'Hong Kong mindset' blamed for failure of care home incentive scheme

Flat-buyers protecting value of their properties have most sway over developers, says professor

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 December, 2013, 4:58am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 December, 2013, 4:58am

Flat-owners, red tape and a traditional mindset are the most cited causes of the failure of the government's elderly nursing home incentive scheme.

Chau Kwong-wing, real estate professor at the University of Hong Kong, said it was flat buyers who had the most influence on the decision-making of the profit-hungry developers.

"In the end, it's about the mindset of Hong Kong people," he told the Post.

Kenneth Chan Chi-yuk, chairman of the Elderly Services Association of Hong Kong, regularly offers assistance to operators of private nursing homes whose operation plans are opposed by district councillors and flat owners nearby. He said he typically encountered three or four cases each year in which care home operators failed to win public support for their projects.

Chan said the most striking case of failure was at the Jubilee Garden development in Fo Tan in the Sha Tin District of the New Territories in 2009.

According to Peter Chan, the operator of Shui On nursing homes, he had spent HK$15 million on renovation and renting a space in the development's shopping mall for a year. The money was wasted as he was forced to give up the project.

The nursing home chief said he just could not afford the waiver - a monthly fee requested by the government to change the land use - as it doubled the monthly rental of HK$400,000. "It was a very disappointing experience," Chan said.

Some speculate that the expensive waiver cost was a result of the pressure exerted from residents. Sha Tin district councillor, Scarlett Pong Oi-lan, who owns Jubilee Garden property, said the mall was not suitable for running a nursing home.

"It is generally inaccessible by wheelchairs. The operator suggested using a cargo lift that runs from the ground to its floor," she said. "But the hygiene was poor as the lift is next to the refuse station.

"Of course, I can't rule out that some owners were worried that it could reduce the price of flats."

Diamond Shea Hing-wan, Hong Kong Owners Club chairman, said it was natural for residents to want to avoid frequent visits of ambulances and even hearses to their developments. "Traditional Chinese tend to believe that it would be very unlucky to see them. It's also inconvenient to share lifts and staircases with the staff and the elderly," Shea said, adding that nursing homes could give rise to hygiene issues in the locality.

He said the deeds of many estates would state clearly that the operation of businesses offering accommodation were not allowed. But Kenneth Chan said that was subject to legal interpretation as it does not necessarily refer to nursing homes.