The Audit Commission has warned of long waits for public flats as it cast doubt on the government's claim to have enough land to meet its ambitious home-building targets.
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying pledged in his January policy address to provide 200,000 new public rental flats in the decade to 2023, up from the 180,000 he promised a year earlier. Government sources said after the speech that they had identified 80 sites to be rezoned for residential use, enough to provide the public flats and meet a wider target of offering 470,000 public and private flats by 2023.
But the government watchdog said yesterday that 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.
The commission urged the Housing Department to co-ordinate better with other bureaus and departments to streamline the planning and land administration processes, and to increase flat production, for example by increasing building density on public estates.
A shortfall in new public flats could push waiting times from the present three years to five years in 2020, the auditor warns.
"By its [the Housing Department's] internal scrutiny, the department was aware that it was difficult to maintain the average application waiting time at around three years," director of audit David Sun Tak-kei said.
The department said yesterday that it welcomed the report, and that most of its recommendations had been implemented or "taken on board".
Dr Andy Kwan Cheuk-chiu, a member of the long-term housing strategy steering committee, said he believed the government could still meet its housing target, with a strong political will.
"Plot ratios may have to be relaxed a bit … It will also depend on how strong opposition is from local residents affected," he said.
The report also revealed that HK$32 million in public money was wasted on new lifts at the Pak Tin Estate, Shek Kip Mei, just before the administration decided to redevelop it in 2012. Within 12 months of the new lifts going into service, 94 per cent of residents had moved out. The auditor blamed a lack of co-ordination between departments for the problem.
The report also revealed that four departments owned 498 vacant homes previously used to house civil servants, while 198 other government-owned homes were leased or pending disposal. This went against a policy of selling former civil-service quarters to raise money. New civil servants have not been offered housing since 1990.