Plea for $2b grant to provide offices
LEGISLATIVE Councillors will today be asked to grant more than $2 billion to buy new offices for government departments, even as officials reveal a massive leap in the value of four office blocks bought over the past decade.
In a submission to councillors explaining the Government's strategy, officials revealed that since 1983 the administration had spent more than $560 million on four major office blocks now worth $2.4 billion - a 310 per cent increase.
While the Legislative Council Finance Committee at its last meeting voted down a government plan to spend $1.6 billion on new office accommodation for seven departments, officials are insisting on their strategy of moving towards owning properties ratherthan leasing them and will resubmit the funding request today.
The new proposal foresees a wider scope for purchases - on top of the recommendation to buy new offices on Hongkong Island outlined in the last request, officials are proposing to buy in Kowloon.
The new proposal will cost taxpayers about $2 billion.
The Finance Committee will be asked to approve funds totalling $1.38 billion to buy 23,000 square metres of office accommodation on Hongkong Island and another $360 million for 7,000 square metres in Kowloon.
In rejecting the previous submission, legislators said there was spare space available and they saw no justification for buying more.
But the Government said rents were increasing when leases for existing premises were renewed.
''Unless prompt action is taken to increase our stock of owned accommodation, both to meet existing demand and identified shortfalls, there is a danger the Government's leasing bill will soon start to rise considerably,'' the submission said.
Statistics provided by officials indicated that as of last month, government departments occupied 997,916 square metres of office space, 78 per cent being owned.
This represented a major increase in owned premises over three years ago when, of the total of 803,537 square metres occupied, only 62 per cent was owned.
Legislators have been told that as a result of this shift, the Government now spends $620 million a year on leasing compared with $900 million three years ago.
Officials said buying premises had advantages, including cost effectiveness and security of tenure.
Some special requirements for certain departments would also be more easily met in government premises than commercial buildings.