CY Leung vows to tackle housing crisis in address
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, with popularity flagging, laid out ambitious plans in his maiden policy address on Wednesday to boost land supply and address the city’s acute housing problems.
He also spelled out detailed measures to tackle the city’s economic, environmental and social issues.
In a blueprint that will set the tone for policy direction in the next five years, Leung’s plan contains few surprises but sticks to a pragmatic approach with plenty of details. He has made it the government’s top priority to ensure an adequate and steady supply of land and homes.
He highlighted the need to improve the living space of Hongkongers, citing his personal encounter with people living in poor conditions in subdivided flats, to support his vision for change. But he also appealed to young people to consider the “overall interests of the community” in new town developments.
Among the controversial plans to build up the land reserve are proposals to reclaim large tracts of land amounting to 3,000 hectares, including building artificial islands to Lantau East.
Other measures include lifting the 40-year-old development restrictions imposed on Mid-Levels and Pokfulam, asking private developers to provide public housing in former quarry sites and building a new town for 260,000 people in Northern New Territories.
In the short to medium term, the amount of land designated for housing will grow to 300 hectares - almost eight times the size of the West Kowloon arts hub - providing 128,700 flats by 2020. Leung stressed that while the government is open to different views, it needs to be ready to take action.
“The fact is that the community will never reach a full consensus over such issues [of land supply],” he said. “In fact, we cannot afford to, and should not, wait for a full consensus.”
He admitted that there would be a time lag before these measures took effect and, to some people’s dismay, the supply of public flats would rise from 15,000 units to 20,000 per year only from 2018, a year beyond his term.
"Reactions to CY Leung's policy address", Video by Hedy Bok
On the economic front, Leung said the government must be “appropriately proactive” to safeguard Hong Kong people’s interests first.
This point is underpinned by his earlier policies, which ranged from restricting flat sales to Hong Kong permanent residents only, introducing special buyers’ stamp duty and banning mainland parents from giving birth in Hong Kong. Leung said on Wednesday the zero quota policy would be maintained.
He also outlined the need to consider removing healthcare and education services from a list of six industries that previous administration proposed to promote.
Leung did not go into detail about relief measures for the poor. A government source said Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah would announce more relieve measures on public spending in the coming budget.
To clean up Hong Kong’s environment, the government will phase out old diesel commercial vehicles progressively by giving HK$10 billion in subsidises to owners of more 80,000 heavily polluting vehicles.
This will cut the overall emissions of particulates and nitrogen oxides by 80 per cent and 30 per cent respectively. He said little about universal suffrage and did not give a timetable for the consultation on the election methods of the chief executive in 2017 and the Legislative Council in 2016, saying only that these would be conducted at an “appropriate juncture”.
Political scientist Dr Li Pang-kwong said the chief executive “could have given more details on how the consultation would be done. It is also disappointing to hear he did not touch on any governance issues, given their weak governance and a lack of political talents.”
But Li, of Lingnam University, said Leung had addressed the gravest concern of the general public by introducing his plans to increase land supply: “But it will take time. It would be difficult for his flagging popularity to rebound substantially and immediately.”
Real estate specialist at the City University Lawrence Poon Wing-cheung said it was understandable that the amount of public housing could not be increased sharply in the next few years.
Ryan Lam of Hang Seng Bank said it was hard to gauge the concrete impacts of his policies because some operational details are missing.
“We are nonetheless encourage to see the government wanting to put short-termism behind us,” he said.
But director of the Centre for Social Policy Studies at the Polytechnic University Chung Kim-wah said Leung only took further the land measures initiated by the last administration: “The key is how to deliver it amid diverse interests and opposition. But Leung didn’t tell us.”
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