THE Housing Authority is to lose some of its autonomy, in an apparent response to recent public criticism of the body. Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands Tony Eason revealed his policy branch had been asked to look at taking on responsibility for housing, in a major change from the present system, where the Housing Authority deals solely with the Governor. Although a final decision has yet to be taken, the proposed change comes amid reports of Governor Chris Patten expressing concern at the extent of public hostility towards the body that houses half of Hongkong's population. While Mr Eason was at pains to stress the authority's achievements, he made it clear changes were necessary. ''It's the external image that has somehow got warped and needs tackling,'' he said. ''It's become apparent over the past couple of years that it is worth there being a second opinion offered as the Housing Authority reaches conclusions.'' But he also praised the body: ''I'm a great admirer of the housing programme, and I don't know what's wrong.'' Another senior Government official said the proposed revamp was a recognition the authority performed poorly, and had failed to justify the autonomy given when it was created five years ago. He said the administration's decision to handle the sandwich class housing scheme itself, rather than entrust it to the Housing Authority, showed something was wrong. The Executive Council's recent rejection of the authority's proposed scheme to sell off flats is seen as further evidence of the need for change. ''In a sense Exco has already made its views known,'' Mr Eason said. ''What we're doing is a reaction to events and indications.'' If the change is approved, the Housing Authority will report directly to Mr Eason, as the Hospital Authority reports to Secretary for Health and Welfare Elizabeth Wong Chien Chi-lien. ''We need to establish a working relationship . . . so that anything that goes from the authority to the Governor has been through the discipline of an exchange between the proposer and the policy branch,'' Mr Eason said. A new post of Deputy Secretary for Housing is expected to be created, while the Planning, Environment and Lands policy branch will take on more staff. Director of Housing Fung Tung said last night he had been informed of the change, and described it as a ''natural'' one. But he said there would be no change to the Housing Authority Ordinance, which makes the body formally accountable to the Governor-in-Council and contains no mention of any role for the Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands. But Housing Authority members expressed concern. Senior member Pao Ping-wing said autonomy and transparency would be undermined if decisions were subject to policy branch approval. ''If decisions lie in the hands of government, then it will be a big setback,'' he said. However, Housing Authority member and legislator Frederick Fung Kin-kee cautiously welcomed the suggestion, and United Democrat legislator and housing spokesman Lee Wing-tat said accountability would become clearer if the idea was carried out. Meanwhile, Mr Eason also said long-delayed proposals for a sewage charge scheme - originally to be published last year - are expected in July or August. In addition, fresh steps will be taken against air pollution, including testing a handful of electric cars in the Government's vehicle fleet, and a fact-finding visit to the Swedish city of Gothenburg, where electric cars are widely used. ''We've got to make sure that, in 10 years' time, Hongkong isn't in the same situation as Athens or Mexico, where they actually have to keep cars off the streets,'' Mr Eason said.