Green rules give us more small flats, but bigger homes for rich

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 December, 2010, 12:00am

By taking advantage of the same green policy that leaves most flat buyers with small apartments, the very rich can vastly increase the size of their homes.

In the most recent instance, the city's wealthiest tycoon, Li Ka-shing, recently had an estate enlarged by more than 9,100 square feet.

Under a policy that exempts amenities and environment-friendly facilities from the calculation of gross floor area, the government approved a 'bonus area' that more than doubled the original 8,842 sq ft area of the Li residence.

The exemption connects to public unhappiness over the practice of charging buyers for the gross floor area of flats.

Just as developers are encouraged by the Buildings Department to expand floor area if they add green features like podiums, gardens, balconies and club houses - thus increasing the gross footage and rent of each unit - rich homeowners are able to use the same freedoms to maximise their plot ratios.

For wealthy home-builders like Li, this policy can be very convenient. According to details made public by the Buildings Department on Tuesday, Li's house at 79 Deep Water Bay Road is allowed 9,100 sq ft for its green features, amenity features, car park and plant rooms.

The car park, including the loading and unloading areas, accounts for 6,018 sq ft. If a parking space is 200 sq ft, then Li's parking lot can hold 30 cars.

'I'm not discriminating against the rich but the enormous parking areas at free-standing houses are often illegally turned into a domestic area or recreational room,' said lawmaker Lee Wing-tat of the Democratic Party. 'The problem is these cases are seldom enforced and prosecuted. Will Li park 30 cars in his house? I doubt it.'

No details were released as to the kind of green and amenity features incorporated into Li's residence, which was bought in 1963 for HK$650,000.

Written correspondence, however, between the developer and the department show the house has balconies, non-enclosed utility platforms and wide lift lobbies. Recreational facilities are designated as a common area - for the exclusive use of the owner and his visitors.

Calls to Cheung Kong (Holdings), Li's flagship company, were not answered yesterday.

A Buildings Department spokeswoman said all exempted areas were approved according to the building ordinance. A spokeswoman for the Planning Department said the outline zoning plan allowed the site owner to build a one-storey car park.

The Transport Department said last year it was conducting a study to cut parking space in some districts. Wong Kam-sing, a director of the Green Building Council, urged the government to announce the results of the study before the new guidelines are implemented in April.

Li is not the first to double the size of his house in this way. According to cases disclosed by the Development Bureau last year, the area of a house at 78 Mount Kellett Road increased 112 per cent due to exempted areas given by the Buildings Department.

A sole owner of houses enjoys all the additional areas he obtains. Flat owners, however, have to share those areas with other occupants.

While the government is considering forcing developers to sell flats in terms of saleable area - the internal area of a flat - the Development Bureau said a few months ago that exempted areas should be capped at 10 per cent of total development areas.