By Chermaine Lee
With property prices still breaking records this year and given the excruciatingly long queues for public housing, housing and land supply has become the major focus of the long-awaited chief executive Mrs Carrie Lam’s Policy Address 2018-2019.
The freshly announced Wednesday Policy Address stresses a few new plans that stirred up controversy in the society.
As Mrs Lam’s housing policy targets homebuyers, one of the measures this year concerns changes in loan-to-value ratio to 90 percent, rendering the monthly mortgage payment under 40 percent of total household income.
Another key point in her housing policy is lifting the percentage of public housing development from 60 to 70 percent, aiming to provide more affordable residential units to families. Mrs Lam says the housing supply ratio of public and private for the next decade will be reviewed without specifying any further details.
As a short-term measure, the government will assign a task force to raise the supply of transitional housing, including revitalizing industrial buildings and converting them into temporary residential units.
According to government data, there were close to 270,000 applications for public rental housing units. Some families have to queue for over five years and three months on average to obtain one, while the average waiting time for single elderly applicants can go up to nearly three years.
The most controversial policy concerning land supply lies in the so-called “Lantau Tomorrow” programme, involving creating artificial islands near Kau Yi Chau and Hei Ling Chau near North Lantau, and coastal areas in Tuen Mun Lung Kwu Tan. The new islands are expected to be ready in the next 20 to 30 years, providing 1,700 hectares of land.
The government will kick off a reclamation study near Kau Yi Chau and Hei Ling Chau for building the islands, the first phase is scheduled to commence in 2025. The reclaimed land is said to be able to provide up to 400,000 residential units, of which 70 percent will be allocated to public housing to accommodate up to 1.1 million people. The government expects the first batch of flats to be available in 2032.
Yet, critics contended that the cost of this project is unreasonably high.
The pro-democracy LegCo member Mr Au Nok-hin tells Harbour Times that the artificial islands in the Central Waters cost HK$400 billion and come with an “immense result”.
He says: “The government has not tackled the issue of infrastructure facilities and the accessibility to the Hong Kong Island from the reclaimed area. We think the government should reduce reclamation as the islands belong to lowland areas.”
Mr Au says the government is hurting the environment and wasting money to carry out reclamation. instead, it should listen to the public’s suggestion of reclaiming the golf field in Fanling.
Other than the artificial islands, Mrs Lam also mentions turning the brownfield sites in the New Territories of about 340 hectares into new housing. There will also be a pilot scheme of sharing agricultural land in the New Territories with private landholders. These landholders will be responsible for building infrastructure facilities and be subsidized by enjoying deduction from land premium.
Mr Jeffrey Hung, acting senior programme manager at Friends of the Earth Hong Kong, says the green NGO is “saddened” by the reclamation plan.
He raised the question “if the development of brownfield sites, land sharing, and revitalization of industrial buildings can clearly solve short-term housing issue, why do we need to sacrifice our oceans?”
Mr Hung also says the projects can adversely affect marine habitats, fish stocks and endangered species, thus disrupting the marine ecology.
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