A target for Hong Kong’s next chief executive: 200,000 flats in the Northern Metropolis by 2027
- With the wait for public housing reaching a historic high, the new government must set a specific and unambiguous target
- The Northern Metropolis is a good place to start because land in the New Territories already exists. What we need is the willpower to use it for public good
Lee needs to set an ambitious target for housing units over his term. It is important that the target be specific and unambiguous, and incapable of being manipulated. Let me explain.
Every year, following the policy address, the government issues a report on progress of its pledges from the previous year. Public servants have no wish to make a rod for their backs, so the language of the promise contains as much wiggle room as possible.
The government promises to strive to achieve a certain thing. As long as it has strived, it has delivered. It promises to introduce or pursue a particular proposal. As long as that proposal was pursued, then irrespective of the outcome the promise was kept. In this way, the progress report can almost always be positive, and the language triumphant.
Lee should pledge to construct 200,000 housing units in a new town in the northern New Territories by 2027.
Apart from numbers, there are also the questions of breakdown and size. Let us provisionally say 70 per cent for the public sector, with the balance private. The public-sector share should be split equally between rentals and the Home Ownership Scheme. All these flats are to be between 500 and 700 square feet. Let the developers cope with the smaller and larger ends of the market, but absolutely nothing below 280 sq ft for singletons.
Initially, progress will be slow. Much of the first year will be taken up with complex gazetting procedures for the resumption of private land and the approval of railway and highway alignments. Much of the second year will be spent on letting contracts for land formation and making provision for utilities (Will we need new reservoirs? Should we be buying electricity from mainland suppliers, or at least opening up the market?).
But these two years will not be wasted as the time can be spent planning detailed layouts and arranging off-site prefabrication production facilities. Much of the construction on site will only start in year three. But as units are transported into the Northern Metropolis and assembled in place, public excitement will surely grow. We will have created a public project the whole community can get behind.
Our incoming chief executive is no doubt interviewing candidates for the post of housing secretary. He should put this target to each of them. Anyone who says it is not possible, or offers only to try his best, should be thanked for coming and politely shown the door. The person who takes a deep breath and promises to go for it should be hired on the spot.
Mike Rowse is the CEO of Treloar Enterprises