LegCo Paper No. CB(1) 1519/96-97
(These minutes have been seen
by the Administration)
Ref: CB1/PS/10/95/1

LegCo Panel on Housing Subcommittee on Long Term Housing Strategy Review

Minutes of meeting held on Wednesday, 24 April 1997, at 12:30 pm in Conference Room B of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

    Hon LEE Wing-tat (Chairman)
    Hon Albert CHAN Wai-yip
    Hon Frederick FUNG Kin-kee
    Hon CHAN Yuen-han
    Hon LEUNG Yiu-ching

Members absent :

    Hon Mrs Selina CHOW, OBE, JP
    Hon Ronald ARCULLI, OBE, JP

Public officers attending :

    Housing Branch

    Mr Andrew R Wells
    Deputy Secretary for Housing
    Miss Sandy CHAN
    Principal Assistant Secretary for Housing
    Miss L K LAM
    Chief Assistant Secretary for Housing

    Planning, Environment and Lands Branch

    Mr Stanley WONG
    Principal Assistant Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands (Planning)

    Housing Department

    Ms Connie LAI
    Chief Planning Officer

    Lands Department

    Mr I J MacNaughton
    Government Land Agent

    Planning Department

    Mr S M LAU
    Government Town Planner
    Mr C M LEE
    Senior Statistician

Clerk in attendance :

    Mrs Vivian KAM
    Assistant Secretary General 1 (Acting)

Staff in attendance :

    Miss Eva LIU
    Head (Research and Library Services)
    Mr Jackie WU
    Research Officer 1
    Ms Vicky LEE
    Research Officer 3
    Miss Becky YU
    Senior Assistant Secretary (1)3

I Chapter 3 - Increasing Flat Supply

(LegCo Paper No. CB(1) 1374/96-97(01), (02) and (03))

Before commencing discussions on Chapter 3 of the Consultative Document (CD) on Long Term Housing Strategy, the Chairman advised that arising from members’ concern raised at the last meeting on 9 April 1997 on the time taken by the Administration in responding to requests by the Research and Library Services Division (RLS) for data, the RLS was requested to provide a chart setting out the details of the Administration’s response; a copy of the chart was circulated vide LegCo Paper CB(1) 1374/96-97(03). He then referred to a letter dated 23 April 1997 from the Administration (tabled at the meeting) on the subject and sought elaboration from the Administration.

2. The Deputy Secretary for Housing (DS for H) explained that the letter served as an interim reply as it was necessary to look into the details with relevant departments and policy branches. The Administration was taking the matter seriously and would provide a co-ordinated response in due course. He added that it would be useful to establish some ground rules at the commencement of a new research, and that some statements in the chart could be open to misinterpretation. The Chairman expressed dissatisfaction at a lead time of 41 days for arranging for a briefing and reminded the Administration of its responsibility to provide information under the Access to Information Code. He also cautioned that under such circumstances, LegCo Members would be compelled to change the approach by asking questions at LegCo sittings.

3. DS for H agreed on a need for improvement and reiterated the Administration’s intention to treat the matter seriously. He concurred with Hon Albert CHAN Wai-yip that part of the problem might arise from a need to co-ordinate information from various departments to ensure consistency.

Vacant development land (VDL)

4. At the Chairman’s invitation, the Principal Assistant Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands (Planning) (PAS for PEL(P)) explained that VDL referred to land intended for development purposes and which was vacant, under temporary use or had construction in progress. Details showing the location and size of such lands, which as at March 1996 consisted of a total of 4,300 hectares, was at Annex A of the information paper from the Administration.

5. The Chairman noted that a total of 427 and 203 hectares of land for residential and public housing purposes respectively were vacant, and asked for the correlation between these and figures recently quoted by the Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands (SPEL). He said that as the annex only showed the position as at 1996, figures in previous years including all additions and deletions to the list would also be required to enable members to assess the trend of lands which had been left vacant. The Head of the Research and Library Services Division (H/RL) pointed out that discounting land which had been put to temporary use or were under construction, the area of land which were vacant totalled over 1,600 hectares and constituted one-third of the 4,300 hectares of VDL. This represented a significant proportion.

6. On the first point, PAS for PEL(P) said that SPEL was referring to land which would be available to generate 180,000 flats as outlined in paragraph 3.10 of the CD. On the second point, he agreed that previous years’ figures would be necessary to indicate the trend and undertook to provide corresponding data in the past three years. He supplemented that the figures showed the position as at March in a particular year and the area of VDL might be affected by such factors as definition and the progress of works undertaken. PAS for PEL (P) drew attention to the Administration’s pledge as set out in paragraphs 3.13 and 3.14 of the CD to examine opportunities for increasing the density of development and rezoning land for residential purposes. Difficulties were envisaged in the latter case as this would entail amendments to outline zoning plans, and the process of public consultation would also be time-consuming.

7. The Government Town Planner (GTP) added that vacant land earmarked for residential purposes could be categorised into three broad types: land which were awaiting development such as those in North Lantau; land which were sold but were waiting construction; and private land in rural areas over which Government had no control on their development timing. Hon LEUNG Yiu-chung enquired if there were land awaiting infrastructural facilities, and about the percentages of such land. GTP replied in the affirmative and quoted a few examples of such land. However, he did not have the exact figures in hand. The Government Land Agent (GLA) advised that the ownership pattern of private agricultural land in the New Territories was often very fragmented. This made it both difficult and time-consuming for the developers to assemble sites.

Short term tenancy

8. In referring to land earmarked to the Housing Authority (HA) for the construction of public housing, the Chairman expressed concern on whether their being put to temporary use in the meantime would delay the allocation process. In response, PAS for PEL(P) said that such difficulties should not arise. The Administration would ensure that flexibility would be built in the conditions of lease for such short term tenancies (STT) to facilitate retrieval of land for long term purposes. GLA added that there were many reasons for sites being held under STT. Generally, land was let out temporarily pending commencement of the planned permanent development, which might be awaiting conclusion of re-zoning proposals or the completion of necessary infrastructure. This permitted the land to be put to suitable use whilst Government could generate some revenue. STTs were rarely let out for more than three years and sometimes for only six months. The aim was to ensure the beneficial use of sites rather than leaving them vacant. GTP added that it was inevitable for some land to be left vacant or put to temporary use. Examples included Government, Institution and Community (GIC) sites and open space the development of which had to await the population build-up in the areas concerned and the availability of funds for the projects. Another example would be land designated for industrial estates which were formed in a single package but allocation to individual industrial establishments of which was spread over a period of time.

Sham Tseng/Tung Tsuen Development

9. Hon LEUNG Yiu-chung referred to the answer to question 5 of the Administration’s response and enquired about the proposed development in Sham Tseng. GTP advised that Sham Tseng/Tung Tsuen was one of the sites identified as having the potential for development as a strategic growth area. Upon detailed feasibility study, however, it was found that the proposed development was not cost-effective and the proposal had accordingly been dropped.

10. Having regard to the many developments in the vicinity which had taken place since the Sham Tseng development was identified in 1983, members were not convinced of the Administration’s rationale. GTP explained that development of the sites for residential purpose quoted by members was possible on account of the existence of transport and infrastructural facilities in the area. The Sham Tseng/Tung Tsuen site, however, was located in a remote area without such facilities at all.

Time ceiling for development of land

11. While appreciating the reasons for some land to be left vacant, Hon LEUNG Yiu-chung enquired if there was a maximum time frame within which VDL was to be converted to serviced land. GTP said that there was no such time limit as far as he was aware, and reiterated the reasons for some land to be left vacant at any point in time.

Planning process

12. The Chairman referred to a piece of land in Lai King Hill which had been left vacant for an unduly long period before its ultimate development as a Sandwich Class Housing Scheme, and sought to ascertain the cause; Hon Frederick FUNG Kin-kee reckoned that the site had been left vacant for about 12 years. GLA said that it was unusual for land to lie idle for such a long period, but explained that at times Government departments were unable to take over the land until adequate funding for development was available. PAS for PEL(P) elaborated on the planning process. In accordance with the principle used in the Territorial Development Strategy Review, the Administration would first draw up plans for land in the next ten years, to be followed by plans in the following five years. The development of all plans were closely monitored. For land zoned for GIC purpose, internal committees were set up within the Administration to ensure that departmental efforts were well-coordinated. The committees would pay special attention to land which had been allocated but not utilized.Admin

13. DS for H also pointed out that for lands which had been identified as being suitable for housing development but were in lack of supporting facilities, the Administration had reserved $8 billion under Head 711 of the Capital Works Reserve Fund for the purpose. At the Chairman’s request, he undertook to provide the details in writing.

Land for Temporary Housing Areas (THAs)

14. Hon Frederick FUNG Kin-kee was concerned about land for THAs and enquired about: the type of land on which THAs were occupying, if land which had been used for THA for more than seven years could be allocated to the HA for development of interim housing, and whether mechanisms were in place to ensure timely development of VDL. In response, the Administration made the following points: Admin

  1. THAs were classified as a separate component under "Development Lands";

  2. consideration would be given to allocating land occupied by THA to the HA for public housing if they were not required for their original purposes; and

  3. it was necessary to determine at the outset the demand and availability of land for the various usages. The Administration’s record of allocating land to the HA was good, and HA had yet to decide on the future of interim housing.

At members’ request, the Administration undertook to provide information on land which had been allocated for THAs over the past five years, advise the proportion which had been used for THA for more than seven years, and consider the suggestion for allocating such land to the HA for development of interim housing.

Housing Demand Model

15. In connection with the Administration’s response attached to the letter of 23 April 1997 relating to the Housing Demand Model, the Chairman asked if the model would be updated by incorporating new data from the 1996 Population By-census and the housing aspirations survey being undertaken by the Planning Department (PD). GTP advised that data from the Population By-census were available, but the survey would not be completed until June or July 1997. He explained that the time taken for the survey was on account of the methodology adopted: interviewers who were unable to contact a household were instructed to contact the same household for up to five times before they could turn to another household. PD would re-examine the working assumptions in the light of new statistical data and would re-run the model as soon as possible. He also confirmed that the model would be re-run on an annual basis and whenever policy changes took place. GTP emphasized that the Housing Demand Model was only a tool whereas the solutions to housing problems were a matter of policy.

Legal immigrants from China

16. As regards the estimate of 17% of legal immigrants from China as having immediate housing needs, which members considered as being inadequate, GTP highlighted the fact that the 17% referred to the number of households instead of persons. Many had arrived for family re-union purpose and only a few did not have close relatives in Hong Kong. The Senior Statistician (SS) also assured members that the figure of 17% was very reliable and had been derived from the household formation pattern of legal immigrants from China over the past 15 years. During the period May 1995 to March 1997 for example, 90% of the new immigrants from China were females and children which was indicative of their being in Hong Kong for family re-union purpose, while the remaining 10% was adult male. In response to Hon Frederick FUNG Kin-kee’s worry that the 15-year pattern might suddenly change in a short period of two years, resulting from a sudden increase in the number of immigrants, SS confirmed that any new pattern could be accommodated in the Housing Demand Model.

17. Hon CHAN Yuen-han raised the question of one-member households sharing accommodation but which subsequently expanded to several-member households as a result of marriages and childbirths. The Chief Assistant Secretary for Housing acknowledged this concern and assured members that changes in trends would be closely monitored. DS for H added that this was one of the major tasks of the Housing Strategy Division recently created in the Housing Branch.

Accommodation Generation Rate (AGR) and Splitting Ratio (SR)

18. The Chairman sought advice on the reliability of assumptions used for deriving the AGR and the SR. GTP remarked that the working assumptions were drawn up on the basis of reliable statistics. Noting that the Administration had taken the hybrid option by taking a simple average of the options, the Chairman was worried that this would result in an under-estimate of housing needs. He suggested that the Administration should consider using the medium to high options so as to take into account changing socio-economic situations. Hon Frederick FUNG Kin-kee added that such options should at least be used for the next three years in order to cope adequately with demand, while Hon CHAN Yuen-han held the view that the safety margin of 7% for flat production was insufficient and should be increased.

Concluding remarks

19. In conclusion, the Chairman said that the housing demand model should be accurate and updated, that consideration should be given to increasing the safety margin for flat production, and that the medium to high options should be used in assessing housing demand. He urged the Administration to remove obstacles in the planning process, expedite the lead time for converting unformed land to serviced land, and make available a stable land supply in the years ahead.

20. DS for H acknowledged members’ concerns. He stressed the fact that the CD was a strategic consultative document aimed at gauging public opinion on the recommendations contained therein. He had taken note of views expressed by members and would take follow-up actions where appropriate.

II Any other business

21. Members agreed to hold another meeting on 13 May 1997 at 10:30 am to round up discussions on the CD. The Chairman reminded the Administration to provide all outstanding responses before the meeting.

22. There being no other business, the meeting ended at 2:30 pm.

Legislative Council Secretariat
9 May 1997

Last Updated on 20 August 1998