Housing will be key in CY Leung's maiden policy address
Today and on the next two Mondays, the Post will look ahead to the chief executive's maiden policy address. Here, we examine what he may offer on housing and welfare
After launching more than a dozen housing measures in the six months since he took office, people are wondering what else Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying can conjure up in his debut policy address.
Housing, a perennial hot-button issue, is one of four areas Leung will cover when he sets out his blueprint for the next five years on January 16, along with poverty, the ageing population and the environment.
Officials, as usual, remain tightlipped about what is in the pipeline.
Leung has already put in place tough measures to curb speculation, with a 15 per cent stamp duty imposed on non-local and corporate buyers in October. But advisers expect he will look for more ways to boost land supply in the short and medium terms.
"It seems the overheated market has been stabilised by the buyers' stamp duty. I expect the policy address will go back to look at short-term supply," said Michael Choi Ngai-min, a member of the government steering committee set up by Leung to devise a long-term housing strategy for the city.
The government is struggling to identify plots of land for building homes, and some of the options it has floated have proved controversial.
Developing homes at the former Burma lines military site at Queen's Hill in Fanling is the latest idea. The remote site was zoned for comprehensive development of flats in 1999, but since 2010, the 16-hectare site has been earmarked by the Education Bureau for a private university.
Nine local and overseas institutions have expressed interest in bidding for the site.
But this month, a government source told the media that the education plan might make way for housing. Critics said the abrupt change of plan would disappoint those who had been preparing bids and damage Hong Kong's international reputation.
It is the second controversy to arise from the anxious search for housing land, after government advisers floated the idea of moving a planned sports stadium from the former Kai Tak airport, only to provoke a backlash in the sports community. The idea was subsequently dropped.
Government officials have been criticised for lacking co-ordination, with sports chiefs wanting to keep the stadium in the urban centre, while development officials wanted to get rid of it to provide more flats and offices.
The government has refused to confirm or deny the change of land use at Queen's Hill.
Marco Wu Moon-hoi, a housing adviser close to Leung, would not comment on the reports about Queen's Hill but noted a scramble for land among policy bureaus. He said: "All bureaus should review their projects that need land to deliver. For projects that are of lower priority, the sites reserved for them could give way to other more urgent uses, such as housing."
He added that housing was becoming ever more of a priority, as the number of applicants on the waiting list of cheap public rental homes climbed above 210,000 in September.
"It is inevitable that the annual production target has to be raised to cut the long queue," he said. The current target is 15,000 flats a year.
The government is understood to be looking at a few more sites that have laid idle for years and are readily available for development.
It is expected to decide what sort of subsidised housing would be built on four sites, in Diamond Hill, Sha Tin, Tai Po and Tuen Mun, earmarked for the short-lived My Home Purchase Plan.
The department also told the Post that it was working out land use options for the former Kung Man Village site in Kennedy Town. The 3.62 hectare site was previously withheld until a planned expressway called Route 4 was shelved.
Besides locating new plots of land, more ideas are being put forward to increase short-term housing stock.
Michael Choi suggested allowing earlier presale of private flats under construction. At present such flats can be put on the market 20 months before completion. Choi said the presale could happen earlier, maybe by five months. Other possible measures, mentioned by Leung himself earlier this month, are to cut short the "lengthy" town planning process for changing the type of development allowed at a site and to increase the plot ratio - allowing a more dense development - in certain areas.
For a site to be rezoned for a new use, including housing, an amendment has to be made on the "outline zoning plan" of the district in which it is located.
The Town Planning Board takes two months to collect public views on the changes and then takes another three weeks to gather feedback on those views before holding a hearing.
The board will then make changes to the plan taking into account the comments, and go through the two-step consultation exercise again, before finalising the plan for the Executive Council to approve.
Lawrence Poon Wing-cheung, a spokesman for the Institute of Surveyors, said the institute would support raising plot ratio in certain areas, but warned against moves to cut short the statutory process.
He said: "I understand that Mr Leung is very anxious about solving housing problems, but unless there is strong public backing, any move to get rid of public consultation requirements is bound to be controversial."