Former Hong Kong development chief Paul Chan hands over long waits and land rows
CY Leung’s minister, before moving to Finance Bureau, faced controversies over Wang Chau, missed targets, and his own land interests
Boosting land supply has been the main buzz phrase Hongkongers have heard since Leung Chun-ying’s government took over five years ago. Paul Chan Mo-po, who headed the Development Bureau before replacing John Tsang Chun-wah as financial secretary in January, started the job with much controversy and left with some major targets unmet.
Chan’s suitability for the job was called into question shortly after he got it in 2012, especially after it was revealed his family owned 18,000 sq ft of farmland in Kwu Tung North, which the government planned to develop into a new town. And a year later a company controlled by Chan’s wife was revealed to have been running illegally subdivided flats.
Chan, a former legislator for the accountancy sector, did not emerge from the controversies unscathed. The government had long been accused of getting too cosy with developers, who had been buying cheap farmland in the New Territories and waiting for new town development opportunities. And the proliferation of subdivided flats had been marked as a symptom of Hong Kong’s housing malaise.
Upon taking the helm of the Development Bureau, Chan was supposed to help solve these intractable problems, neither of which have gone away.
During his four and a half years in charge, his team managed to meet the private housing supply targetof 18,000 a year. But his bureau struggled to find land for public housing. The government had targeted 280,000 public flats by 2025-26, but announced a shortfall of 44,000 last year.
Meanwhile the average wait for public housing hit 4.6 years in March, exceeding the target of three years. There were about 147,300 family or elderly single applicants waiting, and 128,600 non-elderly single applicants.
Chan’s team has been accused of ignoring available land to protect vested interests, while favouring big, expensive infrastructure projects such as reclaiming land.
That issue came into sharp focus last year, with the revelation that the government had delayed a public housing project on a plot of degraded farmland being used for industry in Wang Chau, Yuen Long, after meetings with rural strongmen with interests in the site. Instead, they had gone for public housing on an adjacent site, which was heavily vegetated green belt site with lower development priority. That development will displace three villages.
The bureau has also announced a long-term blueprint for the city, envisioning a 1,000-hectare man-made island off the east coast of Lantau Island.
Eric Ma Siu-cheung is running the bureau until Leung’s tenure ends. But with housing targets missed, land resources left untapped or hard to secure and massive new town projects on the table, Chan’s long-term successor Michael Wong Wai-lun will inherit a basket of thorny issues.