Hong Kong housing

Hong Kong development boss hits back at land policy critics and those urging fewer mainland immigrants

Paul Chan Mo-po cites figures to support boosting housing capacity in face of ageing local workforce

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 October, 2016, 6:54pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 October, 2016, 10:37pm

Hong Kong’s development chief took to his online blog on Sunday to fend off critics of the government’s land supply strategy, branding calls to curb immigrants as oversimplified and “prone to fallacy”.

Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po hit back at those questioning the urgency of grabbing all sorts of land for development amid slowing population growth and plenty of vacant flats and underused plots, including brownfield sites and village areas across the New Territories.

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“These arguments are often misunderstood and prone to fallacy as a result of being partial or overly simplified,” he wrote. “Over the last few decades, the problems of the slow pace of land development have been all too clear to everyone.”

The city’s population has increased nine per cent and the number of households 21 per cent from 2000 to last year. However, the amount of land made available for development over the same period has grown by only 3,800 hectares, or 17 per cent – far lower than the 8,000 hectares freed up in the preceding 15-year period.

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The population was expected to grow another 13.5 per cent and households by 20 per cent between 2014 and 2044. But Chan stressed that average household sizes would shrink simultaneously. In the last 15 years, he noted, average households have shrunk from 3.7 people per household to just 2.7.

“In other words, Hong Kong will have to increase its housing capacity by at least one fifth in the next 30 years alone and this doesn’t take into account the 90,000 subdivided dwellers and 290,000 backlogged applications for public housing,” he wrote.

“The fact is that even if there were no more new arrivals to Hong Kong, the average household size is declining and the increase in numbers of households will still result in a housing demand,” he added.

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He dismissed proposals to end one-way permits from the mainland as something that would be controversial and “without an ethical or legal basis”. Nor would a prohibition help alleviate the problems of an ageing population, Chan argued.

“Hong Kong’s workforce will start to shrink the next few years,” he continued. “Therefore, to sustain economic development, new population growth is necessary.”

Hong Kong’s workforce will start to shrink the next few years. Therefore, to sustain economic development, new population growth is necessary
Paul Chan Mo-po, Hong Kong development secretary

Chan also wrote that new sources of housing demand would arise from urban redevelopment and keeping urban density under control. He brushed off suggestions that new development areas should allocate more space for land as “balanced development” was just as important.

Taking note of the development chief’s latest blog posting, environmental activist Roy Tam Hoi-pong of the NeoDemocrats stressed that Hong Kong’s housing problems were tied to population policy. He reiterated calls for a reduction in quotas for one-way permits.

“One-way permit holders raise competition in the public housing sector, while professionals raise competition in the private market,” he said. “Both compete with Hong Kong’s housing needs ... and put pressure on the city’s capacity.”

Earlier this month, the Our Hong Kong Foundation think tank led by former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa urged the government to increase development density in new areas and speed up progress in Lantau Island.