Housing chief admits land shortfall in plan to build 200,000 public rental flats

After watchdog identifies discrepancy, Anthony Cheung says ‘any long-term forecast has its limits’

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 May, 2014, 1:59pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 May, 2014, 3:32am

Transport and housing minister Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung today confirmed that the land available for public rental flats falls short of the official target to build 200,000 apartments over the next decade.

An Audit Commission report released on April 16 said that the government failed to inform the public even though it was aware back in 2012 that there might not be enough land to meet its ambitious home-building targets.

The report also said that in 2012 the government already projected the average waiting time for public rental flats will extend to five years in 2020 from the current three years, which is also the average waiting time the government promised applicants.

“The Housing Authority did make such a projection for internal reference, but any long-term forecast has its limits, and due to constraints in [research] methods, making a forecast in 2012 on what happens eight years later may result in a higher chance of inaccuracy,” Cheung said at a Legislative Council public accounts committee’s public hearing on the audit report.

Since being advised of the forecast, the government has put in more effort to find suitable land for public rental flats to “avoid the five-year forecast from becoming a reality”, he added.

The government now faces a bigger challenge to meet the three-year target, he said, and there might be “occasional deviation from the target” but the target can be met with greater effort.

Echoing Cheung’s remarks, development minister Paul Chan Mo-po said the bureau is now working with the housing bureau to find land although “few easy options were left” and that the fastest way is to use developed lands in urban area and new towns.

The 150 pieces of land the government has earmarked for subsidised housing, Chan said, could provide 210,000 flats in the next five years. He admitted, however, that concerns at district level about the new housing projects remain a challenge.

The government watchdog last month said its studies had shown a shortfall of 38 hectares on the land needed for public flats, even if the administration was able to “resolve many technical issues, local objections and [carry out] necessary rezoning” on other sites it had identified. That would mean it could build only 179,000 flats, 21,000 fewer than the target.

But lawmakers doubted if the government could still meet its target and questioned the bureau’s ability to handle both of the broad policy areas under its purview.

Lawmaker Kenneth Leung said he would propose at the next council meeting to discuss whether the current structure of the Transport and Housing Bureau is appropriate by putting the two policy areas of great public concern under a single bureau.

Civic Party lawmaker Alan Leong Kah-kit also doubted if different government departments involved in public housing policy have a consensus on their estimation on future subsidised flats’ supply as past examples reveal the Housing Department could have a different forecast from the Long-term Housing Strategy Steering Committee.

Pro-establishment lawmaker Gary Chan Hak-kan also demanded that the government should give an explanation on the widening gap of 19 per cent in 2012 between the flats being built and the target which the government has set, up from 1 per cent in 2008.