The policy address is an annual ritual for the chief executive to present a programme of policies and his vision for the future. It should be a subtle mix of general themes and specific issues. The challenges that confront Hong Kong need to be laid out and solutions proposed. But now, into his fifth address, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen has perfected the art of deferring action on tough, long-term challenges that will seriously affect the city's future. For a man who takes pride in being a pragmatist, he has shown a clear preference for expedient measures over broader policies. Much was made yesterday of a new cash coupon scheme, for example, to encourage people to buy energy-saving light bulbs and a scheme to promote electric cars. While both are welcome, their impact will be minimal and their introduction does not amount to a long-term strategy to tackle air pollution. As expected, there were few fresh policy initiatives. Many had been previously announced, but Tsang spelled out new details on how to implement them. The so-called six new pillar industries were first recommended by the Task Force on Economic Challenges; they occupied a large portion of the address. But what concerns most people is probably a wide-ranging plan to revamp Central. Beyond a mission-sounding statement to map out a comprehensive strategy, the government has promised to preserve the Central Market and Murray Building, which will be converted into a hotel. Most of the Central Government Offices will also be preserved as officials move to the Tamar site, but its West Wing will be sold for redevelopment. No large-scale land project such as this is complete, it seems, without a big bone being thrown to developers and hoteliers. But the preservation of buildings will mean a significant loss to the government in land premiums. If this signals that heritage conservation has become more of a priority, rather than focusing on maximising revenue, it is a welcome development. As expected, the policy address contained no crowd-pleasing giveaways. That, at least, should be welcome. The government has been in spending mode for the past two years - first to offload huge surpluses, then to counter the impact of the global financial turmoil. Stimulus measures were rolled out and a host of concessions were made to lighten the financial pressure on people and businesses - and relieve political pressure on the government. Now that conditions are returning to normal, those handouts must stop as the government faces a deficit in the next four financial years. During the financial turmoil it became a mantra of governments around the world to say a crisis is a terrible opportunity to waste. For our government, it has become an excuse to delay political and health-care reforms. Little was said on constitutional reform in the policy address. The delayed consultation is now due to take place next month. Tsang must push ahead with it as too much time has been wasted. The second-stage consultation on health-care reforms, also promised in last year's policy address, was delayed on grounds of the swine flu outbreak. Yesterday, Tsang promised to resume it after announcing voluntary contributions as a health-care financing option, rather than the previously touted mandatory contributions. Further details are needed to establish whether this will be sufficient. The speech was entitled 'Breaking new ground together'. But it did not break much new ground as far as policies are concerned. For a government bent on maintaining the status quo, the address is more than adequate. But for those who expect more of our government, it is a disappointment.