It’s the Government’s Responsibility to “Get the Flour”

做麵粉建房屋 政府責無旁貸

Squarefoot - - CONTENTS 目錄 - Eric Lee 李峻銘

PROPERTY TRENDS 樓市傳真 做麵粉建房屋 政府責無旁貸

In a recent public appearance, Chief Executive Carrie Lam once again addressed the city’s housing shortage crisis, stressing that the government would be willing to build more affordable housing as long as there’s land for it, but that “without the flour, we can’t make the bread.”

By saying this, she gave an impression that the dire housing shortage problem is caused by the lack of land supply, and the government is not to blame. But the truth is, only 25% of Hong Kong’s land has been developed, and the remaining 75% largely constitutes of country parks, farmlands and brownfields. Of course, the government has given us a variety of reasons why these lands are left undeveloped: the country parks are protected, and development plans have been blocked by environmentalist groups; deserted farmlands are already in the hands of property developers, but the government doesn’t have the authority to force them to start building homes or confiscate their private property rights; brownfield sites house a large number of business operations, and it would be logistically and financially challenging to reclaim them; and even reclaiming golf courses is out of the question, because there are historic relics under them.

Ironically, we see other countries that have been dealt worse cards do much better than Hong Kong in this regard. Take Singapore, whose land mass is smaller than Hong Kong’s, most of which is already developed. Thanks to the high efficiency of their government, the country’s residents enjoy big flats and houses. In addition, despite the negative effects of quantitative easing measures, Singapore’s property price increase is far less than that of Hong Kong.

Even Malaysia has outdone us. Using a carrot-and-stick approach, the Malaysian authorities incentivises developers to launch their housing projects quickly. This goes to show that with good strategies, governments can always find a way to urge developers to reclaim idle land. After all, no businessman wants to stir up trouble with the government.

In theory, Hong Kong has plenty of land supply, and if it’s well utilised, we would have no reason to spend enormous amounts of money and labour, or to hurt the environment by reclaiming land from the ocean. The logic is obvious, but unfortunately, I have given up hope on the Hong Kong government, who has repeatedly proven itself incapable of sound land management. Therefore, albeit extremely costly, land reclamation may be the easiest and best solution for this administration.

In addition, I believe that once big land reclamation plans are announced, home builders will hasten to develop their projects, knowing that the payoff of land hoarding will diminish. In this sense, land reclamation can be a double victory for the public and it has my vote— not because it’s necessarily the best option, but because it’s the one most likely to be implemented.

上月特首林鄭在出席公開場合時又再一次談到香港的房屋短缺問題,她強調「沒有麵粉就造不到麵包」,只要有土地,政府願意興建更多「買得起,供得起的資助房屋」。

此種講法似乎給大家一種印象,沒有足夠的房屋供應,都是香港土地不足所致,責不在港府。但事實上,香港只有百分之廿五土地被開發,其餘百分之七十五都是閒置,當中大部份都是郊野公園、農地、棕地。當然政府會給大家各式各樣的原因,郊野公園受法例保護,環保人士反對不能動;荒廢的農地大都在發展商手上,又不可以迫他們發展,不能沒收他們的私有產權,利用優惠政策又怕惹來官商勾結;棕地更加不在話下,土地上有大量經濟作業,要另闢單位安置,發展也是困難重重;更可笑的是高爾夫球場又有歷史文物,結果又是動不得。

反觀其他國家的情況,比我們差得多,星加坡大部份土地已被開發,土地面積比我們少,但人家政府效率高,人人住大屋,星加坡也受貨幣量化寬鬆影響,但樓價升幅也遠遜於香港。

甚至如馬來西亞也似乎把香港比下來,他們威迫利誘發展商,將吉隆坡市中心的土地與新開發區交換,優惠政策令發展商加速開發,發展商都是商人,民不與官爭,政府只要善於運用政策,閒置及荒廢的土地,又怎會浪費幾十年,白白在曬太陽而浪費。

理論上,既然香港本身有大量土地,只是未有好好運用,又何必花費大量人力物力,破壞環境,去大量填海造地呢?筆者不是不明白這個道理,只對政府處理能力,已經不敢寄予厚望,填海造地雖然花費巨大,但始終是最容易、方便的做法。

何況,筆者也相信一旦落實大量造地的計劃,發展商明白囤積土地的價值減低,自然會加快農地發展的速度,有一石二鳥之效。所以,筆者也唯有支持最有可能落實的方案而已。

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