IT may be unveiled as part of Tung Chee-hwa's October 6 Policy Address. Even if it is not, an announcement is unlikely to be delayed much longer. On January 1, a five-year experiment in trying to run government housing policy at arms length from the related areas of planning and lands is expected to come to an end. Barring unforeseen obstacles, there is a strong probability of the two policy bureaus now handling these issues being merged. The administration's policy towards the property market is no longer in the mess it was when the issue almost caused the Chief Executive to lose his temper while drafting last year's policy address. The resumption of land sales has gone smoothly, as shown by last week's successful auction, the third since April. But problems remain. That is evident from the dispute over the high premium demanded by the Lands Department for phase three of the proposed Kowloon Station development. This led to unattractive bids from developers and forced the Mass Transit Railway Corporation to put the project on hold. If this is not resolved, the row could affect the future viability of the financial model under which everything from new rail lines to the Cyberport are heavily subsidised by associated property developments. Ever since Gordon Siu Kwing-chue took charge of the Planning, Environment and Lands Bureau earlier this year, the Government has taken a more pro-active approach to tackling such problems. A new system was devised for land sales. Sites on a reserve list can only be put up for sale if a developer expresses interest and pays a substantial deposit. This seems to have worked well in better matching supply and demand. And the Lands Department has announced it will take the unprecedented step of making public details of how it assesses land premiums. This should help defuse controversies such as that which has arisen over Kowloon Station. But, at the moment, there is a limit to how far Mr Siu can go in clarifying such confusions over the Government's attitude towards the property market. Although he is responsible for planning and lands, housing policy falls outside his remit, which is in the hands of a separate Housing Bureau. This uneasy division of duties led to chaos during the first year of the SAR. Bowen Leung Po-wing, Mr Siu's predecessor, and Secretary for Housing Dominic Wong Shing-wah kept contradicting each other over the now abandoned target of building 85,000 flats a year. Mr Leung has since been exiled to the SAR Office in Beijing and Mr Siu is widely seen as much closer to Mr Tung's thinking. Mr Wong's fate is uncertain. But there is now a widespread expectation within the civil service that the two bureaus will be merged, probably at the end of this year. On January 1, Mr Siu will be able to pass responsibility for environmental protection over to the new body being set up to handle the food safety duties of the soon-to-be-dissolved municipal councils. This will make it feasible for him to absorb the extra duties involved in swallowing up the Housing Bureau. It will also restore the situation to that which existed prior to 1994, when planning, lands and housing were all handled by the same policy bureau. This changed when former Governor Chris Patten insisted on setting up a separate Housing Bureau in a crusade against property speculation. But it was never a particularly satisfactory arrangement. As the problems this caused in co-ordinating policies became apparent after the handover, an outside consultant was brought in to advise on how to improve the situation. In late 1997, he put forward several options. Most involved merging the two bureaus. Mr Tung is not one to be rushed into action. A cautious man, papers sit on his desk for months, perhaps years, before a decision is taken. So nothing is certain before it is announced. Even now, a last-minute change of heart cannot be ruled out. But, providing the merger does go ahead, the confusion which has characterised the Government's housing policy over the past two years now stands a good chance of being laid to rest.