Leung Chun-ying

CY urged to show caution in race to boost housing supply

Leung is urged not to sacrifice community facilities or quality urban living

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 February, 2013, 4:10pm

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has been warned not to sacrifice quality urban living and community facilities in his desperate hunt for housing land.

The message was spelled out by influential figures in the wake of his policy address, which put housing at the top of his administration's agenda.

One of the short-term measures to increase land supply involves the rezoning of at least 36 "government, institution or community" sites into residential use.

The sites were originally for schools, community halls, welfare or recreational buildings.

But Donald Choi Wun-hing, managing director of Nan Fung Development, said: "A blind, expeditious, short-term fix of turning sites with other land uses into residential use regardless of other needs is dangerous.

A blind, expeditious, short-term fix of turning sites with other land uses into residential use regardless of other needs is dangerous

"Demand for better air ventilation, humane urban planning and sustainable development must not relent just to build more homes." His concern was shared by Stanley Wong Yuen-fai, vice-chairman of the Town Planning Board, and Institute of Planners president Peter Cookson Smith.

Wong said his board would be scrutinising the applications to rezone the sites in the coming months. But he said: "The board is not a rubber stamp and will serve as a gatekeeper against excessive urban building density."

He said the board had turned down a rezoning proposal in Ma On Shan recently. Similarly, Cookson Smith said he had doubts about raising the plot ratio in urban areas and about lifting building restrictions in Mid-levels and Pok Fu Lam.

He said the government should co-ordinate land use in the New Territories, where large-scale but scattered land acquisition by developers had made proper planning difficult.

The three were among six influential figures invited to voice their views on the housing measures in Leung's policy speech in the latest SCMP Debate.

They agreed most of the other housing and land measures in the policy address were on the right track - noting it would take a few years before the effects were felt. But they were divided over last year's "Hong Kong property for Hong Kong residents" initiative, requiring private developers to sell the flats on new sites to permanent residents only.

While others regard the policy as damaging protectionism, Lawrence Poon Wing-cheung, of the Institute of Surveyors, Peter Pun Kwok-shing, former director of planning, and Shih Wing-ching, founder of Centaline Property, showed support.

Poon said the policy should apply only to land suitable for small to medium-sized flats.

But Shih said it should also cover the resale of the homes and give priority to permanent residents who are first-time buyers. He recommended that half of new sites should be set aside for this purpose.

"If the government really thinks people's housing needs are its top priority, the reduction in land revenue should not be seen as a problem," Shih said.