Any moves to build more attractive public flats are at least four years away because work has already been contracted to 2004, a housing official said yesterday. But he stressed the department was keen to adopt new designs to improve the appearance of the buildings. The department has built 169 public estates and 161 Home Ownership Scheme projects to house nearly 900,000 families, or more than three million people. But the bland designs of public blocks have drawn scathing comments from a team of University of Hong Kong professors, who have described them as expensive and more time-consuming to build than many private flats. The official said the department did not agree with the team's findings but conceded public blocks lacked character and aesthetic appeal. 'Many Housing Authority members have complained that they easily get lost in new towns. They cannot distinguish Ma On Shan from Tseung Kwan O because all public flats look the same - there is no landmark,' he said. 'We understand that our standard designs are like mass production in factories. So the final products may not fit all environments and landscapes and do not maximise the land use in the best possible way.' The Real Estate Developers' Association does not believe non-standard designs for Home Ownership Scheme flats will provide competition for private developers because they are aimed at different buyers. An association spokesman said private flats remained attractive because of their price and quality.