Hong Kong housing

MTR chief Frederick Ma unveils proposals to help solve Hong Kong’s housing crisis 

Ma casts aside suggestions of a conflict of interest as he pitches rail extension to Kwai Tsing and the creation of a ‘Hong Kong Town’ on the mainland as solutions to the city’s land shortage 

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 April, 2018, 7:31pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 April, 2018, 11:01pm

The MTR Corporation can help resolve Hong Kong’s housing shortage by providing an easier commute to container terminals in Kwai Tsing and building a “Hong Kong Town” on the mainland, the railway giant chief told the Post.

Frederick Ma Si-hang said a rail extension could be considered to link up the container terminals and Nam Cheong or Mei Foo to improve its accessibility, if the government agrees building homes above the terminals is a solution. 

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He also revealed that the corporation had already started discussion with its mainland counterpart, the state-run China Railway Corp, to explore the feasibility to identify land in Nansha and Foshan to build a “Hong Kong Town”, where much cheaper flats and quality health care facilities would be provided to young people and retirees from Hong Kong through high speed rail. 

“The housing issue in Hong Kong has become a social issue ... The land options proposed by the task force involves complicated issues that they would take a long time, like 10 years to get the land ready,” Ma said on Monday, as he brushed aside suggestions that linking the terminal and an existing station might create a conflict of interest. 

Ma, as the MTR Corp chairman, also serves as a non-executive director for Husky Energy, a Canada-based energy giant controlled by tycoon Li Ka-shing’s family, who also operates four of the nine terminals in Kwai Tsing.

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Ma’s proposals came days before the city’s land supply task force, appointed by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, will gauge public views on Thursday  on 18 land options. Among the options is a plan to build flats above container terminals in Kwai Tsing to increase the land supply by at least 1,200 hectares and drive new economy. 

The land supply consultation, dubbed “a big debate” by Lam, aims to reach consensus on the preferred ways of obtaining more land among various stakeholders. The city is seeking to prevent a public housing crisis caused by a land shortage. Some estimates show that in five years less than 10,000 units will be built per year despite an annual target of 20,000. 

Under the “Hong Kong Town” proposal, the MTR Corp would acquire land near a high-speed rail station in Guangzhou and construct the whole complex with “Hong Kong ambience”, comprising residential, commercial and reliable health care facilities. 

Governments on both sides would need to come up with a monthly pass to make the railway trips more affordable and persuade the central government to allow people living on the mainland to pay Hong Kong tax, if they work in Hong Kong, he said.

“It will only take three to five years to complete the construction and the flats will be much more affordable, they could be priced at just one-fourth or one-fifth of those sold in Hong Kong.” 

Ma’s support for the container terminal proposal, initiated by Joseph Chow Ming-kuen, a former president of the Hong Kong Institute of Engineers, has sparked accusations of a conflict of interest.

“He’s using his public power as the MTR chairman to promise public resources to benefit some vested interests,” said Democratic Party lawmaker Andrew Wan Siu-kin.

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Wan said Ma’s eagerness to promote building on the terminals could easily lead to suspicions that he was using his post as chief of MTR Corp, a partially public organisation enjoying policy advantages, to drive up profits for private conglomerates he is linked to.

“People also use inconvenient transport as a reason against developing the Fanling golf course,” Wan said. “Why doesn’t [Ma] promise to build an extension there as well?” 

But Ma defended himself, saying that building an extension would require government’s approval. 

“It is not up to the MTR to make the decision and the corporation has not even carried out a feasibility study,” he said. “I endorsed this proposal because I think it will not damage our environment, the cost involved is not too high, and the developers could be cooperative. These will speed up the developments.”

He added: “I have never had a word with [Li Ka-shing’s son] Victor Li or Li Ka-shing about this proposal.”

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A spokeswoman for Hongkong International Terminals Limited, owned by Li’s family, said it would take into consideration the overall good of Hong Kong as long as the port operation is not compromised. “Construction of buildings on a deck atop the container terminal is not technically difficult. Such a development has been built about 25 years ago,” she said.

Ma, a Hong Kong Golf Club member, confirmed that he opposed building homes on the Fanling golf course as it would destroy heritage trees and the relocation of historical graves would ignite strong opposition from villagers.

“I’m not speaking for myself, I would be too old to play golf 15 years later [when the homes are built on the golf course],” he said. 

Task force chairman Stanley Wong Yuen-fai confirmed that he had met Ma and the Hong Kong Golf Club captain Arnold Wong in February as part of his meetings with stakeholders. Both Ma and Arnold Wong opposed the task force’s plan to include the golf course as a land option for consultation, he said, adding Ma did not mention other land supply options in that meeting.

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Stanley Wong added that about three to four more task force members also met either Ma or other golf club members, without specifying what was discussed.

Ma said he was just a middleman arranging a meeting between the club and the task force. 

“We need out-of-the-box solutions, just like the ‘Hong Kong Town’ proposal, it would be a pity if people don’t speak up because of speculations.”