The mainland's most prominent property developer has hit out at government controls on land sales, saying policies introduced to cool soaring property prices have largely had the opposite effect. 'Since the government first started trying to control the housing market, prices have actually risen faster than before,' Soho China chairman Pan Shiyi said yesterday. The government launched a campaign almost two years ago to try to rein in soaring urban property prices and introduced restrictive sales taxes early last year to curb short-term speculators. Property prices have continued to increase outside Shanghai, where average prices had doubled in just over three years and have subsequently fallen as much as 30 per cent after the municipal government introduced control measures even stricter than those issued by the central government. Mr Pan said one reason for the increase and even acceleration in prices was the decreasing land supply from the government, which is worried about the social unrest resulting from land seizures and subsequent sales to developers. The scarcity has driven up land prices for developers, which must now bid for lots through a more transparent auction system than was previously used. Soho was previously primarily concerned about meeting sales targets but the biggest problem they were facing was procuring enough land for expansion, Mr Pan said. 'Now that land release is public and transparent, the only way to ensure you get land is to put in a high enough bid,' said David Wong, the managing director of CB Richard Ellis in Beijing. 'The land is granted to the highest bidder, not the most suitable project.' Continuously rising prices are also a result of a lack of investment options in the mainland, where savings rates are among the highest in the world. 'Investors don't have enough investment options so they invest in real estate, and this is why we see prices rising even as occupancy rates fall,' Mr Pan said. 'This is the biggest problem facing the property market.'