Analysis: New flat sites go only small way to solving Hong Kong housing problems
Release of extra plots helps to reach target, but sceptics feel housing pledge will be hard to keep
The government moved closer towards fulfilling its promise to provide land for 20,000 private flats a year with its announcement that six more sites would be put up for sale before the end of this financial year.
But uncertainty about future land reserves, including railway sites for property developments, has cast doubt on the pledge in the long run.
The announcement on Monday by Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po seemed timed to appear as a Christmas gift to Hongkongers yearning for affordable flats.
The six sites - two at Kai Tak and one each in Tseung Kwan O, Ho Man Tin, Sha Tin and Tuen Mun - are expected to be released in the fourth quarter of this financial year and eventually provide about 3,000 flats. This is up 70 per cent compared with the 1,760 flats from land released in the third quarter.
"[It] shows the government's determination to increase the provision of land for housing," Chan said.
The pledge of land for 20,000 flats a year over the next 10 years was made by former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen in his 2010 policy address.
Chan said that in addition to the 3,000 flats in the latest land release, 5,100 flats would be provided at 18 sites sold or applied for in the past nine months. Three MTR stations under the government's control at Tai Wai, Long Ping South and Tuen Wan West were also in the pipeline. These would offer at least 7,000 flats, increasing the total to about 15,000.
The remaining 5,000 are expected to come from redevelopments and change of land use by private developers and the Urban Renewal Authority.
City University real restate specialist Dr Lawrence Poon Wing-cheung said he saw no difficulty in achieving the target this year. "But I'm worried about the year after 2013, especially when the government is having a hard time pushing through new developments in the Northeastern New Territories and generating land through reclamation," Poon, a spokesman for the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors, said.
Chan emphasised in his announcement that railway property developments were a key source of land supply. But the stock would not last long. Only five stations, Kam Sheung Road, Kwai Fong, Pat Heung, Tin Shui Wai and Yuen Long, had yet to be developed along West Rail, where land was fully owned by the government and the MTR Corporation was only the government's agent.
With conflicts involving developers and villagers in the New Territories and reclamation taking about eight years, meeting the annual target could be a daunting task, experts say.