Donald Tsang

We're being squeezed tighter than ever - it really is a dog's life

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 October, 2010, 12:00am

Dog owners will be happy with the chief executive's policy address, but cat lovers may feel let down. Featuring a photo of poodles and smiling owners on a large public lawn, the policy summary leaflet announces a new government initiative to allow our canine friends into more public venues, while more dog parks will also be opened.

No mention is made of cats, birds, hamsters, pet snakes or giant pandas in the address. That's 'speciesism', some might say. Given our government's time-honoured propensity to hand out temporary perks and benefits to silence critics, and placate as many constituencies as possible, pet owners other than dog lovers may feel the need to take to the streets on this one.

They will be right to make their voices heard. In fact, even dog owners should join them, because the real interests of their canine friends - their need for humane liveable space at home - are swept under the carpet in this policy address. Don't be fooled by the new policies on land and flats supply, or the plan to regulate the private property market. They will do little to enlarge your living space - or that for your pets.

When Donald Tsang Yam-kuen announces a new home purchase scheme that will provide 5,000 small- and medium-sized flats in partnership with the Housing Society, the emphasis should be on the word 'small'. The flats built by the society usually don't allow pets or even plants. Such rules are rarely violated anyway because there is barely enough room for people in these flats let alone the family pet. The 5,000 new flats will be no bigger than those built under previous efforts. Keeping a pet in them could be construed as inhumane.

This is not to say animals will live any better in private estates. In the address, Tsang says the Urban Renewal Authority and the MTR Corporation will build more small- and medium-sized flats. Again, that cursed word 'small'. In addition, a committee will be set up to 'discuss specific issues on regulating the sale of new flats by legislation'. This is necessary because showroom flats look nothing like the real flats you are buying and you usually don't get to see the floor plan until you have handed over a down payment. But note the words 'committee' and 'discuss' in the policy address: after committee discussions, there will likely be a consultation or two ... then, probably business as usual.

More importantly, Tsang says efforts will be made to control the 'inflated building' problem and do away with, or lower, floor concessions for some building features, but not all. This refers to a common problem encountered when buying a flat whereby you end up paying extra for public spaces on your estate that you don't get to live in but which are still counted in arriving at the figure for the size of your home. In Hong Kong, if you falsely weigh seafood or vegetables for your customers you can land yourself in jail, but if you sell enough inflated flats here you become a property tycoon.

That's why our flats are getting smaller and our pets have no space to run around, assuming they are allowed to in the first place. Will the new measures improve matters? Don't hold your breath. The share prices of developers fell briefly yesterday, but after the initial shock of the address, they quickly recovered, indicating the market had shrugged off Tsang's proposals.

In Hong Kong, space is relative, depending on whether you measure a flat, or the developer and its agents do. Our liveable space at home is getting smaller as it is transformed into outsized profits for developers and land revenue for the government.

We already live like caged animals. Don't expect our pets to do any better.