Reform Hong Kong’s town-planning process, roll out measures to ease housing woes, property specialists urge government

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Property specialists have advocated measures such as reforming the town-planning process to ease Hong Kong’s housing woes, ahead of city leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s policy address on October 6.

Shih Wing-ching, founder of one of the city’s biggest real estate agencies Centaline Group, also said it was “far-fetched” to believe Beijing would target and clamp down on property tycoons when their support was needed to solve the housing shortfall.

Shih told a radio programme on Wednesday that sweeping reforms to the town-planning process were needed to boost housing supply and suggested the Town Planning Board give rezoning priority to projects offering a greater number of flats.

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Shih Wing-ching, founder of real estate agency Centaline Group. Photo: Handout
Shih Wing-ching, founder of real estate agency Centaline Group. Photo: Handout

“Members of the Town Planning Board must be willing to place an overwhelming emphasis on boosting the supply of residential flats to the degree that land supply will see an increase,” he said.

Shih also added that given the important role property developers played in solving the city’s housing issues, it was unlikely Beijing would “clamp down on them” when their support and cooperation were needed to help implement policies smoothly.

“I am not sure how [Beijing] can give directives to property tycoons, as they are not members of the [Communist] Party,” Shih said.

“There is no way that [Beijing] would back the city’s property developers into a corner. I think the suggestion that the central government is suppressing developers is being overplayed.”

Carrie Lam says Hong Kong property developers more helpful on housing

Shih’s comments followed a Reuters report last week which said Beijing had told the city’s powerful property tycoons during closed-door meetings earlier this year to throw their resources and influence behind central government efforts to ease housing woes.

City leader Lam on Tuesday said she could neither confirm nor comment on what she called “rumours”, saying only that the central government “cares a lot about Hong Kong’s livelihood issues” and that developers had been more cooperative of late.

Several major developers, including Nan Fung Group, Sun Hung Kai, Wheelock and Henderson Land have recently applied under a government public-private partnership scheme to provide more flats.

Executive director of the Federation of Public Housing Estates Anthony Chiu during a radio programme in 2019. Photo: Edmond So
Executive director of the Federation of Public Housing Estates Anthony Chiu during a radio programme in 2019. Photo: Edmond So

Another housing expert, executive director of the Federation of Public Housing Estates Anthony Chiu Kwok-wai, called for the government to provide more public rental units for families in need.

The Housing Authority previously revealed Hong Kong families were facing their longest wait in more than two decades for a public flat, with an average mark of 5.8 years.

Chiu said the government could consider more policies to boost turnover rates of public flats, such as incentives to help better-off families living in these units save up for a subsidised flat.

“More well-off families living in public rental housing units used to surrender their flats and move to [purchasing subsidised housing flats], but the property prices nowadays are [higher], and there is a lower supply of subsidised housing,” he said.

Ryan Ip Man-ki, from the Our Hong Kong Foundation think tank, agreed that Town Planning Board procedures could be improved to speed up housing development.

“There’s a lot of red tape and administrative process covering land development procedures that can and should be streamlined. That obviously includes the town-planning procedures,” he said.

He suggested reducing the statutory time period for public representations, and for relevant departments to provide more specific responses to developers submitting technical assessments.

Responding to Chiu’s comments, Ip said he believed that his solution was only relevant for the city’s existing housing supply.

“These are adjustments within the existing stocks and allocation of the new [housing] supply but the point is you have got to make the pie bigger,” he said. “We can discuss all these technical adjustments but the root cause that we have to solve is to have more [land] supply.”

Additional reporting by Rachel Yeo

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