Listen to owners, says U.R.A. head

The authority will take on more owner-initiated projects and speed up acquisitions to meet the housing shortage, says new chairman

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 June, 2013, 4:18am

The new head of the Urban Renewal Authority wants to take on more demand-led projects - those initiated by owners - and speed up acquisition of buildings for redevelopment in an effort to help meet soaring housing demand.

These are the top items on the agenda of URA chairman Victor So Hing-who, followed by more community "clubhouses" to draw people together in new developments.

In an interview with the South China Morning Post yesterday, So said a way of increasing flat supply was to speed up demand-led projects.

"We have been receiving overwhelming response from residents," he said.

So was appointed to the post at short notice to replace Barry Cheung Chun-yuen who resigned abruptly last month when he was asked to assist in an investigation into a fraud case involving his failed Hong Kong Mercantile Exchange.

The appointment of the former Link Reit chief executive comes as the authority faces pressure from rising demand for affordable flats and chief executive Leung Chun-ying's pledge to increase housing supply.

That pressure was ratcheted up when the government revealed in a consultancy study on Thursday that the city would need 447,000 new homes in the next decade. The means 4,700 new homes are needed every year, on top of the government's existing target of 40,000 public and private flats annually.

Previously the URA would identify ageing areas for redevelopment then set about acquiring the buildings.

Recently, however, it has also been accepting resident-initiated projects in which at least 67 per cent of the owners have agreed to redevelopment.

"But we have to be careful [of the financial impact] too, because these projects usually have small sites and have little room to build more floor area," So said.

Authority figures show that five of the seven demand-led projects launched so far are together expected to lose HK$760 million - equivalent to a quarter of the total investment in them.

So said other ways to increase flat supply included an earlier start on proposed redevelopments in Kowloon City and quicker acquisitions for projects in Kwun Tong, Sham Shui Po and Nga Tsin Wai Village.

He said the authority would be patient with residents who refused to leave and would act according to the law when resuming land.

Despite a record surplus of HK$4.4 billion in the last financial year, the authority is expected to spend HK$26 billion on projects to be started in the next five years. That figure does not include demand-led projects.

The authority's increasing financial burden is also evident in the rise of acquisition prices.

Affected flat owners in Kwun Tong town centre and Reclamation Street in Mong Kok were yesterday offered a record acquisition price of HK$11,483 and HK$11,832 per square foot of saleable area respectively.

Despite the cost, So said he would like to see more community centres built in larger renewal sites, including Sham Shui Po.

"They are like clubhouses for the community," he said.

"Parents and grandparents can bring along their little ones and play. In Canada, children don't even have to bring toys as the centres have them all," he said. "Our city lacks a sense of neighbourhood."