Property investment

Crowded populace looks to new Santa for living space gift

With a new chief executive a certainty, HK can write its property wish-list to the fresh Santa and living space is bound to be high on the list

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 December, 2016, 4:02pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 December, 2016, 11:16am

Christmas and the New Year are traditionally a time of good cheer and of giving and hence I thought it would be an opportune time to consider what Hong Kong might like from Santa Claus.

What has emerged over the past few days is that Hong Kong can certainly expect a new chief executive for July 1, 2017. That gives Santa and Hong Kong a much wider canvas and the opportunity for a new chief executive to bring about the change that is clearly demanded.

It is not acceptable or tenable for the secretary for development to indicate that residential units of 240 square feet or even less are the way forward

Let us focus for the moment on land supply, housing and the built environment. It is fine to have brave aspirations such as those that appeared in the recently released HK2030+ Study and so we should, but the challenge is that unhappiness is also immediate. It is not acceptable or tenable for the secretary for development to indicate that residential units of 240 square feet or even less are the way forward.

Rather than stipulating a minimum number of units by way of a lease condition and sending completely the wrong signal, the government should be doing exactly the opposite and stipulating a maximum number of units. Only in this way can we begin to move up the size ladder and start to improve the quality of living in Hong Kong.

Indeed we need a complete rethink of our housing policy and strategy in Hong Kong. The first step is a move away from single-category developments to the building of communities which cater for all categories of income and all ages. Large projects should be bid out, as they are elsewhere, on a two envelope approach, one for design merit and one relating to money and only once the concept design hurdle has been cleared does the financial bid become relevant.

The message can be further reinforced through Lease Terms and Conditions requiring that a certain percentage of the housing in such communities should satisfy “social and affordability” criteria. In Londonthe new mayor requires that 35 per cent of the gross floor area be allocated to social and affordable housing, on or off the site if developers have land elsewhere which they are prepared to use for such purposes.

Similarly we could start to address the issue of elderly housing and there could be requirements in the Lease that a certain percentage of the GFA should be allocated to housing for the elderly and that this should be spread within the development so that they feel they are members of that community and not segregated from their families. Housing for singletons and students can also be addressed in an integrated, holistic approach to community development.

I think another very fair wish from the community is that the Government comes off the fence so far as the Victoria waterfront is concerned and agrees to move forward with the Harbourfront Authority, which clearly has community support. We are blessed with the best back garden in the world in terms of our Country Parks but our front garden, the open space in the urban area, leaves much to be desired in terms of design, experience and the management model.

The waterfront would provide an excellent lung for those who seek to escape from their now acceptable, according to the Secretary for Development, 240 sq ft residential box and if delivery is entrusted to the new Authority then we can move away from our “pink tile/no can do” Leisure and Cultural Services Department model and the Authority can introduce by-laws which encourage the shared use of a properly equipped and serviced waterfront which can be enjoyed by the community and visitors at large.

Finally on the wish list must be the overriding need to address our over-prescriptive regulatory and legislative regime and move to a model where solutions and approvals are performance driven and so measured rather than the current outdated formulaic approach.

Where else in the world do you have Building Regulations which have not been materially changed for more than 50 years? Where else in the world do you have a Town Planning Board, the ultimate port of the call for approval to changes in land-use and development density, being chaired by a senior official from the Development Bureau and perhaps worse still being served and supported by a team from the Planning Department?

Then there is the Lands Department who in fairness have “do their best to meet dates” but why, like the Planning and Buildings Department, cannot there be set periods of times within which they would issue Basic Terms, make Premium Offers and handle Appeals. The applicant is subject to very strict and short time scales, so why should Lands Department not agree to the setting of a time regime, reflecting of course their need to consult other Departments, submit to District Lands Conference etc.

And I am not sure that we have yet finally identified the best method of overcoming the challenge of Lands Department being both judge and jury in Premium Appeal cases. The alternative of arbitration has I understand only attracted one small pilot case and is perceived as somewhat over-complicated for resolving what is simply an issue of value.

My overall wish for Hong Kong is that we start to address these and the many other problems we are facing, constructively and with a will to move forward. As I have said in previous articles, brave decisions and leadership are a pre-requisite to change and no doubt this is what the community will be looking for in their Christmas Stocking and in their expectations of the next Chief Executive.

Nicholas Brooke is the chairman of Professional Property Services