• Tue
  • Sep 30, 2014
  • Updated: 7:11pm
CommentInsight & Opinion

Hong Kong's housing policy needs vigorous debate

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 September, 2013, 3:39am

Housing and land supply are arguably Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's toughest challenge. Ever since he made adequate affordable homes the centrepiece of his government, expectations and scepticism have abounded. Not only are his annual flat production targets repeatedly questioned, how they can be achieved is also in doubt.

The pressure for Leung to deliver is renewed by the long-term housing targets laid down by a government advisory panel, which says 470,000 new flats are needed in the next 10 years. It means an annual 47,000 units have to be built, which is more ambitious than Leung's short- and medium-term goal.

But the new target was also criticised by some as conservative, given there are 230,000 applicants for public housing. There are also concerns that public housing may become too dominant under the proposed 60-40 ratio for public and private flats. The panel raised various options for public consultation, such as shortening the waiting time for non-elderly single people and a subdivided flats licensing system. These deserve vigorous debate in the community.

More importantly, the advisory panel did not address a key question - where does the land come from? Housing chief Anthony Cheung Bing-leung admitted that members did not consider land supply issues and the target was a challenge. In a bid to test public response, development minister Paul Chan Mo-po said there were suggestions that part of the city's 44,239 hectares of protected country park could be released for housing. With 40 per cent of the city's area locked up by law for conservation, officials may think a little sacrifice does no harm. But whether the public finds that acceptable is another matter.

There is no reason why we cannot broach the issue. Given the land shortage, the idea should not remain taboo for discussion. Along with other land supply options, they are matters for the people to decide. For instance, the much criticised small-house policy, under which male indigenous villagers in the New Territories may apply to build a village house on land they own, should be reviewed. It was suggested that there would be enough flats for 300,000 by releasing one-tenth of the 1,000 hectares set aside for village development.

The shortage of land and the need to develop means people will have to make some difficult choices. An early debate on their pros and cons is a good way to foster public consensus on how best to meet our housing needs.


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We need bold visions to develop land by reclaiming land from the sea and develop Lantau Island. The Fanling Golf Club should be the first to be used for redevelopment in the near term.
One other little thing... [It was suggested that there would be enough flats for 300,000 by releasing one-tenth of the 1,000 hectares set aside for village development.]

Unless you go for 200-storey colossuses, you can't build 110,000 (assuming a 2.8 household size for 300,000 people) flats on 100 hectares. If you could, we would be able to satisfy the entire housing supply for the coming decade and beyond by just building flats on the 170 hectares of Fanling golf course and the 350 hectares of the Kai Tak former airport site.

I suspect you were trying to say there is perhaps 10,000 hectares set aside for village development and that 1/10th of that, or 1000 hectares, could provide the housing for 300,000 people...?
Look, debate all sounds great. But the problem is that 'public consultations' in Hong Kong often boil down to the government choosing the way of the coward compromise's least resistance, and it is the vested interest groups of the functional constituencies that offer the most resistance.

If it takes a debate to get there, fine by me, but what we need more than anything is not a debate: it is a comprehensive and ambitious urban planning vision from the government, and the political will, the means and the guts to stick to it. Even if the Heung Yee Ku_k protests, even if the developers don't like it one bit, even it means the status quo gets upset.
Public consultations are mostly a sham. The members who sit on those committee are the regular few who hop from one committee to another looking out vested interests for each other. It is not only a waste of time and money, more importantly it is totally dishonest to the public and nothing gets done properly.
The housing policy requires a public debate. The main reason being is that it hinges on other policies of political in nature which are beyond even a professional town planner’s ability or should. The public debate should be set up not as the usual consultation. The topic should include a revisit of migration policy of that 150 mainlanders daily coming to Hong Kong.
Aren’t we all busying looking for buildable land for their settlement in Hong Kong?
Very well, I see your point. Yet, I would still prefer if editorials like this call for action instead of suggesting even more talk. If needed, we can then have a -real- debate about what precisely the action should be, like you suggest.

Perhaps I am being paranoid, but I get the feeling that every time the government promises us a public debate, or people call for one, what we get in reality is what you describe: a back-room committee that fumbles around for a couple of months, holds a few town halls and then presents some lengthy report with generic conclusions and foregone policy recommendations that the government then may or may not follow... and nothing changes.


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