Shui On boss Vincent Lo Hong-sui calls for 'revolution' in planning process

Urgent overhaul is needed to speed up building of flats, and the city's housing problems aren't Leung Chun-ying's fault, property tycoon says

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 March, 2014, 11:41am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 March, 2014, 5:19pm

A property tycoon who is a key supporter of Leung Chun-ying has called on the chief executive to review the city's land policy and to "revolutionise" its planning process.

Shui On Land chairman Vincent Lo Hong-sui said an overhaul was urgently needed to speed up the building of flats, which he said had been delayed by colonial-era policies. He also echoed recent calls to use countryside land, including on Lantau Island, for building flats.

"I hope Leung will revolutionise the planning process," Lo, a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, told the South China Morning Post in Beijing.

"We have to quickly look at our land policy and then make sure of the supply."

Lo's call came as the government struggles to contain what he termed "totally unreasonable" property prices.

Extra stamp duties have been imposed on property to check prices and curb speculation, but land scarcity has often been identified as the root cause of the problem.

But Lo said the incumbent chief executive should not be blamed for the government's perceived inability to alleviate the city's housing shortage.

"Leung is having a hard time because he has to follow the procedures," he said. "The current system was established by the colonial government … We had no say and it was very effective. But we are now in a totally different place.

"Leung wants to do something, but the government officials are telling him that the fastest [process of converting land for development] would take some 70 months - and that is beyond his term."

Preparing a site for housing development usually takes three to five years, and involves rezoning, land formation, public consultation and infrastructure building.

The rezoning process, which is controlled by the Town Planning Board, and consultation with district councils takes more than a year.

Time is also needed to equip the land with public utilities such as sewage and water systems.

Lo said the housing issue, which he cited as the cause of widespread anti-Leung sentiment in the city, was a remnant of the previous government.

"Housing prices are totally unreasonable now. The previous regime did not do anything," he said, referring to the administration of former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen.

If Hongkongers wanted an "equal, fair and just society", then some of the city's green spaces should be used to build flats.

"We can build a lot if we use just a few per cent of the green space ... And Lantau is such a huge space. Can we not build more there?"

Speaking of Leung's lack of support in the cabinet and the Legislative Council, Lo said the city should contemplate a coalition government.

"The chief executive should align himself with a political party with which he is well acquainted," he said. The Basic Law requires the chief executive to be an independent.