My Take

Lessons to be learned from Hong Kong's empty schools

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 November, 2015, 12:08am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 November, 2015, 11:04pm

In an extreme senior moment, I once unconsciously held my mobile phone in hand while searching all over my bedroom for it.

I wonder if our chief executive is doing the same.

Leung Chun-ying has been searching high and low for more land to redevelop and build more housing.

All the while, his administration is sitting on hectares of unused land currently occupied by 105 empty or abandoned schools scattered across the city.

Thanks to the Director of Audit, we now know that nearly half of 234 school premises vacated in recent years sit idle and decaying with no plan in place for redevelopment. The 105 vacant premises include 29 empty school lots still held by the Education Bureau that have not been returned to the government for alternative land uses.

Eight of the 29 school lots have not even been earmarked for any use. Three, forgotten for more than a decade, have been left to rot.

No doubt the Education Bureau bears substantial responsibility for this monumental neglect.

But the Lands Department is also accountable for dozens of premises that the bureau has already returned to the government.

What was the bureau thinking?

While the bureau has been sitting on this massive but idle land bank, it has forced many local and international schools to beg for sites that they desperately need to expand, or merely to survive.

When the popular St Margaret's Girls' College, probably the last direct subsidy school without a permanent home, was kicked out of its long-standing old address in Mid-Levels by the landlord, the bureau barely lifted a finger to help.

The home-grown International Montessori School had to wait for more than a decade to be allocated a site in Stanley.

In its wisdom, the bureau assigned a lot in faraway Sai Kung several years ago to Hong Kong Academy, which had operated for more than a decade on Hong Kong Island where 95 per cent of families lived.

Before crying wolf and complaining about the lack of available land, the government better come clean now and start explaining quickly what it plans to do with those empty sites.