Close to a third of the sites the government is offering to sell to developers have gone unsold for up to five years despite its push to meet rising demand for flats, Lands Department figures show.
A government housing adviser says the administration should designate "unwanted" sites for public housing, but a real estate academic said the problem highlighted the lack of high-quality development sites and the unpopularity of the land-sales application system.
Thirteen of the 41 sites on the application list for land sales have been on offer for more than a year, and eight of these have been on the list for between two and five years.
Of the sites, eight are for flats - though high-rises can be built on only two, both in Ho Man Tin; the others are for low-rises of fewer than six storeys, and are in Sha Tin and Tuen Mun.
Two other sites are for hotels and three for commercial developments.
Twelve of the sites are less than a hectare in size; the other, a 2.4 hectare site in Ho Man Tin, has been on the list for a year. The site, in Sheung Lok Street, has a maximum permissible floor area of more than one million square feet - enough for at least 1,500 medium-sized flats.
The two hotel sites are in prime urban areas in North Point and Central. The commercial sites are in Ma On Shan, Tung Chung and Wan Chai.
Michael Choi Ngai-min, a member of the government's Long Term Housing Strategy Steering Committee, urged the administration to attract developers by tendering the sites. If they still showed no interest, the sites should be rezoned for public flats or subsidised housing, he said. The government should also consider rezoning the hotel and commercial sites for flats.
But Dr Lawrence Poon Wing-cheung, a spokesman for the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors and a lecturer at City University, said most of the sites were not in the right places for public housing or were unsuitable for high-density developments, which require large sites at convenient nodes.
"The lack of quality sites on the list highlights the urgent need for the government to look for more land to address the housing demand from the general public," Poon said.
He also said developers sometimes did not want to take a risk under the complicated land sales application system, especially during an economic downturn and when measures to the curb property market were expected.
Under the system, a developer who wants to acquire a site on the list submits a price to the Lands Department, which should not be lower than 80 per cent of the market price. If the price is met, the department will sell the site through auction. If no one is interested in bidding, the developer triggering the sale might still have to buy the site at his asking price (if it meets the market price) and it cannot be withdrawn from auction.
Department records show only three sites were triggered for sale in the past 10 months.