Property

The Last Policy Address of CY Leung



Another year, another Policy Address by the Chief Executive. CY Leung, Hong Kong’s embattled de facto leader, or puppet depending on which media you read, didn’t have 2014’s Umbrella Movement to reckon with, but he did have record property prices and a polarised populace to contend with. So what does the 2016/17 PA set down for the Hong Kong SAR? Will Leung’s legacy be a fresh new course … or more of the same?

The Bigger Picture

Leung kicked off his last and longest address with a broad discussion of the economy and areas where Hong Kong is doing much better than popular perception might suggest. Noting the US-based Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute — both ultra-conservative think tanks — ratings of Hong Kong as the world’s best economic and “freedom” performer, Leung then detailed the government’s solid track record on policies to alleviate poverty, care for the elderly, invest in healthcare and environmental improvement. But the final introductory comments were reserved for praise of the “one country, two systems” policy, and the benefits of the Belt and Road initiative. While conceding the community at large and all LegCo members must be part of the process, Leung finished with a resounding, “Hong Kong is an inalienable part of our country. There is absolutely no room for independence or any form of separation.” [Sec I Para 8]

New general initiatives include a dedicated Chinese medicine hospital and research facility, $20 billion for sports industries and massive redevelopment of the Wan Chai Sports Ground scheduled for 2019, $125 million grants for Chinese history and culture education, and a great deal regarding retirement and a reconfigured MPF contribution scheme for employers. But there is still no plan for a universal retirement protection scheme. Leung set out goals for clean energy replacing coal-fired plants by 2030, continued support for the creative industries, smart city development and no change in the newly established Innovation and Technology Bureau’s status. The ITB, Leung claims, has launched Hong Kong up the ladder as a viable operating centre for tech companies, like MIT and Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet.



Homes, Sweet Homes

But it is land sales, public housing and areas targeted for crucial commercial and residential development that got the most time and attention. Leung argued that at the heart of the matter was speed — not enough of it from government in identifying and approving land for housing.

“Expediting and increasing supply is the ultimate solution to various housing-related issues,” said Leung, noting the projection for new housing in the next decade is 460,000 flats. “However, land supply for public housing still lags and the waiting time for PRH units has increased notably. If the Government and the community do not resolve to expedite the identification of land for housing production, the housing problem will remain a tough nut to crack,” said Leung. [Sec V Para 76 & 78]

To that end, this year’s plan calls for 200,000 homes in Kwu Tung North, Fanling North, Tung Chung, Hung Shui Kiu and Yuen Long South over the long term (to 2038) by extending new towns and creating new development areas; an increase in the density at Kai Tak to account for an additional 16,000 flats; the same number through redevelopment of the Diamond Hill squatter area at Tai Hom Village, Anderson Road Quarry and Cha Kwo Ling Kaolin Mine; an Urban Renewal Authority planning study for Yau Ma Tei and Mong Kok as well as one on building rehabilitation and life span extension; and new planning and engineering examinations for Tseung Kwan O area 137 (104 hectares between the Tseung Kwan O Industrial Estate and Clearwater Bay Country Park), which could potentially accommodate large-scale residential and commercial development.

Lantau’s future looks set to be a marriage of commerce and leisure: commercial, retail and residential development in the north, tourism, entertainment and leisure in the northeast, and conservation in the remaining parts of the island. For the long term, the keyword is “green building” and performance based ratings, broader conservation (though Leung offered no specifics) and continued reorganisation of brownfield site use for logistics, port back-up and recycling as a start. Finally, alternative land sites are still on the table, in locations from Ma Liu Shui and Lung Kwu Tan in the north (for non-harbour reclamation) to underground development in the heart of the city in TST, Causeway Bay and Wan Chai. Sewage and water services could wind up, one day, in rock caverns.

Ominously, Leung is still open to developing the country parks, pointing out the parks account for 40% of all land and six times the residential total, the result of which is increased population density. The government, he said, is committed “to environmental protection and ecological conservation, and seeks to strike the right balance between development and conservation,” later adding, “We should also consider allocating a small proportion of land on the periphery of country parks with relatively low ecological and public enjoyment value for purposes other than real estate development, such as public housing and non-profit-making elderly homes.” [Sec V Para 113 & 117]

The entire address is available at www.policyaddress.gov.hk.

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