Tycoon's offer to donate land puts housing officials on the spot

There's no easy way to accommodate developer's donation within housing guidelines, officials say

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 June, 2013, 4:07am

The government is in a dilemma over property tycoon Lee Shau-kee's offer to donate land to build cheap homes for young people, because it does not want to make exceptions in its housing policies by targeting specific groups of people, sources say.

"We have a headache," a government source said. "We appreciate Mr Lee's generosity and his move is encouraging. But the offer comes with conditions and there are practical difficulties. How do we define 'young people', for example?"

Officials were also worried the young-people-only move would annoy other groups, such as older people in subdivided flats who had waited years for public rental housing, the source said.

The government is under pressure to explain the progress of its talks with Lee, the chairman of Henderson Land Development, after he disclosed last week that officials were considering two out of seven farm plots he had offered to help resolve the city's housing problems.

The two plots - their exact locations unknown - are in Yuen Long and Fanling. They can provide more than 3,000 flats. It is understood Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor are involved in the dialogue.

Another official said departments were still in talks with Henderson in the hope Lee would understand their difficulties. "The government does not want to create a new category of subsidised housing for Henderson."

Lee wants the land to be used to build 300 sq ft flats to be sold to young people for HK$1 million, priced only on the construction cost. But his plan does not fit in with the government's subsidised-housing schemes, which do not set an age limit on applicants. The schemes sell flats at a discount to their market value.

A Henderson spokeswoman told the South China Morning Post that what Lee said was a wish, "not conditions".

"Mr Lee sees this as a charity project and he is open to counter-proposals," she said.

Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun noted public concerns about whether the developer was trying to pave the way for opening up other sites nearby because those sites would benefit from the new infrastructure - a claim Lee has denied.

"They'd better tell us where exactly the land is so that the public can judge if there's any transfer of interest," he said.

Housing Society chairman Marco Wu Moon-hoi earlier said adjustments could be made to cater to young people.

Housing Authority member Michael Choi Ngai-min said a quota, instead of all units, could be reserved for young people in the batch of homes to be built.