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Old December 30th, 2010, 08:04 AM   #1101
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Developers in race to beat curbs
The Standard
Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Buildings Department received 92 floor plans for property projects last month - the highest since the handover.

The high figure is a sign of a race by developers to win approval before curbs take effect next year over "inflated buildings" from misuse of concessions for building green and amenity facilities.

It is more than double the amount for the same month last year and a sharp rise from the 65 received in October.

"Developers are rushing to get their floor plans approved before restrictions on saleable floor areas are in place," said Patrick Chow Moon-kit, head of research at Ricacorp.

The government said in October that it would curb "inflated buildings," with a 10 percent cap to be placed on certain concessions.

In November, the department approved 30 floor plans, 15 of which were for residential projects.

Sixteen projects were granted occupation permits last month.

The permits covered 1,477 residential units with a combined gross floor area of 1.16 million square feet.

Meanwhile, the supply of private residential units jumped 85 percent in the first 11 months this year from a year ago, according to the department.

Around 70 percent of the new flats were in the New Territories, where 13 residential projects were finished this year.

"A total of 12,550 units were completed during the period, thanks to the strong trend in housing starts back in 2007," said Chow.

The total for the year could reach 14,000, which is 96 percent more than last year.

Chow also noted that starting in 2011, fewer than 9,000 private homes will be completed each year, as there were only 7,000 home starts annually between 2008 and this year.

Newly completed units fetched HK$2 billion last month.
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Old December 31st, 2010, 03:58 AM   #1102
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URA promises 3,400 flats in next five years
The Standard
Friday, December 31, 2010

The Urban Renewal Authority will put 3,400 flats on the market over the next five years, half of them smaller than 500 square feet.

"There is a huge demand for small to medium-sized flats. Half of our flats to be put on sale over the next five years will be of a compact design sized 500 square feet or below," authority managing director Quinn Law Yee-kwan said yesterday.

Asked whether prices will be set as high as its recent Queen's Cube project in Wan Chai - which fetches up to HK$15,000 per square foot - Law said that will depend on the private property market when the flats go on sale.

The authority's 68 small flats at Baker Court, Hung Hom, will go on sale by the end of next year. And 1,200 flats at Lee Tung Street in Wan Chai will supply the highest number of homes among authority redevelopments over the next five years, a spokesman said.

The remaining flats to be released are in six districts including Mong Kok, Kwun Tong and Sai Ying Pun.

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam- kuen in his policy address promised to liaise with the authority to increase the supply of small and medium-sized flats in urban renewal projects.

Law said the authority plans to spend HK$20 billion on revitalization projects in the next five years, with a "substantial amount" on redeveloping large sites of 1,000 square meters and over.

Meanwhile, executive director Iris Tam Siu-ying said four design options for revitalizing the 70-year-old Central Market will be available for public consultation as early as March.

The designs aim to introduce greenery into Central by renovating the market and creating a public amenity space. A decision on the design and tenancy mix will be made next year, Tam said, and renovations may take up to four years.
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Old January 4th, 2011, 05:07 PM   #1103
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Land use ruling opens way for stiffer penalties
4 January 2011
South China Morning Post

Environmental groups have long argued that penalties imposed for illegal dumping and land use in the New Territories are too lenient to discourage offences which can yield big profits. They have certainly looked derisory at times compared with the maximums allowed by law - and the money to be made by flouting it. The courts take other factors into account, such as the history of offending and consistency of sentencing. But there can be no argument about how light penalties can weaken the deterrent effect of punitive maximums. The question remains whether the deterrent effect, if any, of lower-range penalties reflects trends in community awareness and concerns about town planning and protection of the environment.

There is mounting evidence that they do not. It is good therefore to see that the courts appear to be listening to public sentiment, if a recent case is any guide. Hopefully the message will get through to people who treat light penalties like a licence fee for illegal activities that have turned parts of the New Territories into an eyesore.

Last June, a magistrate imposed fines totalling HK$980,000 on 18 people for illegally developing a container storage on a one-hectare site in Ha Tsuen, Yuen Long. They had defied an order from the Planning Department to desist since 2008 after flattening and fencing land with a pond and vegetation. Two years ago, a similar case - except that the site was six times larger - resulted in 56 people being fined a total of only HK$680,000.

Not surprisingly, 12 owners and managers in the later case appealed against fines ranging from HK$30,000 to HK$100,000 each. The appeal failed, but the real significance lay in remarks by the appeal judge which appear to set a new standard for punishment of people who breach land-use rules. Deputy Judge Andrew Chan Hing-wai said the courts should focus on depriving offenders of illicit gains and pass sentences that act as deterrents.

He rightly pointed out that society's awareness of planning and environmental issues was increasing. The court had a responsibility to hand down punishments that were more of a deterrent to people who broke the law purely for personal gain. Moreover, he left little doubt that the defendants may have been fortunate not to have come before him for sentencing, saying that the magistrate had been lenient. Each of the defendants had been treated as if they had only one previous breach, although some had many. In future, he said, the level of fines should be rational and logical.

We trust Chan is not a lone voice. His views, after all, are not inconsistent with the usual approach of the courts to persistent and repeated offending for personal gain. Prosecutors should also seriously consider his suggestion that they help magistrates determine an appropriate fine by supplying information about the increased market rental value of a plot under illegal use.

A string of violations of development and environmental rules has heightened public awareness and concern. Last year, the average sentence imposed for unauthorised development ranged from HK$9,682 to HK$23,333, although the Town Planning Ordinance allows fines of up to HK$500,000 on first conviction. Understandably there have been calls for the government to introduce jail sentences, as there are for breaches under the Country Parks Ordinance, Forest and Countryside Ordinance and Lands (Miscellaneous Provision) Ordinance, which have lighter fines. The imposition of fines that fit the crime, as suggested by Chan, would be a sensible test whether this is necessary.
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Old January 14th, 2011, 08:19 AM   #1104
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Tougher action on illegal structures
The Standard
Friday, January 14, 2011

The government proposes to amend the law empowering the Buildings Department to seek court warrants and inspect flats suspected of carrying out illegal internal alterations.

Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor told legislators the government planned to introduce a legislative amendment under the Buildings Ordinance to help the department take action against uncooperative landlords.

The government believes the law is necessary to inspect subdivided rooms or flats suspected of having illegal internal alterations.

Lam told the subcommittee on building safety that the community hopes the amendment will be implemented within the next few months.

The department is currently empowered to break into flats.

Yet this measure is rarely used unless there is a clear sign of imminent danger.

Lam said yesterday the time has come to take a tougher stance. Currently, there are about 400,000 illegal structures in the SAR, half the number of 10 years ago.

"We will treat all buildings the same and we won't just set priorities to do dangerous illegal structures first, or limit our scope because we have inadequate manpower and resources," she said.

It also does not matter if unauthorized constructions are on rooftops, podiums, yards or back lanes.

She believes more manpower and resources will be allocated in the forthcoming budget to address the increasing needs of the department.

On another front, the government is also planning to regulate illegal advertising signboards. But those inspected every five years by registered building professionals or contractors may be kept.

The department plans to draw up a comprehensive database of all signboards in Hong Kong, to ensure safety and facilitate control and enforcement action.

The proposals will be sent to the relevant Bills Committee for consideration.

While lawmakers generally approved the proposal, they asked that a flexible approach be taken as some illegal structures were erected before the homes were purchased by current owners.

The government will also explore the feasibility of encouraging building owners to make use of mediation to resolve water seepage-related disputes, a recommendation made by the Ombudsman after an inquiry into wrongful water charges was made.
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Old January 17th, 2011, 03:30 PM   #1105
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Stanley Ma Hang Park Officially Opened in Stanley
Government Press Release
Monday, January 17, 2011



The following is issued on behalf of the Housing Authority:

Visitors are encouraged to visit Stanley Ma Hang Park following its official opening by the Housing Authority today (January 17). The park has an area of 50,000 square-meters featuring various thematic zones to cater for people of all ages and interests.

Stanley Ma Hang Park is designed to blend in with the natural landscape. Pedestrian paths have been improved to enable safe and easy access to the various thematic zones, with display boards set up to introduce the birds, butterflies and plant species found in the park.

At the opening ceremony, Deputy Director (Development & Construction) of Housing, Ms Ada Fung said, "The design of Stanley Ma Hang Park has incorporated views and ideas from the local community and District Council, environmental groups, professionals and relevant government departments. We have strived to preserve the natural environment and improve the facilities in the park, including the lighting system and provision of toilet facilities, thus offering a green leisure space for our residents. The Housing Authority is thinking of improving the vegetation, so that in five years' time, the park will become an attractive habitat for more birds and butterflies."

At the ceremony, Ms Ada Fung and the Chairman of the Southern District Council, Ms Mar Yuet-har jointly stamped a giant map of Ma Hang Park to mark its official opening. More than 100 guests from the local community, Southern District Council and the green groups witnessed this important moment.

Also officiating at today's event were the Chairman of the Southern District East Area Committee, Mr Joseph Chan, District Officer (Southern), Mr Alex Wong, Chief Executive of the Conservancy Association, Mr Ken So, Assistant Director (Project) of Housing, Mr Martin Cheung, Chief Manager/Management (Kowloon West and Hong Kong) of the Housing Department, Mr Sunny Ip and Assistant General Manager of China State Construction Engineering (Hong Kong) Ltd, Mr Lau Wing-shing.
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Old January 19th, 2011, 05:25 PM   #1106
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Tunnel work eases flood fears
The Standard
Wednesday, January 19, 2011

West Kowloon residents can sleep a little easier with the completion of a branch of the Lai Chi Kok drainage tunnel, which aims to put an end to flood misery.

Areas of West Kowloon were inundated last year following some of the worst storms in years.

The whole tunnel is due for completion by the end of next year although engineers said they may encounter problems because part of it runs close to the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link.

"The surface runoff from the uphill catchment of Lai Chi Kok and Cheung Sha Wan will be intercepted by the drainage tunnel and discharged into the harbor near Stonecutters Island," Drainage Services Department director Chan Chi-chiu said.

Work began on the 2.5-kilometer branch tunnel near Butterfly Valley Road last March and was carried out 24 hours a day, six days a week.

Work on the 1.2km main tunnel under Tsing Sha Highway will begin in April.
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Old January 19th, 2011, 05:29 PM   #1107
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Housing Society plans 1,200 flats in Sham Shui Po
19 January 2011
South China Morning Post


Cityscape

The Housing Society will offer more than 1,200 flats from 2013 at affordable prices, under its five urban renewal projects in Sham Shui Po.

"These will be no-frills and simple flats but of competitive quality, as the owners may resell the flats on the market," the society's chairman, Yeung Ka-sing, said yesterday.

The projects were targeting the mass market, especially first-time homebuyers who were seeking an affordable home, Yeung said.

"We don't actually impose any [application] conditions [about] whether you are a first-time homebuyer or not. But we believe the kind of affordability we will offer will suit first-time homebuyers."

The society will not impose any other specific eligibility conditions on applicants.

About 70 per cent of the 1,257 homes will be two-bedroom flats measuring about 500 sq ft and the rest will be 400 sq ft studio and one-bedroom flats, and three-bedroom homes from 600 sq ft to 700 sq ft.

The first of the five projects to be completed will be two 327-flat blocks located at the junction of Po On Road and Wai Wai Road. The development is expected to be finished in 2013. A pre-sale will be launched by the end of next year and ballots will be drawn if the number of applicants exceeds the number of flats available.

Prices have yet to be determined, but the society's chief executive, Wong Kit-loong, said they would be close to market prices.

However, since they are no-frills homes, their prices would still be lower than those with luxury decoration offered by private developers.

"When we set the prices, we are subjected to a lot of circumstances like the market - whether it's going up or down," he said. "At the moment, what we can say is that we've already spent HK$1.8 billion to resume all the flats in these sites.

"It's a very high-cost project and at the moment we hope that we can break even."

He said flats were now selling at about HK$6,000 per sq ft in Sham Shui Po.

Patrick Chow Moon-kit, head of research at Ricacorp Properties, said the projects would be attractive to buyers because of their location. "This is located in the urban area where there aren't many private residential projects," Chow said. "And it is close to the MTR stations."

He said private flats aged about three to five years in the neighbourhood were selling at between HK$6,500 and HK$7,400 per square foot in the secondary market.

The Housing Society is an independent, statutory, non-profit-making body which provides housing for low income and middle-class families with its own resources or in partnership with the government.

It raises finance for its projects through property sales, commercial leasing and external borrowings.

The society is confident that it will not receive criticism similar to that heaped on Queen's Cube, the residential project in Queen's Road East, Wan Chai, jointly developed by the Urban Renewal Authority and Nan Fung Group.

The flats there were criticised for being overpriced. The project raised eyebrows when flats went on the market in October at HK$14,888 per sq ft of gross floor area.

Yeung said the society chose to develop the Sham Shui Po project on its own instead of with private developers, so it would not need to compromise when setting prices.

The society said its medium-sized flats would offer an alternative choice of simple and durable homes.
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Old January 21st, 2011, 08:23 PM   #1108
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'Dark age' hits flats as 34-storey hotel looms next door
21 January 2011
SCMP







The dark age has arrived for homeowners in a Sheung Wan building - literally.

A three-storey building next to it is turning into a 34-floor hotel that will completely block some of their windows.

There will be so little room between the two buildings that some flat owners in the 14-storey Wing Shun Building on Bonham Strand West have been told to remove air-conditioners and water pipes to make room for the rising hotel.

"We received a letter two months ago, [from the builder] telling us that our windows will be blocked. And they asked us to move our air-conditioners and pipes to the other side," said a tenant living on the 12th floor.

"There won't be any light and air coming into the living room," she said.

The hotel construction was approved by the Buildings Department - but so was the placement of air-conditioners and pipes on the older building, questionably close to the lot boundary.

It appears that when Wing Shun was built 40 years ago, its developers were so eager to make use of the investment, the building literally used every inch of the site's space.

Bernard Lim Wan-fung, professor of architecture at Chinese University, said the air conditioners and pipes were probably illegal constructions in the first place.

"No windows and facilities can be built on the side of a building which is close to the lot boundary," he said.

"If they are built, the building should not be constructed close to the lot boundary. There must be space between these facilities and the adjacent building."

Once the hotel is complete, three of the five windows of flat B units in Wing Shun Building will disappear, leaving those flats with only two windows facing the main street.

The hotel, developed by Bright Century Limited, is now seven floors high. Its completion date is unknown. "It's now very noisy and dusty in the apartment," the woman tenant said. "Lights are on until 8pm or 9pm. That's very annoying."

Flats on the lower floors are not affected, however. Their windows do not face the hotel project.

Lawmaker Kam Nai-wai, who is also a Central and Western district councillor, said four owners had complained to him so far.

Vincent Ho Kui-yip, chairman of the Institute of Surveyors' building surveying division, said buildings close to each other were common in Hong Kong.

Developers were allowed to build buildings within their own lot boundaries, Ho said.

He said the hotel developers had a right to ask that the older building's facilities be removed.

"In the first place, the old building should not have windows, air conditioners and pipes out of its lot boundary," he said.

Bright Century project director Joe Liu said his company had first tried to approach property owners affected by the development a year ago. "In fact, we have settled cases with three units already, to help them remove air conditioners and other facilities," he said.

He said the hotel development had been approved by the Buildings Department, which assisted in talks with affected property owners. "When our hotel is built, there will still be a 10cm gap between our building and the adjacent building."

The owner of Flat B on the 9th floor said he felt humiliated when trying to negotiate with contractor Paul Y Builders. He said the contractor had only offered to pay half the expenses involved in modifications. "They sent us letters and informed us what they were going to do. We are in a very weak position."
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Old January 22nd, 2011, 10:44 AM   #1109
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Contract awarded for Harbour Area Treatment Scheme Stage 2A
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Government Press Release

The Drainage Services Department (DSD) today (January 20) awarded a $625 million contract for upgrading the preliminary treatment works at North Point, Wan Chai East and Central.

Speaking after the contract signing ceremony, the Director of Drainage Services, Mr Chan Chi-chiu said this was the eighth major works contract awarded under the Harbour Area Treatment Scheme (HATS) Stage 2A.

"This contract comprises the upgrading of three preliminary treatment works (PTWs) at North Point, Wan Chai East and Central. The PTWs provide preliminary treatment to the sewage before the sewage is conveyed via the deep sewage tunnels to the Stonecutters Island Sewage Treatment Works (SCISTW) for further treatment. The major works of this contract include upgrading the inlet sewage pumps, the fine screen systems and the grit removal systems as well as the enhancement of the deodorisation systems and landscaping areas of the PTWs," Mr Chan said.

HATS is a major sewerage infrastructure project in Hong Kong for the improvement of water quality in Victoria Harbour. The commissioning of HATS Stage 1 in late 2001 has provided proper treatment for about 75% of the sewage discharged into Victoria Harbour, and has significantly improved the water quality in the eastern and central parts of the harbour. HATS Stage 2A will collect the remaining 25% of the sewage generated from the northern and southwestern parts of Hong Kong Island, and involves the construction of approximately 21 kilometres of sewage tunnels, and the expansion and upgrading of the SCISTW facilities and related PTWs on Hong Kong Island.

The contract is scheduled for completion at the end of 2014.
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Old January 23rd, 2011, 06:10 PM   #1110
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Punishment must fit the crime for eco-vandals
23 January 2011
South China Morning Post

If you litter the footpath with a scrap of paper you risk an on-the-spot fine of HK$1,500. There is a lot to lose and nothing to gain. There are also laws to protect country parks and wilderness from degradation, such as development. The difference is that the people involved, from principals to employees, do stand to benefit one way or another. On-the-spot fines are not the answer. To make the punishment fit the crime, the penalties must be tough enough to prompt reflection as to whether the gain to be made from breaking the law is worth the risk. If not, the penalties are part of the problem, not the solution.

Examples are to be found in prosecutions following the public uproar over development of a site beside scenic Sai Wan beach on Sai Kung peninsula. The land was unzoned, but enclosed by conservation areas. A businessman bought it from owners of an abandoned village. Development resulted in illegal excavation of government land and pollution of watercourses. The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department brought charges under the Country Park Ordinance against three drivers, four employees of a development company and a machinery supplier, for illegally transporting diggers across the beach. A court imposed fines from HK$450 to HK$800. Littering a street would have cost them more.

Not only are these fines derisory given the increased public awareness of the value of our natural heritage, but so are the maximum penalties of HK$2,000 and three months' jail the law provides for. The Lands Department brought charges against other parties for illegal excavation of government land and polluting watercourses. The same misgivings apply. The court imposed fines of between HK$1,000 and HK$35,000, when the maximum penalties are HK$50,000 and six months' jail.

Neither the sentencing nor the maximum sentences reflect prevailing public sentiment. Conservationists rightly point out that transport of the diggers was a deliberate violation of the law and not accidental trespassing. They want the Department of Justice to apply for a review of the sentences; the Lands Department is, at least, seeking legal advice on its next step. But that does not atone for the fact that much of the damage need not have happened anyway. It turns out to be a classic case of divided responsibilities and red tape preventing decisive action to enforce the law and safeguard the environment. Digging work had only just begun when AFCD officers visited Sai Wan in early June. Instead of stopping it they asked the Lands Department if it had approved development there; the latter's staff took another three weeks to visit and survey the area. It was another month before work was halted. The two departments give conflicting accounts of what went wrong. But a more proactive, interdepartmental approach is needed to combat eco-vandalism.

The Sai Wan case represents a quirk of history. Pockets of ancestral land were exempted from the country parks system. Those that defied zoning for agricultural or conservation use were left unzoned, leaving a loophole for unregulated development. The government has acted to close this loophole in Sai Wan and at some other sites through temporary protective zonings. More action like this is needed, along with a greater sense of urgency in response to environmental threats and tougher penalties to fit the crime and public expectations. The government could start by explaining why the person ultimately responsible for the illegal Sai Wan work - the one who authorised it - has not been prosecuted.
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Old January 25th, 2011, 10:30 AM   #1111
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Builders hike pay to lure `new blood'
25 January 2011
The Standard

Graduates of a construction industry training scheme can look forward to earning up to HK$15,000 a month after only six months on the job, trade executives said.

This is the centerpiece of the latest attempt to attract more young people to an industry suffering from an acute shortage of workers.

``We want to make it more appealing so as to attract new blood,'' Construction Association president Conrad Wong Tin-cheung said. ``The demand for construction workers mainly hinges on the amount of government projects and those of the private sector. When the economy booms, more building projects will come on stream.''

Under the Construction Industry Council scheme launched last September, the training allowance for students enrolling in courses for bar bending and fixing, timber formwork, metal formwork and drain laying is HK$5,000 a month.

Ninety-four companies have pledged to hire course graduates for periods ranging from one to three months at a salary of at least HK$8,000 a month. The salary will be raised to a minimum of HK$10,000 after six months.

As of mid-January, 39 of the 44 graduates have been hired on salaries ranging from HK$8,000 to HK$14,000 a month.

The scheme, which aims to train 3,000 workers over three years, is one of the measures included in a HK$100 million package approved last year by the Legislative Council's Finance Committee to attract more young people and enhance training for existing workers.

Wong yesterday disclosed that more than 20 of the 94 firms have recently agreed to raise the starting salary for graduates by HK$2,000 to at least HK$10,000 a month. After six months they will be paid at least HK$15,000 a month, he said.

He expects other firms will follow to compete for talent. ``Graduates will be drawn to the companies which provide better wages,'' Wong said.

Billy Wong Wing-hoo, chairman of the council's committee on manpower training and development, said the pay hike offer does not imply a lukewarm response to the current scheme. Instead, it reflects the increased salary levels of the trade.

He dismissed worries that the rise in labor costs may push up tender prices.

``What rattles contractors most is the difficulty in hiring enough workers to do a project after being awarded a tender,'' he said.
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Old January 25th, 2011, 05:51 PM   #1112
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Cheung Kong seeks $30b flat sales
The Standard
Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Cheung Kong (Holdings) (0001) hopes to gross around HK$30 billion this year by launching up to 11 residential projects in Hong Kong, Singapore and three mainland cities.

"We may raise HK$20 billion by selling seven projects in Hong Kong with about 3,500 flats, if we can obtain pre- sales consent this year," said executive director Justin Chiu Kwok-hung, adding sales revenue will be similar to last year.

The first two projects to go on the market are Phase 2C of Lohas Park in Tseung Kwan O - with 1,100 flats - and the Hung Shui Kiu project in Yuen Long, which is mainly targeted at mainland buyers.

"Around 10-15 percent of our buyers will be from the mainland, compared with 5-6 percent last year," said director William Kwok Tsz-wai. The Li Ka- shing-controlled developer also expects to make HK$10 billion from more than 1,000 homes that will be sold in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Singapore.

Looking ahead, Cheung Kong is interested in bidding for land along and above the Long Ping railway station in Yuen Long, said Chiu.

Meanwhile, rival Sun Hung Kai Properties (0016) plans to sell its residential project Imperial Cullinan in the coming months. Situated in southwest Kowloon, the five-block project offers 650 residential homes. The apartments range from 800 to 2,000 square feet.

"For the price, you may take reference from nearby The Cullinan," said Allen Woo, Sun Hung Kai Real Estate Agency senior sales and marketing manager, hinting they will cost more than HK$20,000 per square foot.

The local property market is expected to see robust growth after speculators were bounced out by government curbing measures in November.

With interest rates remaining low and inflation between 4 and 5 percent, home prices are expected to see double-digit growth this year, said Chiu. "Developers don't want house prices to shoot up too fast," Chiu said.

On the other hand, mainland property prices will stabilize due to further credit tightening policies, Chiu noted.

Cheung Kong said it will continue to replenish its land reserves in China and is targeting large sites for big projects.

Cheung Kong shares rose 0.3 percent to HK$133 yesterday, while Sun Hung Kai Property (0016) dipped 0.7 percent to HK$134.20.
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Old January 26th, 2011, 11:19 AM   #1113
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Residents displaced by renewal projects fear being shut out
24 January 2011
South China Morning Post

Residents affected by a redevelopment project in Sham Shui Po fear they will not be able to afford to move back to the area.

They urged the Housing Society, which is responsible for five renewal projects in the district, to include public housing or Home Ownership Scheme flats in its plans, so residents can afford to resettle in the district after the redevelopment work.

"Prices of the society's planned flats would be too high for many of our residents. This will widen the poverty gap," said Ho Kwok-keung, who lives in the district and is a member of a group concerned about the projects.

The society said on Friday it planned to build 1,200 affordable, no-frills flats aimed at the mass market, especially first-time buyers, in the five projects, starting in 2013.

But the residents said they were disappointed the society did not consider their proposal made in September, for which they received almost 1,000 signatures in support.

The proposal included building one block of public housing, two blocks of HOS flats and two blocks of private housing, for a total of 1,182 flats. The society's plan is to build eight blocks of private housing, in four of the five projects.

"Our proposal considers the needs of different people, but the society is only responding to demands of first-time homebuyers," said Ho.

The proposal was supported by Sham Shui Po District Council, which submitted it to the society, the Urban Renewal Authority (URA) and the Development Bureau in October. But only the society responded in January, saying it was discussing the matter with the URA, he said.

"We are calling on the authorities to consider our proposal. Many of our residents work or go to school in the neighbourhood. It will pose a great financial and psychological burden to them if they have to relocate to other districts," Ho said.

Cheung Sin-yi, another resident and member of the concern group, said: "They are contradicting their own urban renewal strategies, which include maintaining social linkages and proper resettlement of residents in the district."

The URA handed over the five projects in Sham Shui Po to the society under a memorandum of understanding, a spokesman for the society said, and the society has to follow the URA's policy and strategy.

"It is the government's decision whether or not to build public housing and HOS flats," he said but admitted the agreement did not say private housing must be built in the projects.

"We paid full compensation in land acquisition, and houses will be sold at market prices," he said.

The Housing Society is an independent, statutory, non-profit-making body that provides housing for low-income and middle-class families with its own resources or in partnership with the government.

It funds its projects through property sales, commercial leasing and external borrowings.
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Old January 27th, 2011, 06:02 PM   #1114
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Prices staying the course
The Standard
Thursday, January 27, 2011

Housing experts predict the volume of property sales this year will fall from 2010 levels, while prices will rise 5 to 15 percent - down from last year's 21 percent - as more government intervention is expected to cool the market.

Transactions in Hong Kong's primary and secondary markets may slump 10 percent and 20 percent, respectively, analysts and agencies said.

That being said, Samsung Securities managing director and regional head of property Lee Wee-liat does not expect residential prices to slide much due to the current low mortgage rates.

"Even if the interest rates rise within these two years, the pace won't be too fast, and home prices won't fall easily," he said.

Lee forecasts property prices will climb 5 percent this year as the government launches more measures to curb speculation.

"Homebuyers will be more cautious as they may find home prices too high after those austerity measures, so we foresee the number of home transactions dropping," Lee said.

According to Samsung, the average transaction value in the primary market for the first half of 2010 soared to almost HK$20 million per property - five times higher than the norm of HK$4 million per unit.

This indicated that a large number of the sales involved luxury properties, defined as homes costing HK$12 million or more.

The strong response of homebuyers in the primary market subsequently triggered a wave of transactions in the secondary market, where the average transaction value jumped to HK
$4 million, up from the norm of HK$2.5 million to HK$3 million per apartment - similar to what occurred in 1997, when per unit price also hit HK$4 million.

"Mainland buyers will continue to be the main driver of the local luxury residential market," Lee said, adding they may have accounted for 40 percent of firsthand luxury home purchases in the second half of last year.

For the first six months of last year, Centaline Property attributed up to 35 percent of luxury sales in the primary market, and about 20 percent of deals in the secondary market, to mainland buyers.

Centaline research director Wong Leung-sing said 1,172 villas changed hands in the whole of 2010, generating turnover of HK$25.67 billion - the highest level since the HK$43.37 billion recorded in 1997.

Meanwhile, Midland Realty head of research Buggle Lau Ka-fai takes a more bullish view for 2011.

Lau projects that home prices will rise 10 percent, with trading volume declining about 17 percent.

Ricacorp predicts the number of residential transactions will drop 20 percent this year to 108,000 deals, or about 9,000 per month, while prices will climb 10 percent at major housing estates, and 15 percent for luxury homes.

Construction started for 5,397 flats in 35 projects last year - a 22 percent plunge from 6,887 homes in 2009 - according to Ricacorp head of property research Patrick Chow Moon-kit.

Chow forecasts construction starts to rebound to 8,000 to 12,000 flats this year.

"The actual levels of demand may be distorted by investment activities," said Samsung's Lee, commenting on the view that home prices are pushed up by undersupply.

Of the private flats built and occupied between 2006 and 2009, some 26 percent to 36 percent of them are being rented out rather than occupied by owners, according to data compiled by the Rating and Valuation Department.

Lee said those percentages were even higher than the 17 percent in 1996 and 28 percent in 1997, during the asset bubble before the Asian financial crisis.
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Old January 28th, 2011, 12:29 AM   #1115
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Garley Building owner to sell redeveloped premises
Ernest Kong
6 April 2005
South China Morning Post

China Resources Enterprise, having secured full ownership of Garley Building after a seven-year battle, plans to sell the site which it is in the process of rebuilding.

The company is redeveloping the building, which was heavily damaged in a tragic fire in 1996, into a 12-storey Ginza-style shopping mall. It was seeking about $1 billion, or about $9,000 per sqft, for the property, an agent said.

While construction of the 101,332 sqft project will not be completed until the end of 2007, most potential buyers are local investors who are confident in running a shopping mall near Jordan MTR station.

Colliers International director of Investment Antonio Wu said: "Most foreign investors eye retail property that is already generating a stable rental yield, while [this] property is only in pre-sale status. Interested parties are mostly local investors and developers."

The property, at $1 billion, can generate a rental yield of about 4 per cent if it is leased for about $30 per sqft per month, which is similar to rents at Ginza-style shopping malls in Causeway Bay.

China Resources Enterprise has been offloading its non-core properties in Hong Kong. The firm recently sold an office tower with a retail podium - CRE Building on Hennessy Road, Wan Chai, for $41 million.

Last October, it sold an office project near the Central escalator for $1.33 billion.

A property agent said: "The firm is selling its properties in a low profile. It welcomes price negotiation but will not put properties on tender."

The Garley Building name would probably change when the new building was completed, a property agent said.

After being badly damaged by the fire, the abandoned building became an eyesore on bustling Nathan Road. Despite strong redevelopment merit and keen interest from majority owner China Resources Enterprise, which owned about 68 per cent in undivided shares before the fire, the building went through a long land-assembly process.

In 2000, the firm had amassed an undivided share ownership close to 88.5 per cent, but it could not force an auction until 2003, when its ownership rose to more than 90 per cent, the minimum level required to force an auction according to the compulsory sale for redevelopment ordinance.

China Resources Enterprise secured full ownership from the five remaining owners in an auction for $19 million.

China Resources Enterprise said it had spent about $300 million to raise its ownership to more than 90 per cent before the forced auction.
The Urban Renewal Authority will implement the project in association with the Hong Kong Housing Society, helping to rejuvenate the old district and improve residents' living conditions.




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Old January 30th, 2011, 04:17 PM   #1116
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City still has 1,400 dilapidated buildings a year after collapse
To Kwa Wan disaster left four dead, but moves to improve safety are stuck at the talking stage
29 January 2011
South China Morning Post

It was a year ago today: a 53-year-old tenement building shook. Then it cracked and fell amid deafening noise and a plume of dust, crumbling into a pile of rubble.

Four people died and two were injured in the shocking January 29, 2010, collapse of a five-storey, 53-year-old apartment house in To Kwa Wan. Dozens of people in neighbouring buildings thought to be at risk were forced to find new homes. And though the tragedy riveted the city and prompted plenty of concerned talk about building safety in Hong Kong, a government survey shows that 1,400 buildings that are at least 30 years old remain today in "dilapidated conditions".

The Urban Renewal Authority, which completed the survey last month, did not specify how run-down the buildings are or where they are located. It said that releasing information about specific buildings could hurt their property value.

A spokesman took pains, however, to say: "No building is found to be in immediate danger so far."

Despite the high number of ageing buildings with clear defects, remedies are still in the talking stage. The URA is planning a forum in April to figure out urban-renewal strategies. Lawmakers are debating a basket of new measures, including a law that would compel owners of older structures to get regular professional building inspections.

The new survey of dilapidated buildings follows up an earlier one, done by the URA shortly after the tenement collapse of a year ago. That investigation found that about 2,000 buildings in Hong Kong were a "potential danger". The phrase was not defined.

"We will not release the full results of the report," a top URA official said late last year. "Releasing such information would have a serious impact on the value of the properties concerned and this would not be fair to the owners.

"There is no public safety concern since any building found with immediate danger will be fixed," the official added. "We are talking about blocks with potential danger and we will tell these owners and help them repair their homes."

The To Kwa Wan tragedy prompted the Buildings Department to make its own survey last February. The department found that over half of Hong Kong's 4,000 buildings more than 50 years old were found to have obvious and minor defects. Most of the buildings were found in Kowloon City, Yau Tsim Mong and Sham Shui Po districts. Two needed emergency remedial work and got it.

Professor Law Chi-kwong, who specialises in urban renewal issues at the University of Hong Kong, called for more disclosure. He questioned the premise that flat prices would fall if the authority disclosed more details of its survey.

"The price could rise as the potential redevelopment value could be attractive to buyers," he said. "They can realise a much higher profit from redevelopment than owning a renovated flat," he said.

Making public such information, without naming the buildings, would bolster public and owners' awareness of building maintenance, Law said.

A spokeswoman for the development agency yesterday declined to say if it would release details of the survey results.

Earlier this month, the Buildings Department brought charges against a contractor responsible for renovation work in a ground-floor shop done before the building at 45 Ma Tau Wai Road collapsed.

The contractor, who was not identified, was charged under a section of the Buildings Ordinance regarding work that causes injury or damage to property. The maximum penalty is HK$1 million and three years' jail. A Buildings Department spokeswoman said the Department of Justice decided to prosecute after studying forensic results and witness statements. Investigators found that renovation work had damaged structurally important columns, and two others.

Questions have been asked about whether Chak Oi-luen, owner of the collapsed building, will face any charges. Police have been investigating the case but have arrested no one so far.

Democratic Party lawmaker and solicitor James To Kun-sun said if prosecutors could prove the owner had instructed the contractor to remove the structural columns, knowing that could cause danger, she could be charged with inciting someone to violate the building law.

"But it looks unlikely the owner will be prosecuted," To said.

In the Legislative Council, lawmakers are debating bills submitted by the Development Bureau meant to step up building safety.

A major step would be a new law requiring owners to conduct building inspections. Owners of buildings older than 30 years would have to hire a professional to examine the common areas of the blocks every 10 years. Those who failed to comply would face a fine of HK$50,000 and a year in jail.

The bill, finally tabled after nearly two decades of political haggling, is expected to take effect no sooner than year's end.

Other measures would equip building officials with court warrants to let them enter flats for inspections, and require owners to apply to the Buildings Department when subdividing flats to ensure they hire qualified contractors.

Property owners refusing to share costs of repairing common areas would be charged a 20 per cent surcharge of the expense. A unified scheme of building maintenance subsidies, run by the Housing Society and Urban Renewal Authority, would offer help to owners with financial difficulties.

These new measures require the amendment of dozens of regulations. Whether they will take effect soon will depend on how fast the bureau can secure lawmakers' approval.

Law said mandatory inspections would alleviate problems relating to older buildings, but the bill failed to answer some questions. Should government offer help to elderly people who cannot afford inspections? Should buildings more than 50 years old be exempted from mandatory inspection because they could be redeveloped soon anyway?

In the long run, he said, the hazards of old buildings would not be solved without addressing poverty in the city.

"The root of the problem is that we have a large number of poor families which create a continuous demand for dilapidated flats and subdivided flats," he said, "In other modern cities, these poor-condition flats are often demolished as they have no market."

Redevelopment in the collapsed building's neighbourhood has not gone smoothly. The project, undertaken by the authority alone, was scheduled to commence acquisition last May. But it is still in a deadlock, eight months later.

Earlier this month, eight residents filed an appeal against the redevelopment, saying their flats, located on the street adjacent to the collapsed building, were excluded from the redevelopment boundary. The appeal - a first for the authority - will postpone the project by two months; acquisitions cannot commence until it is settled.

Chan Ming-chuen, one of the eight residents, said the authority's arrival had ruined a deal to sell his flat to an estate agency, which had been acquiring old buildings in the area before the collapse. Chan, in his 60s, urged the authority to include him in the project because his site had now become too small to be lucrative for private developers.

Although the authority is allowing tenants and owners to receive compensation before it takes their property, only two of the 159 property interests have been sold to the authority, and about half of the affected tenants have moved out.

The authority's HK$2 billion project will convert 33 blocks on Ma Tau Wai Road and Chun Tin Street into two 30-storey blocks. Each will have 500 square metres of open space at ground level, 1,000 square metres of community facilities and street-level shops. The project is expected to create experimental "no-frills" small to medium-sized apartments.
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Old February 1st, 2011, 11:30 AM   #1117
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Fine dining on the menu at luxury housing project for the elderly
26 January 2011
South China Morning Post

A luxury housing project for the elderly now under construction in North Point will include a wine cellar and fine dining restaurants - and for tenants who continue to work, a business centre.

But for those contemplating retirement and wishing to escape the urban environment and office life, a proposed resort-style project in Tin Shui Wai may be a better choice.

The projects are being developed by the non-profit Hong Kong Housing Society and are aimed at providing quality retirement accommodation on life-lease contracts for people aged 60 or over. Excluding land, the projects will cost in the region of HK$5 billion and will provide 1,780 units for lease.

"One in every four Hong Kong residents will be aged 60 and above within 11 to 12 years from now. Demand for elderly housing will become enormous," said the society's chief executive and executive director, Wong Kit-loong.

The contrasting lifestyle concepts for the developments - one catering for retirees keen to continue a cosmopolitan and urbanised lifestyle, and the other targeting those who wished to settle into a quiet and tranquil living environment - were chosen after the society visited elderly housing projects in Denmark, Holland, Japan, Australia and the mainland, said Wong.

"We will offer two choices for retirees. The Tanner Hill project will be suited to those who want to remain in an urban area to continue with their businesses, and our project in Tin Shui Wai next to the Wetland will be run like a country club," he said.

In addition to its 1,200 tenanted units, the Tin Shui Wai project will feature a 200-room hotel or guesthouse. This could be used by relatives or friends of the units' occupants, he said. Phase one will be completed in 2014 and phase two in 2017.

The Tanner Hill development, comprising 580 units ranging in size from 700 sq ft to 1,400 sq ft, is due to be completed in 2013.

Wong said more than 600 potential tenants had indicated an interest in leasing units in the two projects when the society conducted a survey with 1,000 interviewees aged over 60 and with assets valued at over HK$10 million. Rentals have not yet been fixed, but Wong said they would be referenced against prevailing rental transactions in the nearby district.

Taking into account the planning restriction on the two sites which must be used for accommodation for the elderly, Wong said he believed the land premium charged by the government should be relatively lower than what it charges for ordinary residential sites.

The society has two existing subsidised projects catering for the elderly - the 243-unit Jolly Place in Tseung Kwan O, and the 333-flat Cheerful Court in Jordan Valley.

The projects offer accommodation for middle-income retirees aged over 60 as well as a rehabilitation and health care centre, gymnasium, and activity rooms. Tenants have to pay a lump sum ranging from HK$300,000 to HK$600,000, for the use of the flats for the rest of their lives.

Asset qualifications for single applicants in the two existing projects are set at between HK$1 million and HK$3.3 million, and between HK$1.5 million and HK$4.95 million for couples.

Yuen Ka-lok, 82, moved into Cheerful Court six years ago after he had a heart attack. He was on holiday in Hong Kong at the time and unfit to take a long-haul flight back to London where he was living.

"I had no choice but to stay in Hong Kong with my wife," said Yuen, who initially rented a unit in Telford Garden for HK$7,000 per month.

After learning from his son about the society's two Senior Citizen Residences, Yuen decided to move into Cheerful Court.

"The elderly housing project's caring services are extremely helpful. In the first year, I was in and out of hospital eight times," said Yuen.

"The incidents usually happen late at night but each unit has an emergency bell beside the bed that connects to a 24-hour nursing centre. So the centre is able to send staff to check on us around the clock."

Now that his health has improved he has established a busy social life and meets regularly with other retirees in the estate. "We have dim sum breakfasts together or visit each other's homes regularly for parties," he said.

Chu said her children encouraged the move because they became concerned for the safety of their parents as the run-down apartment in Kwun Tong in which they were living had once caught fire.

"All my kids have married and they have their own families, and we wanted to maintain our independent life," she added, so she cashed out of her flat and with the assistance of a contribution from her children, was able to lease a unit at Cheerful Court.

"Now my four children and five grandsons visit us every weekend," she said.

Chu said some elderly people could not easily be convinced that it was a good idea to make a one-off payment of half a million dollars to secure a flat for life on a rental basis.

"But it is value for money as I have lived here for more than six years since making my payment. Also, I enjoy living here very much," she said.

About 70 per cent of tenants at Cheerful Court are aged between 73 and 75 and the turnover rate of units in the estate was just three per cent.

The Housing Society's Wong said applicants for units should not view their one-off payment for elderly housing as a kind of investment.

"The money you spend is to ensure that you enjoy your retirement life," he said.
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Old February 3rd, 2011, 06:18 PM   #1118
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Cultivation takes over at Sai Kung beach site
1 February 2011
South China Morning Post

A farm or garden appears to be taking shape on a controversial site at Tai Long Sai Wan beach, Sai Kung, despite a government zoning order meant to halt development.

A possible loophole, allowing "agricultural use", has in effect allowed the landlord, Simon Lo Lin-shing, to farm or grow plants on the private site.

Green activists worry the new vegetation could destroy the original ecology there, but planning officials admit there is little they can do.

At the centre of the issue is a piece of land acquired by Lo, chairman of Mongolia Energy, at Tai Long Sai Wan Beach, where he had reportedly planned to build a personal retreat. Construction work started last year, sparking fierce criticism by green groups for causing damage to the local ecology.

In the wake of a public outcry, the government issued an emergency zoning order designating the site for "unspecified use" and banning all kinds of land use or development unless prior approval is given. No diversion of streams, filling of land or ponds or excavation of land is allowed either, without approval.

The zoning was temporary, pending the Planning Department's studies to determine a long-term zoning arrangement. But this seemingly perfect solution allows "agricultural use" of the site.

Conservancy Association campaigner manager Peter Li Siu-man said it showed the zoning order was not a good way to address such problems. Li, who visited the site last week, said: "The zoning plan cannot stop the damage. We already told the government to buy back the site but it wouldn't do so."

Fellow green activist Dr Man Chi-sum, chief executive of Green Power, said: "Allowing agricultural use is not helpful from the perspective of preservation. It only allows another form of damage to nature."

Man proposed the government set up a conservation fund. "The money can be used to buy back private land with high ecological values. Or the government can co-operate with the landlords to preserve the land."

Village head Lai Yan, who reportedly pocketed more than HK$1 million from selling some of his land to Lo, said work resumed in early January, with 20 labourers working every day.

"Mr Lo once told me he was planning to do organic farming there," said Lai.

A visit by the South China Morning Post to the site yesterday found that the work appeared to have been suspended.

The site roughly consists of two interconnected man-made lakes. The larger lake has been fenced off, with more than 100 young shoots planted along the fencing.

Some bore buds, but most had only few leaves. One-third of the muddy, barren soil around the lake was covered by grassland with what seemed regular edges, which suggested it might be artificial.

Two plastic tubes and a pump were being used to direct water for irrigation. Less than 10 metres from the fence stood a sign saying it was on government land.

Another, smaller lake was not wholly fenced off. No agriculture was seen around either lake, except bushes whose purpose seemed to be decorative.

A man in rubber boots was seen holding a shovel beside the lake, but he threw it down after realising he had been seen by the Post. He walked away and entered one of three nearby huts. When the Post tried to approach him, he said: "You have entered private land, get lost!"

The man, who had five dogs to safeguard the site, also warned against taking any photographs that might include him.

When asked if any construction or farming activities would be carried out after the Lunar New Year, the man replied: "What are you talking about? What is your intention?"

A small sign was erected between two lakes, warning: "Private Land. No Trespassing."

The Planning Department said in a statement yesterday that a recent site inspection found no activities there that might "contravene the Town Planning Ordinance".

"[The department] will conduct site inspection as early as possible. Should there be sufficient evidence to prove that there is an unauthorised development, appropriate enforcement action would be taken."

A spokesman for Lo said he would not comment.
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Old February 6th, 2011, 08:12 AM   #1119
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Come on kiddies, take away the speculators and see what develops
1 February 2011
SCMP

The whole of Hong Kong is at the mercy of real estate developers ... the government has not only slowed down the construction of public housing but also turned a blind eye to the speculative behaviour of real estate developers.

Youth group protest, SCMP, January 31

What actually had these kids out on the streets was Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen telling them at a youth conference that they had best reconsider their activism or risk a fatal car crash.

I have my doubts about them too. What self-respecting kid would ever attend a youth conference? I wouldn't have been caught dead at anything of the sort when I was younger. This later generation is indeed sadly lacking.

But then I also can't understand why they bother with Henry. He is where he is primarily because his family hit the jackpot with garment quotas 40 years ago and he then chose (or was delegated) rather late in life to take up a career in government - "It's down on Lower Albert Road, Henry. The driver knows."

I'll give him his due. His idea of auctioning silly licence plates has allowed us all to see how surprisingly many buffoons there are in the ranks of the rich. Cars are his thing obviously, wines also. He is a man of conventional pursuits.

And our Donald has long had his measure. He made him chief secretary, an antiquated colonial post that no longer has any real purpose, and sends him out on odd jobs, government arborist, for instance - "Tell us what trees to cut down, Henry. Off you go."

So it's all really a case of much ado about nothing. The only reason I'm highlighting this complaint about developers is that it has become so common. Michael Chugani delivered a full half-hour of it on his Newsline show on Sunday night, too. His guest, legislator Lee Wing-tat, hardly had time to squeeze a word in.

I think it's a classic case of laying the blame for every discontent on a bogeyman. The whole of Hong Kong at the mercy of a handful of undistinguished developers? We really are a bunch of wimps. We may as well all go to youth conferences.

If we are truly at the mercy of anyone or anything in this matter of high property prices, then it is at the mercy of the Federal Reserve Board of the United States, which effectively dictates our interest rates through a formal peg of the Hong Kong dollar to the US dollar.

The Fed wants rates low to prop up a weak US property market undermined by earlier Fed negligence. Our own property market does not have such trouble. We thus have an economic dislocation from the US while still being joined to it by the peg, and the result is a frothy property market in Hong Kong.

If you want to blame anyone for this, blame earlier colonial government officials who mismanaged our monetary affairs and, as a price of rescue, had to surrender their monetary independence to the Fed in 1983. On this score, developers are guiltless.

The suggestion that government should speed up the construction of housing may not be a bad one but let's not have any pedal-to-the-metal speed here. That was our response the last time property prices surged in 1997 and the results were wholly unwelcome.

It is not possible to gear up a big increase in home construction overnight. As the chart shows, the big surge from 1997 only came through as completions in 2001, just in time to deliver another wallop to a property market already in free fall.

Shall we do it once more? Hands up now, all of you who would like to be in the middle of a wipe-out again. Hey, kids, put some money into it and let's see if you're really quite so enthusiastic then.

As to that bit about government turning a blind eye to the speculative behaviour of developers, long may government continue to do so. Development is by nature a highly speculative business and I have never yet encountered a developer who, if given the opportunity, would not indulge it to overbuild massively. That's how you get housing out of the ground, not through Donald or Henry speeches.

And here's the icing, kids. If you really don't like developers, you can always chuckle at their embarrassments on the way down again. You should have watched that Uncle Four fellow make a fool of himself that way three years ago. What a hoot.
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Old February 7th, 2011, 04:51 PM   #1120
hkskyline
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Recycled water dream in pipeline
7 February 2011
The Standard

A pilot scheme to recycle water for industrial and agricultural use has been implemented by the Drainage Services Department.

If successful, the scheme, which only produces nonpotable water, could be widened for public use, saving the city millions of liters of drinking water a year.

The recycled water is being used to wash garbage bins and facilities at the Sha Tin Sewage Treatment Works site.

There is no water shortage in Hong Kong but recycled water ``can be used for agriculture, fish- rearing and industrial washing,'' said Eddie Pak Kan-ming, the plant's senior engineer.

The plant will further explore the feasibility and the cost of producing recycled water until November before a decision is made on whether it can be introduced to the public.

It employs a number of technologies, including reverse osmosis and an ultraviolet disinfection system that removes harmful bacteria.

The technology has been used in water- scarce areas of the United States and in Singapore, where the recycled water _ or processed sludge _ is further treated and pumped into reservoirs for human consumption.

But Pak emphasized there is no such need to do that in Hong Kong right now because of sufficient supply _ as well as cost.

Currently, recycled water costs nearly twice as much as regular drinking water.
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