Experts warn land plan may boost prices

Quinton Chan

A GOVERNMENT pledge to curb spiralling property prices was thrown into doubt yesterday after it released a land sales programme offering little extra building space in the coming year.

The land sales programme revealed a significant increase in the number of residential sites and total site area, but provided little extra building space, seen as the key factor in easing Hong Kong's housing shortage.

On Thursday, the Sino-British Land Commission approved the land sales programme, hailed by British team leader Tony Eason ''as a sign of positive steps to inject additional supply into the market''.

Principal Government Land Agent Jim Hughes said at a press conference yesterday that the programme for this financial year (which began on April 1) involved 28.21 hectares of land and 40 sites, as opposed to 19 hectares and 25 sites last year.

However, he said that because the number of low-density sites had increased, this year's actual residential floor area would not be ''significantly'' greater than last year's.

The number of flats the Government expects to be built on the land is between 8,000 and 10,000, marginally up on the 7,000 to 9,000 last year.

Mr Hughes stressed that the Government had no intention of deceiving the public. ''The sales programme was decided before the Government moved to find measures to take the heat out of the market,'' he said.

However, Legislator Lee Wing-tat said the Government gave a misleading impression to the public by saying that 10 more hectares of residential land would be released.

Lee, the convenor of the Legislative Council Housing Panel, said he was disappointed with the outcome, adding that a meeting would be held within 10 days to discuss the issue.

''It is a very bad news for those who hoped the Government would curb the booming property market, but very good news for speculators,'' he said.

''It is just a game of statistics,'' he added.

Centaline Property Agency managing director Shih Wing-ching said that the Government had failed to live up to its promise of providing more land to curb property prices.

''To provide more land supply, what counts is the developable area, rather than the number of sites,'' he said.

Philip Choi Shing-Kiu, president of the Hong Kong Social Workers General Union, said the programme had undermined the credibility of the Government's announcements on curbing property prices.

Concern about the impact of the Government's moves and rising interest rates pushed Hong Kong stock prices down last week. The Hang Seng index ended Friday at 9,156.85, down 3.98 per cent over the week.

with real estate stocks particularly hard hit.