr Lam's advice, in a few years we could have half a million empty flats without achieving any significant reduction in the number of people living in substandard accommodation and with ever more couples unable to start a family because of the prohibitive cost of even small flats.

There are also questions of sustainability to be addressed. Leaving tonnes of building and decoration materials lying idle for years is hardly desirable in view of diminishing world stocks, particularly of certain woods. Empty flats add nothing to the district level economy, except perhaps a few hours' work a week for domestic helpers.

Of course property speculation is a result of the current world economy and low interests rates. So what is needed now is not more concrete pouring but rather original, out-of-the-box, solutions that can attract people away from the property market and into other investment fields that provide higher yields.

Some time ago it was suggested on a radio programme that the solution could be virtual housing; after all, billions are made on internet gaming sites through the trading of virtual weapons and such.

Surely our financial sector could come up with some high- yielding speculative instrument that avoids the use and abuse of valuable land and resources?

Now that Mr Lam is a member of Exco and involved in the decision-making process, we look forward to full disclosure on the 20 or so properties he is rumoured to possess. Are they currently occupied or left empty to facilitate quick sales?

Martin Brinkley, Ma Wan