Hong Kong housing

Government may open up opaque Hong Kong land deals which ‘favour the rich’

Development chief admits ‘transparency can be improved’ and says bureau plans to give more information on controversial short-term leases of public land

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 September, 2017, 7:44pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 September, 2017, 10:35pm

The public may soon be given information on the plots of government land leased to people at undisclosed prices under what has been decried as an opaque system favouring the rich.

Secretary for Development Michael Wong Wai-lun said he hoped the disclosures would come next year, and that his bureau would publish information on some 800 government sites up for short-term lease applications later this year.

That came after a land concern group released a study which found at least three hectares of public land, about the size of three soccer pitches, had been leased out through 31 short-term contracts, and was hosting 23 private swimming pools and eight private tennis courts.

The Liber Research Community accused the government of making private deals with the city’s rich, granting them public land to expand their homes at undisclosed prices, while taking away other citizens’ chances of using the sites.

“The [government’s] transparency can indeed be improved,” Wong said. “But we’ve been working on [improving] this.”

There are 5,300 short-term agreements leasing out public land, covering 2,400 hectares. Hong Kong International Airport accounts for 60 per cent of that land total.

The government mainly puts such sites up for open tender, but also grants sites directly to applicants for non-profit-making uses, if it sees fit.

Wong said the government hoped to disclose the locations, boundaries and rental price of all newly inked short-term contracts from next year.

For contracts already signed, he said the bureau would make it clear to tenants negotiating renewals that it would make that information public, and it would be up to the tenant whether to take the deal.

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Some people have called for all short-term lets to go to public tender.

But Wong said some sites directly leased to people were close to their homes, with limited public access. Others included construction sites, security guard kiosks and similar facilities, he added.

He said if all those sites needed to go through public tender every time, there might be no one else willing to join the process, meaning a long and pointless procedure for a tenancy that only lasts up to five years.

But Liber group researcher Chan Kim-ching said one third of the 31 sites housing private gardens – though neighbouring the tenants’ homes – had public access.

“What criteria does the government use to decide that other members of the public do not want to use these sites?” he asked.

Chan urged the bureau to not only disclose the rent price of the deals, but information on the tenants and reasons for approving the applications too.

He said that public tenders, even with only one applicant per site, could ensure the government leases out sites at market rates.

The Ombudsman recently criticised the government for delaying action on illegal uses of public land. Wong said the Lands Department had a backlog of 2,000 such cases and promised to clear them in the coming two to three years.