With right policies, there is no need to build in Hong Kong’s country parks

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 February, 2017, 12:16am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 February, 2017, 11:06pm

Rather than simply touting the government/developer line, I would have hoped for more critical analysis from the South China Morning Post in your editorial (“Sacrifices needed on housing issue”, January 24).

There are significantly more residential dwellings in Hong Kong than there are residents to fill them, and actual population growth rates have well undershot government estimates for 30-plus years. Vacant flats are the real problem.

You need to explain why carving up a public good (the country parks, which another article in your paper the same day described as experiencing unprecedented visitor levels and risks of overcrowding) is preferable to taxing the large land banks amassed by property companies to incentivise them to develop and sell off their hoardings. The same goes for rezoning of industrial sites. Only after exhausting this large supply of land should consideration be given to alternatives that reduce the quality of life for everyone.

You mention feasibility studies to address concerns that once encroachment into the country parks begins, it won’t end. This is precisely the case, however. No feasibility study carried out by a government with vested property interests would favour conservation. The financial rewards to be gained in developing country park land incentivises developers to manufacture future land shortages to justify further development.

Instead, government policy should be to diminish the attractiveness of property as a financial asset. Continually rising prices show that stamp duty has had a limited impact. The Hong Kong Monetary Authority policy on mortgage percentages has also been thwarted by property developers offering mortgage percentages far higher than banks are allowed to offer.

Instead, the government should aggressively increase the cost of carry on second and third properties.

Each Hong Kong permanent resident could own one property taxed at the current quarterly rate level, while all additional properties would be taxed at double or triple rates or higher.

Properties held in corporate name should be taxed at the new highest rate, with a one-time waiver of stamp duty allowed to transfer the property from corporate name to individual name. Hoarding of empty flats would be discouraged while generating stable tax revenue to address Hong Kong’s growing social welfare needs.

Addressing this single largest source of societal inequality in Hong Kong would in turn go a long way towards taking the wind out of the sails of localist politicians.

Keith Noyes, Clear Water Bay