Lai See

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 March, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 March, 2010, 12:00am

Asia's world city short-changed on size

It's not difficult to understand why visual artist Kacey Wong's 'Paddling Home' - a 4 foot by 4 foot 'flat' was popular at the recently concluded Hong Kong-Shenzhen Bi-City Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism. It's a houseboat that looks like a typical Hong Kong apartment that any local can relate to. It symbolises the absurdity of the property game here, where developers rule.

The fact that the government has asked the Housing Authority to put the remaining 4,000 unsold Home Ownership Scheme flats up for sale this year will not let it off the hook in the touchy debate over supply.

In this year's budget, the government says: 'We will ... increase the supply of small and medium-sized residential flats ... by specifying in the land sale conditions requirements in terms of the minimum number of flats and the range of size of such units ...' It's baffling to see why our government is bent on supplying only small and medium-sized units but not bigger and more comfortable ones.

According to non-profit Designing Hong Kong, the city has 2.4 million residential units but only 2.35 million families, which means there are plenty to go around. The only reason prices are going up is due to speculation driven by interest rates that are lower than inflation.

The government should stop churning out excuses such as 'that's what the people want' to avoid the issue. The average size of a two-bedroom flat in Hong Kong is 45 square metres, a new public housing unit is 60 square metres and the average new private unit is 70 square metres, compared with the average flat size of 100 square metres in Singapore. Looks like we've been short-changed!

Building small flats is the most profitable use of land for private developers and the most efficient, in terms of generating the highest land premium, for government. But, this is not the way for people to live in 'Asia's world city'.

No wonder Hong Kong ranked 70th out of 214 places in the global Quality of Living index in 2008.

The government should be ashamed for not promoting public welfare and squishing people into an average living space of 12 square metres. Even people in Shenzhen enjoy more elbow room than us with 19 square metres.

So, forget about Hong Kong's self-styled capitalism that advocates 'Big Market, Small Government'. It's much closer to the truth to say 'Big Market, Small Flats' or even better, 'Big Government, Small Brains'.

'Ben fatto' for Tony's deft Italian touch

Cathay Pacific Airways chief executive Tony Tyler is full of surprises. At a private party last night to celebrate the launch of the airline's Milan service at the end of the month, Tyler welcomed guests in fluent Italian. Bravo!

No doubt a large contingent of Italians, among the 200 guests, led by Luca Fraticelli, deputy head of the consulate and Romano Baruzzi, Italy's trade commissioner in Hong Kong, were thoroughly amazed.

Tyler even let guests in on a bit of personal history, saying Italy and Milan have a special place in his heart. The chief was posted to Rome to open Cathay's Italian operation 24 years ago when his hair was a bit thicker and a different shade than it is today.

Someone in the audience whispered: 'Tony would have been a fit rugby player back then.'

We disagreed: 'He is still very fit now although his hair is a bit thinner and in a different shade today.'

Sono incredibili Tony!

Taiwan hopes to light up smoking travellers' lives

We hear Taiwan's tourism bureau is desperate to lure back Japanese visitors by relaxing its smoking ban to set up rooms for the habit at Taoyuan International Airport.

The move came after a Japanese tourism association complained that the rule was pushing visitors away, and thus threatening the industry.

Despite the ban, airport officials had earlier created two outdoor smoking terraces for visitors.

Now, they are mulling over a plan for indoor smoking areas with air-filtering systems.

We hear that an earlier plan for nine such rooms was rejected by anti-smoking groups. Mind you, if they do set up that many smoking rooms, they may as well stub out the ban altogether.