HONG KONG’S BIG­GEST PROB­LEM

The Peak (Hong Kong) - - The View From The Peak - RYAN SWIFT As­so­ciate Pub­lisher and Chief Ed­i­tor

“Ev­ery prob­lem in Hong Kong is a prop­erty prob­lem,” says Kacey Wong, a lo­cal sculp­tor whose works ap­peared at the Har­bour Arts Sculp­ture Gar­den near the govern­ment’s Tamar head­quar­ters. Wong may not be a prop­erty guru, but he’s not wrong.

High prop­erty prices in Hong Kong are to blame, in part or in whole, for im­pend­ing new busi­nesses with high rents, so­cial dis­con­tent among the young, men­tal health is­sues, the lack of pub­lic spa­ces, in­come in­equal­ity, de­creas­ing qual­ity of life, and the loss of global cor­po­rate head­quar­ter oper­a­tions to cheaper Sin­ga­pore. Ex­perts point to a va­ri­ety of so­lu­tions, in­clud­ing tak­ing land from coun­try parks, de­vel­op­ing brown­field sites, re­build­ing derelict struc­tures, mas­sive recla­ma­tion projects or, some­what fan­tas­ti­cally, build­ing a “sky city” above Hong Kong’s port fa­cil­i­ties.

The govern­ment has cre­ated a task force to so­licit opin­ion from the pub­lic and pro­pose rec­om­men­da­tions that, pre­sum­ably, will be ac­cept­able to a large ma­jor­ity of Hong Kong’s cit­i­zens. Their work has just be­gun.

Prop­erty play­ers have al­ready made their opin­ions clear. Any­thing other than de­vel­op­ing on Fan Ling Golf Course seems to be on the ta­ble. The task force’s work on get­ting the pub­lic to choose among pro­posed al­ter­na­tives is un­likely to of­fer an ac­cu­rate pic­ture of pub­lic opin­ion. As re­ported by South China Morn­ing Post, the meth­ods in­clude phone sur­veys and on­line sub­mis­sions, plus rolling street in­ter­views, rather than a ref­er­en­dum of any sort. The last such con­sul­ta­tion on land sup­ply, con­ducted in 2012, pro­duced some rec­om­men­da­tions that are on the dis­cus­sion list again this time. None of this is very en­cour­ag­ing.

What seems to be miss­ing from the task force’s op­tions is a way of re­form­ing how the govern­ment sup­plies new land. Could the Town Plan­ning Board be made to work bet­ter or faster? Would a more trans­par­ent sys­tem of prop­erty own­er­ship in Hong Kong dis­cour­age il­le­gally gained money from en­ter­ing the sys­tem? Should the blind auc­tion ten­der sys­tem be re­placed with a de­sign-led ten­der­ing sys­tem?

On our cover is Mico Chung, the founder and chair­man of CSI who’s set his sights on join­ing the top ranks of prop­erty elites in Hong Kong. The devel­oper sug­gested it may be time for the govern­ment to cre­ate an over­all pol­icy that ben­e­fits Hong Kong as a whole and get on with it. And if the task force is only about white­wash­ing de­vel­op­ment pro­pos­als with a ve­neer of pub­lic in­put, why bother with the ve­neer?

In his story Look­ing for Vi­sion, Christoper De­wolf in­ves­ti­gates the strange in­er­tia that ex­ists around de­sign­ing Hong Kong’s Vic­to­ria Har­bour. Kacey Wong is quoted in that story, in which the lack of a clear plan – or even a way of de­vel­op­ing that plan – seems to leave Asia’s World City with a har­bourfront that’s un­der­utilised, even though it could eas­ily be the world’s most valu­able real es­tate. While the har­bour is a par­tic­u­lar case study, many of the prob­lems De­wolf un­cov­ers be­devil Hong Kong more broadly.

The in­er­tia in govern­ment is set against the ris­ing in­ter­est in proptech, a start-up/in­vestor driven cy­cle of tech ideas brought to bear on all as­pects of the prop­erty busi­ness. In our The Proptech Primer fea­ture, Jimmy Chow in­ves­ti­gates the ma­jor trends in proptech that are al­ready hav­ing an im­pact on Hong Kong’s prop­erty mar­ket.

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