C.Y. Leung's zeal to tackle housing falls short in execution
C.Y.'s best intentions fail to win favour because of his failure to consult community on proposals
Few doubt Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's determination to tackle housing problems. But a failure to consult on some of his policies - especially on land rezoning - is souring the government's relationship with the community.
Leung has revived a range of housing measures suspended since the financial crisis in 2003 that his predecessor, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, refused to resurrect.
"The most important thing that C.Y. Leung did was to revisit the concept of a land bank for future developments and propose ways to build it up. It's vital because land supply has huge implications on people's livelihood and economic development," said Marco Wu Moon-hoi, who advised Leung in drafting his election manifesto last year.
The administration has abolished the land-sale list application system and resumed regular sales; it has proposed reclamation to build up the land bank; and it has re-established a committee to draft a Long Term Housing Strategy for the next decade, assessing how many new homes should be built to meet population growth. It has confirmed the Home Ownership Scheme as a key element in delivering subsidised housing.
Wu also points to initiatives that "give priority to Hong Kong people" in the property market, such as the 30-year ban on non-resident buyers at two prime sites at the former Kai Tak airport, and a 15 per cent buyers' tax on non-residents and companies.
These measures were welcomed by the community but businesses and investors cried foul and accused the government of protectionism.
On the other hand, some of Leung's policies to increase the housing supply have met public outrage, most notably the plan to rezone dozens of sites earmarked for community and public facilities for residential use, and put 22 such sites to this year's land sale programme even before the statutory rezoning process and public consultation takes place.
"The government has to take the pains to explain to the people the broader picture, why we need land so desperately," Wu said. "Otherwise people will continue to stick to local interests and don't want their own area being packed with housing blocks."
A case in point is the former Lee Wai Lee vocational education campus in Kowloon Tong, where students from the neighbouring Baptist University are fiercely protesting against rezoning as they want to keep the site for education use. The Town Planning Board has received a record of more than 20,000 submissions against the rezoning plan and is expected to hold a marathon hearing soon.
Fierce objections from the local level to rezoning showed up Leung's lack of political authority and skills, said Lee Wing-tat, a former lawmaker who now runs concern group Land Watch.
"What makes a good leader? It is the ability to lobby opponents' support?" Lee asked. "I can't see Leung's efforts to mobilise his political resources to lobby people like district councillors. Leung is too desperate to show achievements in housing. He has given too many promises in his election manifesto."