Chief executive declares his priorities for helping an overcrowded city
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying pledges a raft of measures to ease the plight of an overcrowded city beset by poverty and pollution
Embattled Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying yesterday laid out ambitious plans in his maiden policy address to boost land supply and address the city's acute housing problems.
A blueprint that will set policy direction in the next five years, Leung's plan contains few surprises but sticks to a pragmatic approach, with plenty of measures to tackle economic, environmental and social issues. He also declared that it was the government's main concern to ensure an adequate and steady supply of land and homes.
"The top priority of the current [...] government is to tackle the housing problem," the 58-year-old chief executive told the Legislative Council, acknowledging the sharp rise in property prices and an outcry over the cramped living conditions of tens of thousands of people.
"We recognise that problems stemming from property prices and rental, cage homes, cubicle apartments and subdivided units cannot be solved overnight. But we must acknowledge these problems, understand the gravity of the situation, and take the first step forward to resolve them," Leung said. He highlighted the need to improve Hongkongers' living space, citing his personal encounters with people living in subdivided flats.
He appealed to the young generation to consider the "overall interests of the community" when deciding whether to oppose new town developments.
Among controversial plans to build up a land reserve are proposals to reclaim large tracts of land amounting to 3,000 hectares, including building artificial islands east of Lantau. Other measures include lifting 40-year-old development restrictions in Mid-Levels and Pok Fu Lam, asking private developers to provide public housing in former quarry sites and building a new town for 260,000 people in the 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.
He admitted there would be a time lag before these measures took effect and, to the dismay of some, the supply of public flats would rise from 15,000 units a year to 20,000 only from 2018.
A government source said the supply of 75,000 public housing flats over the five yeas from this year and the provision of another 100,000 units in five years from 2018 was the minimum target, adding that "the government will revise the target upwards after getting more concrete figures".
On the economic front, Leung said the government must be "appropriately proactive" to safeguard Hongkongers' interests, a point underpinned by earlier policies. These include restrictions on non-permanent residents buying property, such as the 15 per cent buyer's stamp duty, and banning mainland women from giving birth in Hong Kong. This "zero delivery quota" policy, for mainlanders whose husbands are not Hong Kong residents, would be maintained.
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 relief measures in his budget speech on February 27.
To clean up the environment, the government will phase out old diesel commercial vehicles and give owners HK$10 billion in subsidies to replace 80,000 heavily polluting ones.
Leung said little about universal suffrage and did not give a timetable for the consultation on the chief executive election in 2017 and the Legislative Council election in 2016, saying only that these would be conducted at an "appropriate juncture".
Political scientist Dr Li Pang-kwong, of Lingnan University, said the chief executive "could have given more details on how the consultation would be done. It is also disappointing to hear that Leung did not touch on any governance issues."
Chung Kim-wah, director of the Centre for Social Policy Studies at Polytechnic University, said Leung had only taken further land measures initiated by the previous administration. "The key is how to deliver it amid diverse interests and opposition. But Leung didn't tell us."
KEY POINTS OF LEUNG’S BLUEPRINT
HK$10 billion in subsidies to get polluting commercial vehicles off the road
Consider scrapping a policy that restricts property development in Pok Fu Lam and Mid-Levels.
Develop a new town the size of Fanling or Sheung Shui
Reclaim 2,000 to 3,000 hectares outside Victoria Harbour
Abolish HK$400 monthly levy on employers of foreign domestic helpers.
Explore feasibility of incorporating nursing homes for elderly into redevelopment projects
Set up committee on standard working hours
Unify fees on sports facilities
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