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Land and housing top priorities in CE's first Policy Address
     Unveiling his first Policy Address today (October 19), the Chief Executive, Mr John Lee, said that solving the housing problem in Hong Kong tops the agenda of the current-term Government.
     While the Government has identified sufficient land to build 360 000 public housing units over the next 10 years, considerably more than the projected demand of 301 000, only about one-third of the units will be completed during the first five-year period (2023-24 to 2027-28). The remaining two-thirds will not be ready until the second five-year period (2028-29 to 2032-33), which means a long waiting time for public housing.
     "We must overcome constraints to create supply to address short-term public housing shortage, and ensure a steady private housing supply at the same time," said Mr Lee. Equally important, said the Chief Executive, was enhancing "quantity, speed, efficiency and quality in land production", ensuring "a long-term plan to steadily increase supply."
     To fast-track housing and land supply, the Chief Executive said he had decided to set the following key housing and land strategies:
* introduce Light Public Housing (LPH), adopting a standardised simple design and Modular Integrated Construction (MiC) approach to build about 30 000 units over the next five years, increasing public housing supply by about 25 per cent. LPH flats will feature the basic facilities of traditional public rental housing (PRH) flats, while the rent of LPH will be lower than traditional PRH in the same district;
* boost public housing production to about 158 000 units in the coming five years (2023-24 to 2027-28), about 50 per cent more than the previous five-year period;
* immediately cap the waiting time for PRH at the existing level of about six years, while shortening it to about 4.5 years in four years' time (2026-27);
* set a minimum size for newly-built, subsidised sale flats from 2026-27 onwards at no less than 26 square metres in general, with internal floor area of newly-built PRH units no less than 21 square metres, except for single-person and two-person units;
* deliver sufficient land for private housing over the next five years to meet the projected demand of the Long Term Housing Strategy;
* reduce the time needed to turn "primitive land" into "spade-ready sites" by one-third to half, by compressing land-production procedures;
* enhance public-private partnership. A pilot scheme will encourage private developers to build subsidised sale flats; and
* expedite land production and build a land reserve to ensure that Government can keep up with the demand for land.
     To shorten the waiting time for PRH and enhance efficiency and quality, the Chief Executive suggested that the Hong Kong Housing Authority (HKHA) adopt a Design for Manufacture and Assembly approach, while applying MiC in suitable projects, for all public housing projects scheduled for completion in the next five years (2023-24 to 2027-28). In the second five-year period, at least 50 per cent of the projects should adopt the MiC approach, he said, adding that the Hong Kong Housing Society would also adopt MiC in more public housing projects.
     The Chief Executive also suggested that the HKHA adopt the "Design and Build" model to accelerate housing production for at least half of the flats scheduled for completion in the second five-year period.
     To increase quality, Mr Lee said that an action group would be established, chaired by the Secretary for Housing, to develop "Well-Being" design guidelines for new public housing projects.
     Based on the latest projection, the demand for private housing over the next 10 years would be 129 000 units. The Chief Executive said the Government would have sufficient land ready over the next five years for at least 72 000 residential units. Overall supply, he said, would exceed projected demand.
     The Chief Executive said that the Government is determined to increase land supply to meet demand and build up land reserve. He said the latest "Green Belt" zone study had shortlisted about 255 hectares, with housing development potential for 70 000 units. Rezoning of the first batch of sites would begin by 2024.
     About 1 600 hectares of brownfield sites are currently available in the New Territories, and the Chief Executive said more than half would gradually be developed for housing and other uses. In addition, the development proposal for Tseung Kwan O (TKO) Area 137 would be put forward this year. The Chief Executive said it would provide 50 000 residential units, with the first population intake in 2030 at the earliest.
     Mr Lee said the Government would take a multi-pronged approach to cutting the time needed for land production. Measures, he said, would include: streamlining statutory and administrative procedures; expediting the approval of building plans; extending the arrangement for charging land premium at standard rates; speeding up the consolidation of property interests to facilitate urban renewal in old areas; and simplifying arrangements for the extension of land leases.   
     Transparency will also be heightened, with the Steering Committee on Land and Housing Supply developing and regularly publishing a 10-year forecast of developable land supply. Mr Lee said the first forecast would be released shortly. Similarly, the Task Force on Public Housing Projects will regularly publish a 10-year forecast of public housing supply.
     Proposals regarding the Kau Yi Chau Artificial Islands would be put forth before year's end, the Chief Executive said. They will include the scope of reclamation, land use, transport infrastructure and financing options. The 1 000-hectare artificial islands will be developed in a "green and liveable" manner, said the Chief Executive, "increasing the average flat size of public and private housing by a range of 10 per cent to 20 per cent as the assumption when planning land development."
     Mr Lee said the Government targets to commence the environmental impact assessment process for the artificial islands next year, with reclamation work starting in 2025.
     Transport infrastructure will drive and support Hong Kong's development, said Mr Lee, noting that six major road and railway projects will be developed: the Northern Metropolis Highway; Shatin Bypass; TKO-Yau Tong Tunnel; Hong Kong-Shenzhen Western Rail Link; Central Rail Link; and the TKO Line Southern Extension.
     The Chief Executive emphasised that "Hong Kong will prosper only when its young people thrive," echoing the words of President Xi in his important speech in Hong Kong during the 25th anniversary celebrations of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. To help meet the housing needs of young people, the Chief Executive said that more land would be provided for the relaunching, next financial year, of the Starter Homes projects. In the past, he said, more than 85 per cent of the Starter Homes applicants were aged 40 or under.
     The Chief Executive also noted that Hong Kong has the world’s longest life expectancy. To ensure that Hong Kong's elderly have the housing they need, the Chief Executive said the Government is working to increase the number of subsidised service places among the residential care homes for the elderly (RCHEs). At present, Hong Kong has some 75 000 RCHEs places, about 35 000 of which are subsidised service places. "Our target is to provide an additional 6 200 places by end-2027, an increase of 20 per cent."
     Mr Lee said the Government will also use market forces to boost the supply of RCHEs. He has asked the Development Bureau and the Labour and Welfare Bureau to put together proposals that would encourage developers to build elderly service facilities in their private development projects.
Ends/Wednesday, October 19, 2022
Issued at HKT 14:20
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