【明報專訊】THIS NEWSPAPER has in two consecutive weeks published its "In-depth Report —Anomalous Property Market". In these reports about housing, living space and total property value in Hong Kong are compared with those in nearby or other major cities. Those figures show Hong Kong's property market is almost absurdly anomalous. In Hong Kong, a highly developed economy where per capita GDP exceeds US$40,000, the great wealth housing represents is out of all proportion to the poor per capita housing quality.
It is certainly a reason why property prices have kept soaring in Hong Kong that interest rates have been low in all parts of the world. However, the main reason is that flats have been in such short supply that there is a serious supply-demand imbalance in the property market. In the decade when Donald Tsang was Chief Secretary for Administration or Chief Executive (CE), he was always under fire from all quarters about land reserve, and it was basically developers that controlled land supply and housing supply. As a result, a particularly huge property bubble has come into being. What price must the Hong Kong economy pay when it bursts? That is indeed hard to estimate. Everybody knows it is impossible for property prices just to keep going up. The higher they are, the more sharply they will fall. It is doubtless because of a man-made calamity that Hong Kong people will have to pay dearly.
Since he took over as CE, Leung Chun-ying has regarded his housing policy as most important. He has tried to tackle the problem by managing demand and increasing supply. However, it is so deep-seated that it is impossible to make supply adequate in a couple of years. Furthermore, the overall atmosphere in the SAR is such that Leung has been impeded in making ambitious plans to increase land supply and land reserve. That is why property prices have kept going up despite the government's efforts to put the property market in order.
The Leung administration has tried hard to find land, but it still perceives problems concerning land and housing as matters concerning citizens' lives. As things now stand in the SAR, they are in fact altogether political. The government has encountered stiff resistance in carrying out its north-east New Territories development plan and its reclamation plan. That shows it is hard to convince opposers just with arguments about people's lives. Only if the government tackles those problems by political means can it hope to seize hold of the key link and let everything fall into place.
All now talk about how land should be used, and their views are all at variance. There is no lack of land in Hong Kong, and the government is the biggest landlord. However, it is not possible now to set some land free. Hong Kong is 1,104 square kilometres in area, and only 7% of its land is used for housing. If 1% more is used this way, one million people can be housed. If 3% more is used, it will not be an impossible dream for Hongkongers to have bigger living space. What way of using Hong Kong's land is in its best interests? This big question concerns all citizens. It is not exclusive to green activists. The government should allow those in the silent majority an opportunity to express their views. We suggest that a general debate be organised in which all may fully participate and then a plebiscite be held so that the public's wish can be identified, for only if this is done can the land problem be solved once and for all and can Hong Kong become unfettered.