The truth about HK land and housing revealed: no-one has any idea

South China Morning Post columnist Albert Cheng gets the weekend off to a highly amusing start with a call to Development Secretary Paul Chan to turn Fanling golf course into residential housing. Unlike other proponents of this idea, Cheng is not really interested in increasing housing supply or inflicting long-overdue damage on the world’s most tedious and pitiful pastime; he sees it as a way for Chan to save his political career.

And what a sad and sorry career it has been so far. Since coming into office to fix Hong Kong’s bewildering housing mess, the Christian accountant has been caught committing an array of unpardonable sins:

  • being married to a woman who part-owned and rented out illegally subdivided slum dwellings;
  • having a decades-old family interest in a parcel of New Territories land recently slated for development;
  • being seen having a beer and then driving a car;
  • leading the government into the hitherto unheard-of ‘Tacitus Trap’, which is a Very Bad Thing;
  • stealing a cute, adorable puppy dog from penniless orphans, kicking it senseless, then gnawing through its abdomen and devouring its interior organs; and
  • shooting his mouth off about using People’s Liberation Army and Country Park space for housing.

In fact, the only crime the devil-worshipping, mass-murdering, upskirt-photo-taking, methamphetamine addict is not guilty of is ceaseless and overt patriotic fawning of the Communist regime up in Beijing. The only other mitigation on offer is the fact that his offences mostly boil down to happenstance and circumstantial evidence, but when you have Apple Daily, the Heung Yee Kuk, property tycoons, green groups and several million onlookers all demanding your head, that’s not good enough.

Tearing up the greens, fairways, holes, bunkers, bogies and birdies at Fanling, Cheng argues, would instantly make Chan nearly everyone’s favourite government official. By totally wrecking the ‘development of the sport’ and forever banishing Asia’s oldest and most venerable golfing tournament from our shores, Paul Chan would be the Big Lychee’s new heartthrob super-hero – like Li Ka-shing, Anita Mui and Chris Patten all rolled into one.

It’s a neat and perfect Machiavellian solution to the problem (at least for anyone who loses sleep over Paul Chan’s career). And an excellent way to curb the tiresome game of bores. But does it make sense in terms of housing policy?

This is where it all gets cosmic and wondrous. If Paul Chan’s career looks like an inexplicable, impossible-to-unravel mountain of personal and political smithereens, Hong Kong’s land and housing situation is an unknowable black hole, where time and matter and energy do not function as we know them. As with the weirdest bits of quantum physics, things can be in two places at once, or cease to exist if you try to observe them. For example:

  • we have a severe shortage of land, yet we find great expanses to accommodate empty rusting shipping containers, theme parks, barely used highways, branches of SaSa, morose-looking buffalo, expensive foreign schools, as well as the aforementioned golfing and military facilities;
  • we will need 470,000 new apartments in the next 10 years to accommodate growing local families and 150 Mainland immigrants arriving every day, but actually Hongkongers have stopped having babies, and net immigration will be a third less than that, but no – actually, it’ll be two thirds less;
  • we have a shortage of housing, but actually we have 100,000 apartments sitting empty, but no – actually it’s 200,000;
  • homes are so expensive, most younger people can’t afford one, but we can’t let them fall in value because older people’s savings are wrapped up in their property and if prices drop they’ll burst into tears and stamp their feet and maybe commit suicide, because it’s not fair; and
  • one part of the government says it wants to make housing cheaper, but another part insists on putting huge hidden premiums and duties on homes, so a third part can pretend we have low taxes.

Somewhere among all the contradictions, the conflicting statistics and the malicious forecasting must be some facts that accurately describe and quantify the problem; without those facts, there is no hope of devising a workable solution – which is why we have dozens of probably unworkable ones flying around us. As it is, I declare the weekend open with the thought that, on this apparently most pressing of subjects, the only certainty is that we are clueless.

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18 Responses to The truth about HK land and housing revealed: no-one has any idea

  1. ( . ) ( . ) says:

    I simply don’t like his face.

    I once took the train from Central to Lo Wu (I don’t wish it on anyone) and the one thing that struck me was how empty Hong Kong is.

  2. Gweiloeye says:

    Too many vested interests for any real decisions to ever be made.
    Stats that contradict other stats depending on who paid for it.
    The status quo will continue – band aids on top of band aids.

    My take (no I am not Alex Lo) – It’s not the size that counts, it’s how you use it. HK has used it poorly so it has revert to form and talk about the size.

  3. Bela Bucolic says:

    Sadly I am cycling and swimming on Lantau today and have no interest in taxidermy.

  4. Spud says:

    It’s all a panicky bait and switch for something. Get the public all worked up over losing the parks,the golf courses and even wheel out the NT Mafia to scare the public into thinking the SHP is there for ever – then suddenly the extra residential flats for that nice Mr. Li at West Kowloon or Kai Tak don’t seem so bad afterall.

  5. Sir Crispin says:

    Ladies and gentlemen, Asia’s World City! (smattering of golf claps)

  6. Gin Soaked Boy says:

    Hemlock, that’s the best analysis of the situation I’ve read. Why can’t our journalists produce similar insightful analysis. I believe the Internet is truly shifting the locus of informed opinion away from traditional media outlets.

  7. Grog says:

    Next on the tee, from Bottomsflash on Crapham, Hemmers Hemlock (smatterings of “gweilo go home!”).

  8. Real Tax Payer says:

    @ Gin Soaked Boy : I agree !

    That’s one of Hemmer’s best ever summaries of our crazy land policy (except he forgot to mention the boutique hotel on Lugard Road idiocy : that could instead become home for a 50 – story tower block housing 5,000 immigrant families who don’t mind the one mile trek to the Peak tram station instead of 50 boutique hotel guests who need electric golf cars)

    Someone summarized things very accurately in one of the recent SCMP comments. It went something like this:

    “We should build in the country parks , or not.
    We should build on all the farm land, or not.
    We should concrete over all the container ports, or not.
    We should build on Fanling golf course, or not”

    … and so the list goes on ( or not )

    If I were in Paul Chan’s shoes I would prefer to be kicked senseless, and then be gnawed through my abdomen and have my interior organs devoured rather than face the press yet again with a stoic grin and be ridiculed au Tacitus

  9. Stephen says:

    Whenever I hear some ill-informed expat, local or, worse, some Government official (who should know better) blathering on about high prices here being in anyway connected to land shortage I always reply with a resounding bollox. It is Government policy and collusion with the Real Estate / Construction cartel pure and simple. Trouble is its being going on so long no one knows now how to fix. We have built an entire economy around flipping over priced concrete boxes to each other and until recently used to idolize Uncles 1, 2, 3 and 4 who were partly responsible.

    How when Hong Kong’s birthrate is 0.7% is there any need for more housing – we are dying quicker than we are replenishing? If 150 Mainlanders are allowed in daily, 55,000 / year, for “Family Reunions”, I’m presuming someone in the (HK) family has an existing flat or do each of them get a new public housing unit?

    We all know the Government needs to fix how it finances itself and with its bloated reserves do we really need top top dollar for every parcel of land we sell. Well according to the Lands Department Yes.

    10/10 excellent summary.

  10. Karen Eliot says:

    Arthur Lee & Love: A House Is Not A Motel.

    Big Lychee, we approve this message.

  11. gweiloeye says:

    @RTP – but that is the irony of all that hand wringing from the pompous peak-eratti. they really had three choices:

    1. let the developer owner leave the building to fall into disrepair so he could develop a block of flats in due course (the usual trick for graded buildings)
    2. let the developer owner bulldoze the building now to develop a block of flats immediately
    3. Let the owner use the building as a hotel – keeps a graded building while still making money out of it.

    The dribbling from the peak-eratti NIMBY hypocrits was all about traffic. this is probably the same mob who start crying about old buildings being pulled down in the rest of HK.

    A hotel is now looking at lot better I think.

    Rant over – Sorry, I’m having a “I hate HK” day. Is it beer o’clock yet?

  12. Real Tax Payer says:

    @ gweiloeye

    Rant forgiven and the sun is now past the yard arm.

    I’m waiting for the first poodle to be run over by one of the boutique’s electric cars, or (heaven forbid) a head-on collision with a jogger.

    But that’s not the point. The point is aptly summarized by Stephen: 10/10

  13. ( . ) ( . ) says:

    Imagine an electric golf cart smashing into Dr Adams on his toy-bike, killing him on the spot (heroic death, if nothing else) and we would never hear from him again.

    Just imagine.

  14. Joe Blow says:

    Wishful thinking, Tits, wishful thinking.

  15. “On this apparently most pressing of subjects, the only certainty is that we are clueless.” Only on this subject?

    Here’s a clue as to why the NT Mafia supports development of the country parks: it may help delay the inevitable and long-overdue demise of the absurd small house policy.

  16. Gin Soaked Boy says:

    @JB. I suspect that Dr. Adams is not so easy to kill off and may speak to us from the other side. His Bela persona is an indication.

  17. Ed Snowdon says:

    Farewell then, Steve Vines
    in the spotlight for 15 seconds
    or something along those lines
    Early retirement in sunny Sai Kung
    Your fame was short, like Connie Chung

    Ed Snowdon, 12

  18. The Tattler says:

    @Gin Soaked

    “I believe the Internet is truly shifting the locus of informed opinion away from traditional media outlets.”

    Wow. You realize that. What was it… a 10 year long gin soak? You must be the resident analyst.


    Don’t forget, the more opposition Hong Kongers put up to cultural, political integration, the more the mainland will invoke the Tibet Solution. Left on its own, undoubtedly Hong Kong demographics would flatten out, but I suspect we’re in for a tidal wave of Putonghwa chewing northern hordes that will easily outbreed the locals in a matter of years.

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