Housing and transport are both very important social issues in Hong Kong. But putting the two areas under one umbrella in the government, some say, is not wise and it is time to split them up.
The Transport and Housing Bureau is headed by Frank Chan Fan, one of the most visible ExCo members given his broad portfolio. These days he is embroiled in the flawed construction scandal of To Kwa Wan Station. Last month he was working to pass the Co-location Bill of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, and the rest of the days he is talking about housing issues.
Given his heavy workload, some suggest that the bureau should be split, so work can be carried out more efficiently to tackle the two issues separately. Even Mr Chan himself thinks so.
“The portfolio of the Transport and Housing Bureau is, indeed, quite wide and things are happening every day. If we are going to enable the team to function more effectively and to take actions to address all the arising needs and concern, there is an advantage to split into two,” Mr Chan told the media on July 3.
“As you can see from what has happened in the past years, our colleagues within the Transport and Housing Bureau are working really hard to cope with the daily happenings. But in terms of policy formulation and implementation, it is important that we do have time to review and to think what we are going to go ahead,” he notes. “If we are given more latitude with more divided responsibility, then we would be able to enable the housing and transport activities to be handled more effectively.”
Rationale for the split
The bureau was created by former Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen in 2007, after he revamped the Environment, Transport and Works Bureau and the Housing, Planning and Lands Bureau. Some justified Mr Tsang’s move, saying that under the transit-oriented development model, housing and transport were closely aligned.
But the bureau has been an easy target to blame for a slew of controversies and scandals. Infrastructure projects such as the Express Rail Link and Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge are over budget and behind schedule; property prices are soaring and construction of subsidized homes is behind target.
Some believe the timing is right for the split. As the express rail link and the bridge are nearing completion and will soon open for business, there are concerns that there teething problem ahead that need a transport focused chief to efficiently manage follow-up issues.
On the housing front, Carrie Lam’s administration rolled out the new housing policies last week. The implementation of these policies will require attention and focus again.
Land supply not in its scope
Another big challenge faced by the current bureau is that it does not have control on land supply, which is controlled by the Development Bureau. The two bureaux are not collaborating efficiently. The land plots allocated to the bureau were fragmented and small, which required time to make them ready for public housing.
Many lawmakers support the idea of splitting the bureau.
“Land supply and housing should be handled by one body using a ‘one-stop’ approach,” says Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu, leader of the Civic Party.
“The Wang Chau project is handled by the Transport and Housing Bureau, while the Northeast New Territories Development Plan is in the hands of the Development Bureau. It is more reasonable to combine land supply and housing into one body,” says Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, legislator of the Land Justice League.
Even pro-establishment lawmaker Starry Lee Wai-king, leader of the DAB, agrees this is the right direction.
Despite the support from all sides, Ms Lam is not in a hurry to push forward the revamp.
Ms Lam recently said that the workload of the bureau is heavy and there needs to be a split, but two days later she changed her tone, saying the current administration has no time for institutional restructuring.
“Revamping the Transport and Housing Bureau involves complicated procedures. We have a lot of work at the moment. We have no plans for restructuring in the short term,” she said on Wednesday.