Strange case of the invisible workers
It's no surprise that Hutchison Whampoa Property is loath to commit to either a final cost estimate or a completion date for the mammoth Xiao Gang Wan redevelopment project it won from the Qingdao municipal government.
Not when it has taken three years following the signing of the agreement just to take occupation of the site, notes Ah Pak, who was in Qingdao last week and visited the seafront location to check up on progress. To be fair, much has happened since the contract was awarded.
The residents of the old area have been resettled in new housing nearby, and the 3.4 million square foot site has been cleared in preparation for the development of a complex of shopping and entertainment facilities as well as high-rise residential blocks with a total floor area of more than 10 million square feet.
But of cranes or new construction there was nary a sign, and just two workers were on the site, carting sand to the nearby resettlement area.
In response to Ah Pak's query, a spokeswoman at Hutchison said later there was no delay in the construction schedule: 'The government just handed over the [vacant] site to us in July. We have started construction work.'
However, she could give no details of cost or completion, and when Ah Pak asked where the workers were, she said: 'I do not know. Maybe you cannot see them. But they are definitely there, and construction work has started.'
Well, maybe they were all on a tea-break when he called, thought Ah Pak.
Here's an interesting finding Ah Pak read in a recent survey conducted by the University of San Diego's Burnham-Moores Centre for Real Estate with CB Richard Ellis.
It might even encourage Hong Kong developers to 'go green', he thought.
It seems that tenants in green buildings in the United States show increased productivity and take fewer days off sick - and landlords of such buildings can charge higher rentals.
Productivity is based on two measures: the average number of tenant sick days and a self-reported productivity audit.
Respondents to the survey now working in green office accommodation reported an average of 2.88 fewer sick days than they recorded previously in a non-green office, and about 55 per cent of respondents indicated employee productivity had improved.
Based on the average salary earned by the tenants, office space per tenant of 250 square feet and 250 work days a year, the increase in productivity translated into a net impact of about US$20 per square foot occupied.
CBRE said it had no plans to conduct a similar study in Hong Kong. That did not surprise Ah Pak, considering there are so few green buildings in the city.
One Island East, a 70-storey commercial office tower in Hong Kong owned by Swire Properties and completed last year, is described by the industry as one of the few examples and Ah Pak is considering his own snap survey.
Room to improve
What is the worst layout of a flat you have ever come across?
How about this one to set a new design low, suggests Ah Pak.
An exasperated new houseowner recently posted a layout plan of his 100 square metre unit in a resettlement development in Qingdao on a mainland website, inviting viewers to share his astonishment.
The plan showed that the kitchen door opened not into the dining room, which would seem the obvious place, but - wait for it - into the toilet and then, via another door, into the dining room.
'That means I will have to carry my food through the toilet before placing it on the dining table,' he said.
One reply to the internet posting had this to say: 'How could I invite friends to dine if this were my place. It's so embarrassing.'
In the process of redeveloping old districts, the government and the developer concerned undertake to resettle residents that must be moved into new housing.
However, it would seem that in the process some important corners have been cut, noted Ah Pak.