Hopes high for green light on infrastructure

DON'T expect any residential or commercial property sector 'bombshells' from Governor Chris Patten when he delivers his annual address to the Legislative Council this afternoon.

He is not expected to announce any new measures to deter speculation.

Nor is he likely to ask banks to increase their mortgage lending ceiling, experts in industry and Legco said.

More land for residential housing development may be released, but not enough to make a difference to housing affordability.

Having put the property sector top of his political agenda over the past 12 months, analysts said the Governor would probably 'let sleeping dogs lie'.

Most agents said they generally agreed with this tack, and said forces now at work in the market were doing a good enough job of regulating prices in both the residential and commercial sectors.

Liberal Party legislator Ronald Arculli said there was no need for Mr Patten to introduce new measures in his policy address.

'Prices have dropped drastically since [his previous] measures were introduced,' he said.

But Mr Arculli said the Task Force should give a figure on how much land would be supplied this year.

'He will probably mention in his address what has been done. There is no need for new measures.' Developers, however, were hoping Mr Patten would give the go-ahead to a number of urgent infrastructure projects.

This would open up new areas for public and private sector development, a spokesman for the Real Estate Developers' Association of Hong Kong said.

Many agents gave the government high marks for successfully cooling the residential market and driving speculators out.

Jan McNally, associate director for Richard Ellis, said: 'Prices have started to come down and I don't see what else the government could do in this regard.

'They want first-time buyers into the market, but it is very difficult to differentiate between a speculator and a real end-user.' Some agents said the market had cooled sufficiently that the government would be foolish to meddle any further.

'The residential market has been damn quiet,' one property analyst said. 'Eighty-five per cent of estate agents are losing money. The government did the right thing to cool down the residential market. But too cool is not good either,' he said.

Shih Wing-ching, managing director at Centaline, thought restrictions should be imposed on developers to build smaller-sized apartments so that more units could be provided.

David Faulkner, senior partner at Brooke Hillier Parker, said the Governor would talk about the land supply problem 'to reinforce the Government's commitment to supplying land to the private sector for development'.

Michael Choi Ngai-min, president of the Hong Kong Society of Real Estate Agents said: 'The government should speed up its move to provide more land.' He suggested that the Government conduct an assessment on whether there was sufficient land earmarked for commercial development.

'In the last two years, rents have shot up fast and many multinational companies have been forced to look elsewhere, such as Singapore and Southeast Asia, to make their bases,' he said.

Sunny Yam Ying-win, chairman of Sheraton Valuers, said the Government should refrain from getting involved in the market. 'I don't believe there should be any restrictions on the commercial market,' he said.

Other estate agents said the Governor would stay well clear of the commercial property market. 'He may say something like the Government will have a look at it, but they won't interfere,' Mr Yam said.

Mark Bernard, director with Chesterton Petty, reckons the Governor will not announce any policy measures aimed at the commercial market. 'He won't want to stir up any controversy.'