Decision to ditch flats for Hong Kong's elderly 'bewildering'

Housing Society accused of conforming to government's new housing policy after project ruled financially unviable after six years

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 December, 2013, 5:16am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 December, 2013, 10:58am

Two sites designated for upmarket elderly flats are instead being returned to the government to help achieve its housing target because the six-year-old project was suddenly ruled "financially unviable".

The decision by the Housing Society to drop the project in Tin Shui Wai, Yuen Long, was described by real-estate professor Chau Kwong-wing as "incomprehensible".

Chau, of the University of Hong Kong, believes the move may have been influenced by the government's pledge to provide 470,000 flats in the next decade.

But a spokesman for the society insisted yesterday: "This is entirely a decision of the Housing Society without government interference.

"After prudent consideration, we consider that the financial and manpower resources saved from the project could be better utilised in other housing and social projects, including public estate redevelopment."

Chau said: "I don't think redeveloping public estates would be more financially viable. The challenges have been known for six years. However, the move is not surprising as building high-end flats is politically incorrect these days.

"The society is deemed to have aligned with the new direction of the government's housing policy," he added.

The Development Bureau said the two sites would be returned to the government for private residential development. The project would have provided about 1,000 elderly-friendly units, a wellness centre, a residential care home for the elderly, a hotel, and various vocational training and recreation facilities.

Back in 2010, when Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was secretary for development, she said the project was expected to reduce social and economic problems in the remote area by creating 1,500 jobs and attracting commercial activities.

The flats were part of a Joyous Living Scheme in which 2,000 elderly people had registered their interest.

A source close to the Housing Society said yesterday that caves had been found in the porous karst landscape around the Tin Shui Wai site, and, with the soaring price of labour, the construction cost had at least doubled.

In March this year, the Housing Society had HK$19.8 billion in financial assets.

Elderly Commission chairman Alfred Chan Cheung-ming said the government needed to build homes for the ageing population. And lawmaker Wong Kwok-hing, chairman of the housing panel, said the sites should be used for subsidised housing instead of private units.