Redeveloping civil servants' co-op estates needs active consideration

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 February, 2013, 6:38am

Why travel in a straight line when you can take a twisted path? That seems to be the way the government operates. Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has made increasing housing supply the centrepiece of his administration and has come up with fanciful ideas like creating artificial islands. Now there is another perfectly simple, viable and available solution. It would not solve everything, but at least it would be a good start. What's more, it's a rare case where there is no real resistance from one vested interest group or another.

There are 238 co-operative housing estates built for civil servants that are decades old. Of these, only 11 have been redeveloped. It's estimated they could provide 963,000 square metres of domestic gross floor area if they were all redeveloped, yielding more than 19,000 flats of 500 sq ft. Many have high vacancy rates, with flats left unoccupied for years.

That's why more than 100 retired civil servants petitioned the government to redevelop their estates last month. As flat owners, they stand to make a pretty penny if developers and the Urban Renewal Authority buy up their land and redevelop their estates. And the government can get a substantial number of affordable, medium-sized flats. Granted, not all such estates are in desirable locations and not all owners want to sell. But it behoves the government to encourage the redevelopment of those estates likely to have willing sellers and buyers. This is far more feasible and practical than creating artificial islands or building more flats in already crowded Mid-Levels, fanciful plans that were floated by Leung in his policy address.

The civil servants' co-op scheme was launched in 1952 to house government employees. It ended in the mid-1980s. The government granted land to civil servants at a steep discount to build flats through co-operative societies. So far, top officials have only said the government would "explore the issue". They should consider pursuing it.