Task force dwarfed by twin towers

Editorial | Mary Ma 10 Jan 2019

The government is no match for the private sector when it comes to matters of creativity.

In a stroke, CK Asset Holdings has presented a plan to add 5,000 units to housing inventory, while questions hang over whether the government's Task Force on Land Supply has done enough to raise housing supply substantially in the short term.

By and large, CK's proposal makes a mockery of what the task force has accomplished so far.

The floor plans included in CK's submission to redevelop its Harbour Plaza Resort City hotel in Tin Shui Wai into twin towers - of 53 stories each - are bound to be controversial because more than 50 small flats are envisioned for each floor to create the large supply.

That level of density means each unit would be about 400 square feet on average - bigger than nano flats that have gained notoriety of late but smaller than the minimum that one would have expected for an ordinary family.

Most units are open-plan studios, with only a small number of one-bedroom flats. While it remains to be seen whether the building plans would be too radical to be deemed acceptable by the Town Planning Board, the fact remains that innovative and sometimes bold ideas that thrive in the private sector can be a useful force to help Hong Kong solve its acute housing woes.

In terms of sheer numbers, the idea could be branded a success. For instance, Kingswood Villas, the CK group's flagship residential development in Tin Shui Wai, consists of 15,800 units of normal sizes. If the hotel redevelopment is approved, it would provide units equivalent to roughly one third of the entire Kingswood Villas.

Certainly, it would be nicer if those units could adopt designs that are friendly to nuclear family formation.

While the Task Force on Land Supply appeared to have been lost in its search for a near-term solution to boost housing supply, executives at Cheung Kong Center are capable of discovering new potential involving their existing resources - a quality that government officials should learn to acquire.

The latest example again shows the housing shortage could only be solved through the joint efforts of the public and private sectors. Without regulatory consent, however, the redevelopment plan could be stuck at the planning stage without ever taking off. Without creative plans as special as this one, overall housing production is doomed to fall behind targets.

It's crucial for both the regulators and developers to maintain a productive relationship if housing supply is to be speedily increased.

In strengthening such a relationship, it would also be essential for both to understand each other's demands. If the board disagrees with the submitted floor plans, it should let the developer know what it wants. The same applies vice versa.

The redevelopment application also confirms a growing trend of a shift to redeveloping hotels into residential projects to capitalize on opportunities arising from the economic cycle.

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