Hong Kong needs to catch up on housing shortage

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 November, 2014, 4:36am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 November, 2014, 5:44am

The urbanisation of Hong Kong has stalled in the past 20 years and it is time to catch up, says Keith Griffiths, the chairman of international architectural firm Aedas.

The slow development has meant only a slow improvement in the quality of life for Hong Kong people, Griffiths said.

New town development in the New Territories has been static since 1997, with some planned towns still unbuilt.

"It is simply because there has not been a policy in place to continue the urbanisation of Hong Kong," said Griffiths, who started his architectural practice in the city in 1985 and led the creation of Aedas in 2002.

The company has been involved in a number of major projects in Hong Kong and mainland China as well as Southeast Asia.

Griffiths said that in 1997, there was a plan to establish new towns in the New Territories but some were still being studied. Railway development was also behind schedule.

"The new town Kwu Tung should be built and the West Rail should be making money. Tin Shui Wai should no longer be an isolated new town, it should be a connected new town by now," he said.

Kwu Tung North is one of three development areas being planned for North District, along with Fanling North and Ta Kwu Ling.

The Planning and Development Study on North East New Territories, commissioned in 1998, identified Kwu Tung North, Fanling North and Ping Che/Ta Kwu Ling as suitable development areas. However, in light of the slower growth of population and housing demand, the proposals were shelved in 2003.

Now the administration of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is pushing ahead with the proposal as part of its plan to achieve the housing supply target. Leung pledged in his policy address that he would make land available to build the targeted 470,000 units, with public housing flats accounting for 60 per cent of the number.

"We are talking now about 26 years," Griffiths said.

As the city continued to grow with millions of inhabitants, their quality of life had not seen a dramatic improvement, he said.

Griffiths said the government should think further ahead.

"What are we going to do after 2020?" he asked, citing an example that the government should think about how to take back some country parks.

"I do not think we need 40 per cent of [the land] for country parks, 40 per cent is too much," he said. "Our people are more important than trees. Our livelihood, our comfort and happiness is more important than looking at some trees."

He said London had 10 per cent of its land as parks but it was regarded as a very green city.

"The overall density of London, Singapore and Hong Kong is the same. But we only build on 25 per cent of land, but London properties are built all over the land," he said.

Griffiths suggested Hong Kong learn from China, as the central government has built a lot of great cities in the past 10 years.

"In six years, the Chinese people are going to live a very good quality of life," he said.

In this week's C-Suite, Griffiths shares his view of the mainland market and his architectural concept of densification