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Old February 7th, 2011, 04:53 PM   #1121
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Phasing out mixed uses now policy
7 February 2011
SCMP

It has become official policy to phase out the mixing of shops and homes when districts are rezoned, Kenneth To Lap-kee, an urban planner and consultant, said.

Government planners worried about out-of-control redevelopment decided to rezone all of Tsim Sha Tsui and half of Mong Kok in 1993 for commercial use only. The practice of single-purpose zoning was later extended to Hong Kong Island.

To said the relocation of Kai Tak airport and subsequent relaxation of limits to building heights in Kowloon played a part in encouraging officials to further phase out mixed use.

"The rezoning of Tsim Sha Tsui for purely commercial [use] was nonsense. Why stop people from living there when there are certainly people wanting to live there for the sake of convenience?" he said.

As malls and offices gradually replace old tenements, the population of Tsim Sha Tsui is slowly falling. The number of residents decreased between 1996 and 2006 to 35,212 from 36,388, census figures show.

Although shops may exist in a residential zone, they are confined to the first three floors of a building.

But To said rezoning might affect small and medium-sized enterprises, which often find a niche in a mixed-use building and may not be able to afford the rent in a high-end tower.

In Singapore, the Urban Redevelopment Authority introduced a "white zone" that allows a combination of commercial, residential, hotel, sports, recreational and even clean industrial uses.
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Old February 10th, 2011, 04:33 PM   #1122
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Homes for young pushed in land plea
The Standard
Thursday, February 10, 2011

At least 17,000 small- and medium-sized homes are needed in Hong Kong each year, a developer says, so the government needs to sell more land.

Commenting on a plan to release 10 plots of residential land in the coming financial year, Justin Chiu Kwok-hung, executive director at Cheung Kong (Holdings) (0001), said only 10,000 to 13,000 flats went on the market in the past two years.

That was not enough, Chiu argued.

"We need around 17,000 to 18,000 per year," he said. "If there are more small units, then young people can buy their own apartments more easily."

He rejected claims that mainlanders corner the property market, saying locals are the major buyers. The number of mainlanders buying Cheung Kong homes grew by only 7 percent last year, he noted.

Donald Cheung Ping-keung, executive director of the Emperor Group concurred with Chiu's view, adding: "It's good to see new flats coming on the market as they whet buyers' appetites."

Emperor sold eight apartments at Harbour One in Sai Wan in the first seven days of the Lunar New Year, which fetched HK$143 million.

Three of the buyers were mainlanders, Cheung said.

On the commercial front, Stephen Henry Chu, chief executive of Prosperity REIT (0808), said the occupancy rate in the seven office buildings it owns reached 99.1 percent in December.
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Old February 13th, 2011, 04:18 PM   #1123
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Dirtier harbour defies logic with treatment in place, expert says
12 February 2011
SCMP

Few people in Hong Kong know more about waste water treatment than Professor Joseph Lee Hun-wei. Yet the respected expert confessed yesterday that he was as baffled by the sudden surge in bacteria levels at the centre of Victoria Harbour as the public - particularly given the city opened a new disinfection centre just last year that reduced the amount of sewage released into the harbour.

Lee, an award-winning environmental hydraulic expert and now vice-president for research and graduate studies at the University of Science and Technology, admitted being frustrated at being unable to solve the mystery behind the growth of Escherichia coli bacteria in the harbour - just as the water quality seemed to be improving steadily.

"Obviously, something has happened. But I am not sure if this is a one-off thing or a chronic process," said Lee, who advised the government on the HK$19 billion Harbour Area Treatment Scheme.

He suspected the cause could be damage to an undersea sewage pipe or malfunction of the city's newest and largest sewage treatment works on Stonecutters Island, although neither case could be proven as yet.

Lee, who received a top innovation prize from the State Council last year for developing a computer model for waste water disposal or flood prevention, said the harbour findings were very alarming.

He said the E coli level at a bathing beach should not exceed 180 units per 100 millilitres of water. The annual average reading at the harbour opposite Wan Chai was found to surpass 8,000 units. The high reading upsets the trend in declining E coli levels over the past decade and throws into doubt the revival of the historic cross-harbour swim. "The reading is astronomical and unacceptably high even before the disinfection facility at the Stonecutters treatment works came into service last year," Lee said.

That facility, as part of the centralised treatment works, started operation early last year to suppress bacteria levels in the treated effluent being discharged into the harbour. It handles daily about 1.4 million tonnes of sewage collected from Kowloon and eastern Hong Kong Island, or about 75 per cent of the total waste water generated in urban areas.

The remaining 25 per cent of sewage, amounting to 450,000 tonnes and mostly generated in the northern and western shores of Hong Kong Island, is pumped into the harbour after simple screening.

The polluting practice is expected to continue for four more years until a deep tunnel network channelling waste water from the two areas to Stonecutters is built. The bacteria-laden effluent has been drifting westwards, causing the closure of seven Tsuen Wan beaches since 2003.

Lee said the disinfection, through a process of chlorination and dechlorination, was so powerful that it could remove bacteria by up to 99 per cent, making the rise even more puzzling. "The disinfection should have made the water quality better. There is no reason why the level has even gone up higher than before the facility was in place," he said.

A spokesman for the Drainage Services Department, which is responsible for running the treatment works, said the disinfection facility had been operating smoothly and the E coli level in the discharged effluent was within normal standards.

He said the department was trying to see whether sewage outfalls in the harbour area had been damaged.

A spokesman for the Environmental Protection Department, which is in charge of sewage disposal policy, said E coli levels in the western harbour area were reduced by up to 57 per cent last year.
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Old February 13th, 2011, 04:48 PM   #1124
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Sai Wan lodge plan a factor in global geopark bid
13 February 2011
SCMP

A controversial development of a private lodge behind the pristine Sai Wan beach could affect the city's application to include the Hong Kong National Geopark in a Unesco-recognised global network.

A delegation of Unesco experts responsible for reviewing Hong Kong's application will be told about the incident, according to Dr Margarete Patzak, co-ordinator of Unesco's Geoparks Secretariat. She said they would "definitely inform the experts" when they reviewed Hong Kong's application in April.

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department took more than a year to prepare for the bid. But their efforts could be deflected by plans by businessman Simon Lo Lin-shing to build a private lodge on a site physically within the geopark but not legally part of it.

Lo, chairman of Mongolia Energy, acquired the site last year. He planned to build a private lodge there but the government has imposed a temporary zoning order, banning all land uses on that site except agriculture. The Town Planning Board upheld the order and the Planning Department served an enforcement notice last Monday, ordering Lo to stop all work. It said it had "found signs of dredging near a pond". Patzak said they would let the experts know about the plans, but it was not unusual to have private development in a geopark.

"The whole idea of a geopark is not [to make it] a protected area. It is to serve sustainable development of the park and boost geo-tourism," she said.

Patzak said she could not to comment on Lo's development plan or whether it would affect Hong Kong's chances of joining the global network. "The experts will make their own assessments on the spot. The Hong Kong Geopark is not a big area. It all depends on if the private activities would affect the possible functioning of the park. We will check that," she said.

She said the UN bureau granted the application by a German geopark a few years ago - even though a railway had been built through it. The expert panel believed rail was a clean form of transport and said the line could bring in tourists.

A panel of 11 experts, including geologists, will assess all 16 applications from around the world in April. Between May and August, two experts will make three-day visits to each of the parks that passes the first assessment. They will then discuss the applications again in September before announcing the results by the end of that month.

The 16 applications, half of them from Europe, include parks in China, Japan, Indonesia, Brazil, France and Iceland. There is no limit on how many parks can be included each year, but 77 parks are already part of the network. Members of the network need to exchange views and hold conferences with other members regularly and membership is revised every four years.

Cheung Man-chun, spokesman of Friends of Tai Long Sai Wan, said the group opposed the Hong Kong application because the geopark was not in fit condition to attain global status.

He accused the government of not doing enough to engage the public in the geopark's development.

Cheung cited the example of the HK$8,000-fine Sai Wan village head Lai Yan and his wife was ordered to pay in 2007 for renting their home inside the park to hikers.

The couple were fined after Home Affairs Department officers posing as hikers visited the house and took them to court for not having a hostel licence, according to Lai. Cheung argued that the government's action was counter to the principle of encouraging public participation and was therefore against the global geopark selection criteria.

"We hope to draw international attention to the fact the park is not ready [to join the Global Geoparks Network]," he said.

An Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department spokesman said the government had made known to the public that it was actively preparing for the application, and had engaged local communities in designing new facilities for the geopark. He did not say whether Lo's development would affect the application, but said Hong Kong would try its best to meet the Unesco assessment criteria.

Unesco parks need:

1 Internationally important geological heritage sites or ones of scientific importance

2 Sites that embody protection, education and sustainable development

3 Effective management and sufficient trained staff and funds

4 Strong commitment to serving the community while protecting the landscape

5 Protection for park lands according to local traditions and law

6 Bottom-up local involvement and strong community support
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Old February 16th, 2011, 03:59 PM   #1125
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Harbour pollution on the rise after decade of improving water quality Mystery over soaring bacteria levels in water
11 February 2011
South China Morning Post

Bacteria levels have surged in Victoria Harbour after a decade of declining pollution levels, but no one can explain why.

At a monitoring station opposite the convention centre in Wan Chai, the average E coli reading taken at three different depths hit 8,403 units per 100 millilitres of seawater last year. This was more than double the level in 2009 and the highest recorded in 11 years.

The surge in E coli - which originates in human or animal faeces and is a key indicator of water pollution - was recorded at six out of 11 monitoring stations manned by the Environmental Protection Department.

Rising bacteria levels were also found in stations near North Point, Quarry Bay and Shau Kei Wan.

The figures might raise questions over plans to revive the cross-harbour swimming race. But the Hong Kong Amateur Swimming Association is undeterred.

Only two days ago it reported that the plans had gathered pace after swimmers taking part in trials a fortnight ago were examined by doctors and given a clean bill of health.

"We know pretty well the water quality. Even in the worst case when some seawater is swallowed, it won't lead to serious health threats," said Ronnie Wong Man-chiu, secretary of the association. "And we will run the race at a time where the tide flows in from Lei Yue Mun so that no central harbour water will come into contact with the swimmers."

The high levels persisted in most months last year, with the highest reading for surface water hitting 50,000 units in December and 190,000 near the bottom in August.

The increases are in stark contrast to the declining trend of the bacteria readings over the past decade, since a multibillion-dollar sewage treatment works began operating at Stonecutters Island in 2001.

People infected with E Coli typically suffer bloody diarrhoea, stomach cramps and vomiting.

While there is no standard on the bacterial level in the harbour water, the Environmental Protection Department says the city's water quality objectives state that water for recreational use should contain fewer than 610 units of E coli per 100 millilitres of water.

The department played down the figures and suggested they were natural variations.

"E coli concentration has the characteristic of fluctuating over a wide range depending on weather conditions including temperature and rainfall, in addition to other factors such as tidal conditions," a spokeswoman said.

But she said water quality would probably improve when up to 450,000 tonnes of raw sewage generated daily on Hong Kong Island and now pumped straight into the harbour is diverted to the Stonecutters plant by 2014.

Professor Michael Lam Hon-wah, from the department of biology and chemistry at City University, was concerned about the bacteria and would not rule out the possibility that the source was workers at nearby construction sites. "Dredging or reclamation works are unlikely to generate E coli. But a huge population of workers at a large worksite might lead to higher levels of E coli if there are not enough toilets," he said.

According to the environmental impact assessment of the ongoing reclamation and construction of the Central to Wan Chai bypass, up to 450 workers might be operating on the sites and they could generate up to 158 cubic metres of sewage a day.

Cherry Mak, an engineer at Lam Geotechnics, the independent environmental checker of construction on the harbour front, said they had not found any sanitation problems at worksites. "There are sufficient toilets provided and they are cleaned regularly. We also inspect the hygiene every week," she said.

An environmental engineer at a worksite at the harbour in North Point suspected that poorly laid sewage channels and pipes on Hong Kong Island might have caused the surge in bacteria levels.
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Old February 17th, 2011, 09:14 AM   #1126
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Jobs fair seeks 2,000 young builders of tomorrow
The Standard
Thursday, February 17, 2011

Aimed at luring younger workers, some 2,000 construction industry jobs are up for grabs at a fair to be held at Kowloon Bay next weekend.

The 30 types of jobs on offer include those for concreters and welders, with monthly salaries ranging from HK$10,000 to HK$15,000.

Vacancies are posted by 23 contractors with some work involving new MTR Corp projects on the West Island Line and Express Rail Link.

Hong Kong Construction Association president Conrad Wong Ting-cheong said he hopes the fair will attract more young people, as the industry is in dire need of new blood to address the labor shortage.

"There are lots of jobs in different industries from which the young people can choose. We intend to show them through this fair that salaries and benefits in the construction industry are getting better," Wong said.

MTR programming and land manager Peter Pang Chi-kong said 40 percent of workers in the construction industry are at or over the age of 50, while more than 70 percent of steel fixers are in that bracket.

Construction Industry Council training director Charles Wong Doon- yee said many young people think working in the construction industry is physically demanding and dangerous.

He said the council will provide training to all successful job applicants.

Meanwhile, Pang said the MTR will not recruit workers at the fair because there are no vacancies at this stage.

But the MTR will use the event as a platform to help contractors recruit workers for the new rail projects as well as for other infrastructure projects in Hong Kong.

The fair is jointly organized by MTR Corp, the association, council and Labour Department.
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Old February 18th, 2011, 02:57 PM   #1127
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Zoning order on Sai Wan beach is upheld
12 February 2011
SCMP

The Town Planning Board yesterday decided the existing temporary zoning allowing only agriculture is the best protection for defaced Sai Wan beach.

After considering 350 viewpoints at a public hearing, the board upheld the zoning order issued by the Planning Department.

The order will remain in effect for three years while the department comes up with a long-term plan.

More than 300 of the public submissions considered supported the temporary zoning, which does not allow other kinds of development without the board's approval.

Some green groups, while not objecting to the order, said the 17-hectare site in Sai Kung would be better served if incorporated into the surrounding country park or rezoned as a conservation area. "The board, turning down the suggestions, takes the Planning Department's view that these ideas would be considered when determining the long-term use," a spokeswoman for the board said.

The emergency zoning was given to the scenic site last year after it was found that contractors were excavating land owned by Simon Lo Lin-shing, chairman of Mongolia Energy. Lo was said to have a plan for turning the scenic area into a private retreat.

Six people, including drivers and contractors, were later prosecuted for environmental damage.

Meanwhile, the Wong T. Lap Foundation, which this week announced a hostel and cultivation project for the site, said it got in touch with landlord Lo on Thursday.

"Mr Lo called me and said he was willing to meet us and hear our ideas," said a man who gave his name as K. C. Wong and said he was in charge of the foundation. A public relations company representing Lo declined comment.

Wong said the foundation had a HK$20 million donation, which it was ready to use to set up a conservation trust for Sai Wan.

His proposal for the site included a hostel providing bed space for 200 people, a flea market, camping areas, rain shelters and a community area to attract tourists.

A public forum would be organised on February 26 to discuss the project.

"The area, surrounded by the Hong Kong Geopark, would be a good base for the eco-tourism project. We do not aim at making money, though," he said.

Alan Leung Sze-lun, senior conservation officer of WWF Hong Kong, said: "There is no consensus that the public want to see the natural landscape become artificial. I am also concerned about the transparency of a private conservation trust, if there is to be one," he said.

Conservation Association campaign manager Peter Lee Siu-man said he was sceptical of the Wong proposal. He said his group would not support a large-scale development on the beach.
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Old February 18th, 2011, 03:32 PM   #1128
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HK to tender land for private hospitals by end 2011-official

HONG KONG, Feb 17 (Reuters) - Hong Kong will offer four pieces of land for the development of private hospitals, with the first to go up for tender before the end of 2011, the city's health minister said.

"We decided last year to promote private hospital care in Kong Kong," Secretary for Health York Chow told reporters on the sidelines of a healthcare conference in Hong Kong on Thursday.

"One way to encourage people to build private hospitals is to provide dedicated land and conditions," Chow said. "If we use commercial land tenders, people will prefer to build offices or residential buildings, but now we are limiting development to hospitals."

Hong Kong's residential property is the most expensive in the world and its office rents are also among the highest, according to real estate consultants.

Healthcare in Hong Kong is primarily provided by the government, but the authorities have long said the system will become unsustainable in the future. In recent years, the government has been formulating a policy to encourage the private sector to shoulder a bigger part of the responsibility in the form of private healthcare insurance.

Chow said the first site would be tendered before the end of the year, with the remainder to be offered by middle of next year.

"[The successful bidders] will have to build hospitals, nothing else. They will own the hospitals, but whether they operate the facility is their decision," he said.

The first hospital should be completed by 2016. The four sites were in Wong Chuk Hang, Tai Po, Tung Chung and Tseung Kwan O, he added.

The government has received more than 30 letters of interest for the projects, with some from international companies, he said, declining to identify any of them.
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Old February 18th, 2011, 08:32 PM   #1129
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Breakthrough at Hong Kong West Drainage Tunnel
Thursday, February 17, 2011
Government Press Release





Construction of Hong Kong West Drainage Tunnel, designed to alleviate flooding in northern Hong Kong Island, entered its final phase when the successful tunnel "breakthrough" at Stubbs Road in Wan Chai was made by two tunnel boring machines (TBM) in January this year.

To mark this milestone, the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, today (February 17) officiated at a Tunnel Breakthrough Ceremony at Stubbs Road, where the two TBMs met.

Mrs Lam said that with the completion of the tunnel in 2012, about 30% of the stormwater from northern Hong Kong Island could be effectively diverted.

"The existing flood protection level in most areas of northern Hong Kong Island will then be able to withstand rainstorms with a return period of 1 in 50 years. The risk of flooding in commercial and residential areas in Central and Western District and Wan Chai District will be greatly alleviated. Traffic disruptions and disturbances to the public caused by flooding will also be minimised.

"The government is implementing various flood prevention and sewerage infrastructure projects with a total cost of $36.6 billion, in order to create a quality living environment in Hong Kong. Other major projects with a total value of $20.6 billion are also under planning. It is expected that these new projects will create 4,500 job vacancies," Mrs Lam said.

The Director of Drainage Services, Mr Chan Chi-chiu, said the $3 billion project was the biggest flood prevention project implemented by the Drainage Services Department so far.

"One of our primary tasks during construction is to minimise the impact on the environment as well as on the daily lives of the public. We adopted the approach of stormwater interception by building a drainage tunnel to reduce the extent of traditional drainage upgrading works that would involve extensive excavation in the urban area. We also used the 'raise boring method' to construct most of the intake drop shafts to contain the construction's impact below ground.

"Over the past years, we have consulted the Wan Chai, Central and Western and Southern District Councils, which have given us their valuable opinions on the project. We are indebted to the public for their understanding and support to the project which is crucial for its smooth implementation for further reduction of the flooding risk in northern Hong Kong Island," he said.

The project - the longest drainage tunnel in Hong Kong - consists of an 11-kilometre-long main drainage tunnel extending from Tai Hang to Cyberport, 34 intakes and eight kilometre-long adits connecting the intakes with the drainage tunnel. The drainage tunnel will intercept stormwater collected from Mid-Levels and discharge it directly into the sea.

To shorten the construction period of the tunnel and to minimise the impact on residents, traffic and the environment, two TBMs have been deployed to operate simultaneously for tunnel excavation from the Eastern end in Tai Hang and the Western end in Cyberport.

Dragages-Nishimatsu Joint Venture is the contractor for design and construction of the Hong Kong West Drainage Tunnel while Ove Arup & Partners Hong Kong Ltd is the supervising consultant. The construction commenced in November 2007, and is expected to be completed in 2012.

For details of the Hong Kong West Drainage Tunnel, please visit www.dsd.gov.hk/others/HKWDT/eng/background.html.
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Old February 19th, 2011, 11:00 AM   #1130
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翠匯軒 Jade Suites





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Old February 19th, 2011, 06:47 PM   #1131
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Not going to start a new thread on this topic, but water management is related and might go well in here :

LCQ7: Total Water Management Strategy
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Government Press Release

Following is a question by the Hon Mrs Sophie Leung and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, in the Legislative Council today (February 16):

Question:

It has been more than two years since the Water Supplies Department formulated the Total Water Management (TWM) strategy in 2008. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether the amount of water saved at present is in line with the objectives laid down in TWM strategy; whether the Government will, on a regular basis, announce its water conservation targets in the coming five years; apart from the total amount of water to be saved, whether "average daily water consumption per person" will be used as a conservation indicator;

(b) of the models of showers for bathing and water taps of different water efficient grading registered under the Water Efficiency Labelling Scheme (WELS) at present; how the authorities will assess the effectiveness of WELS; what is the timetable of including other water saving devices in WELS; whether the authorities will consider adopting other measures (e.g. providing subsidies) to encourage all households in Hong Kong to switch to using devices of higher water efficient grading;

(c) whether the authorities have assessed the actual effectiveness of public education on water conservation; if they have, of the assessment criteria and specific effectiveness; apart from publicity, what other plans they have to reduce water consumption by the public; when water consumption by members of the public remains high, how the authorities will make better use of water resources; and

(d) given that with the appreciation of Renminbi and increase in wages on the Mainland, the price of Dongjiang water will continue to rise, what corresponding measures will be adopted by the Government; in discussing the new agreement of the supply of Dongjiang water with the Guangdong provincial authorities, whether the Government has taken into consideration that the actual total water consumption in Hong Kong may be lower than the anticipated level after members of the public have reduced their water consumption; of the amount of Dongjiang water that the authorities expect Hong Kong to purchase each year under the new water supply agreement?

Reply:

President,

Since the formulation of the Total Water Management (TWM) Strategy in 2008, the Government has launched a raft of water conservations measures to enhance public education on water conservation, promote use of water saving devices, step up leakage control and extend use of seawater for toilet flushing. We have also taken into active consideration the use of reclaimed water and kept a close watch on technological developments in seawater desalination overseas.

The Water Supplies Department (WSD) will continue to monitor the effectiveness of these measures and, where necessary, make adjustments to achieve the objective of saving 236 million cubic metres (mcm) in annual total water consumption by 2030. To evaluate the effectiveness of these water conservation measures, we plan to conduct a random sampling survey on domestic water consumption this year to gather information on the water consumption patterns of the general public, their use of water saving devices and their knowledge in water conservation. Other information will also be collected for reference of the department in drawing up further measures to implement the water conservation strategy.

My reply to the four parts of the question is as follows:

(a) The TWM Strategy projects that a saving of 236 mcm in total water consumption can be achieved by 2030. After completing the domestic water consumption survey this year, the WSD will consider the feasibility of establishing water conservation targets for the medium term and other water saving targets in addition to the above total water saving target.

(b) The Water Efficiency Labelling Scheme (WELS) for showerheads for bathing and water taps were launched in September of 2009 and 2010 respectively. As at January 31, 2011, the numbers of showerheads and water tap models registered under the Scheme are as follows:

Water Saving
Devices Grade 1 Grade 2 Grade 3 Total
------------ ------- ------- ------- -----
Showerheads
for bathing 97 17 18 132

Water taps 9 10 6 25

The WSD will implement the WELS for other water-consuming appliances in phases. The WELS for washing machines and urinals will be launched in March 2011 and early 2012 respectively.

The domestic water consumption survey to be conducted shortly by the WSD will help assess the effectiveness of WELS. In the meantime, we consider that encouraging the public to change their water consumption habits to save water through education is more important than providing subsidy. To this end, the WSD has strived to inculcate water saving habits in the public through various initiatives and activities, including regular talks and seminars on saving drinking water, school publicity campaigns, and media promotions on water conservation.

(c) The WSD's random sampling survey on domestic water consumption in this year will provide data for the department to assess the effectiveness of public education on water conservation.

In addition to various publicity initiatives, the Government plans to set up a public water conservation education centre to enhance public education. The centre will disseminate information to help the general public understand the importance of water conservation and encourage them to cultivate water conservation habits. With increasing public awareness, there will be room for further water saving.

(d) The current water supply agreement with Guangdong authorities for purchasing Dongjiang water covers a 3-year period from 2009 to 2011, with the annual lump sum payment fixed within the agreement period. Therefore, the recent appreciation of Renminbi and wage increases in the Mainland will not affect the payment for Dongjiang water supply for the current year. We will take into account the actual total water consumption in Hong Kong when negotiating with the Guangdong provincial authorities for a new agreement on Dongjiang water supply. According to our current estimate, an annual supply of 820 mcm will be sufficient to guarantee continuous water supply in Hong Kong even under extreme drought conditions with a return period of 1 in 100 years.
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Old February 21st, 2011, 03:21 PM   #1132
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Buying a home holds no strong rationale
The Standard
Monday, February 21, 2011

Hong Kong residential property prices are the most expensive in the world.

Those who are buying flats now are using one or more of the following five rationales.

First, I need to own a house to live in. Second, I have a secure job, which ensures timely mortgage payments into the future. Third, it is cheaper to buy than rent, thanks to the prevailing low interest rates.

Fourth, a home is a solid hedge against hyperinflation. Fifth, I won't have any trouble selling my house as mainlanders remain keen on Hong Kong property.

All five rationale are flimsy. Many people in Germany, Sweden and France rent a house their whole life. They are happy as they have more disposable income. Second, unless you work for the government, it is hard to find a very secure job in Hong Kong. Third, many expect the US Federal Reserve to start raising rates by the end of this year.

Fourth, global inflation remains relatively low. Food prices are likely to ease later this year when the weather improves and China tightens credit.

Fifth, rich mainlanders are smart and they are unlikely to overpay.

In 1997, many people bought properties for the right reason. In 2003, many sold for good reasons. Only the future can tell who is right or wrong.

Dr Check and/or The Standard bear no responsibility for any decision made based on the views in this column.
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Old February 27th, 2011, 05:57 AM   #1133
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Investors ensure strong start to Sheung Wan flats sale
27 February 2011
South China Morning Post

Developers yesterday launched sales at three new projects, offering a total of 112 flats.

Henderson Land's CentrePoint in Sheung Wan recorded the strongest sales. Property agents estimated that by 7pm more than 40 of the 50 flats available had been sold at an average price of about HK$16,400 per sq ft - a figure in keeping with surrounding properties.

Danny Leung, associate director of Centaline Property Agency in Mid-Levels, noted Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah had not announced news steps to cool the property market in his budget speech last week. "No bad news in Wednesday's budget is good news for the sales of new projects," he said.

He estimated more than half the buyers at CentrePoint were investors. "They are prepared to hold the flats for at least two years to avoid paying the additional stamp duty and are expecting a substantial growth in property prices in next few years."

Elsewhere, the asking price of Sun Hung Kai Properties' Avignon in Tuen Mun is 110 per cent higher than the prices on estates nearby. Nevertheless, by 6pm the company had sold around half the 57 flats on offer at an average price of HK$9,736 per square foot. Only three flats were sold at Cheung Kong (Holdings)' nearby development Crown by the Sea.

Development minister Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said soaring property prices could not be reined in simply by adjusting the land supply because Hong Kong faces ultra-low interest rates and an inflow of speculative "hot" money.

Amplifying comments in Tsang's speech last week, Lam said the government would look at optimising land use by moving facilities such as Sha Tin's sewage works and the Kennedy Town water service reservoir underground.

"The government has the responsibility to increase the supply of residential land, and the land-sale programme in the coming year will be more aggressive and proactive than in the past," she said.

Last week she said enough land could be freed next year to build 35,400 flats.

Yesterday she repeated Tsang's statement that HK$300 million would be spent studying whether rock caverns could be built and more land reclaimed outside the harbour.

The government has earmarked a site in Kai Tak where 1,000 flats can be developed under the Urban Renewal Authority's "flat-for-flat" scheme. This gives owners the choice of moving into one of the authority's flats or taking compensation.

Lam said a tenth of the budget's HK$10 billion for the Development Bureau would be spent on Operation Building Bright, a scheme to help renovate 3,000 rundown buildings over 30 years old. The rest would be spent on infrastructure.
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Old March 1st, 2011, 04:08 PM   #1134
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Party piles on pressure as work halts over road fears
1 March 2011
The Standard





Work at a construction site near a section of the Island Eastern Corridor _ where a bridge pillar suffered ``abnormal movements'' _ involved the use of a cheaper method of piling than required, the Democratic Party said.

The piling may cause subsidence in the area near the Island Eastern Corridor- Hing Fat Street slip road, the party warned yesterday.

A basement car park next to the corridor is being relocated as part of the construction work for the Central-Wan Chai bypass.

The work has now been suspended.

Highways director Peter Lau Ka-keung said the corridor is structurally safe, but the department found that the nine supports for the pillar have slightly deformed and moved sideways by one to two centimeters.

Democratic Party Eastern district councillor Andrew Chiu Ka-yin - citing a source from a construction company - accused the contractor of the car-park project of installing prebored H piles, which can cause subsidence, not bored piles.

Chiu said he went to the construction site last Tuesday and saw only prebored H piles.

``The installation process of the prebored H pile will absorb parts of the soil and it would cause subsidence. On the other hand, bored piles would not absorb soil,'' he said.

Chiu added that he was told by the source that one of the tender conditions required the contractor to use bored piles, not the prebored ones.

``The cost of prebored H piles is lower than the bored piles by 40 to 50 percent. I wonder whether the government knows that its contractor changed the pile installation method,'' he said.

Chiu also said subsidence can break underground gas and water pipes.

He added the subsidence caused by installing the incorrect piles may explain the movement detected in the problem pillar.

The contractor, Lam Woo and Co, did not reply to The Standard.

Meanwhile, Yang Jun, a geotechnical engineering associate professor from the University of Hong Kong, said it is important for contractors to take into account all the possible effects of piling work.

The Highways Department put supporting plates between the bridge and the pillar to further protect the structure.
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Old March 2nd, 2011, 03:06 PM   #1135
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Mid-Levels site could hit record HK$10.9b
2 March 2011
SCMP

A luxury residential site in Mid-Levels slated for sale this year could set a land price record in Hong Kong, believe some property watchers.

It could also bring sky-high expectations about the outlook for further strong growth in property prices back to earth with a bump.

The 1.05-hectare site at 21, 23 and 25 Borrett Road commands views of Victoria Harbour view. It is conveniently located in a neighbourhood that offers access to several international schools and is also one of the few large development sites in Mid-Levels areas that are still available for sale.

When it was first put on the application list six years ago - opening it to bids from developers that for a variety of reasons never followed - surveyors estimated the site was worth HK$7.1 billion, or HK$12,500 per sq ft.

Following the recent sustained growth in luxury housing prices, surveyors now set the value of the site at HK$10.9 billion, or HK$25,000 per sq ft.

The belief among some analysts that the Borrett Road site would set a record land price for Hong Kong has remained unshaken even after the government increased the supply of luxury residential sites to cool the overheated property market.

Are they over-optimistic about the outlook for the luxury residential market? Or is the market still on a strong upward path?

The market's record is impressive. Prices at 35 luxury housing estates have risen by 26.5 per cent from 2008 to January this year, according to property agency Ricacorp Properties. Patrick Chow Mun-kit, head of research at the firm, said he expected prices of luxury properties to rise a further 15 per cent this year, but after the strong start to the year he has revised that higher.

"It is pretty scary that the prices of houses on the Peak and Island South have already reached HK$70,000 or HK$80,000 per sq ft," said Joseph Tsang, managing director at property consultant Jones Lang LaSalle in Hong Kong. At that level they have surpassed the price level recorded at the market peak in 1997.

Tsang too expects prices will continue their strong growth this year, supported by low interest rates and a continuing influx of mainland buyers.

The luxury residential market has benefited from these two factors over the last few years and driven by strong demand has recorded a sharp increase in prices. But now market talk is of a rise in interest rates in the second half of this year and slower demand from mainland buyers.

Is the party over for luxury residential property?

"Mortgage rates were around 12 per cent in 1997. Even if the existing mortgage rate doubled to 4 per cent, it is still far below the level in 1997," noted Tsang.

On the other hand, the influx of mainland buyers has become a major concern for the market after the government raised the investment hurdle under its Capital Investment Entrant Scheme in November last year. Foreigners seeking the right to stay in Hong Kong by investment must now invest at least HK$10 million in financial markets other than the property market.

No one disputes the fact that the rise in luxury property market prices will end if the number of mainland buyers drops. What are the chances of this happening?

Eddie Kwan, managing director at an immigration consulting firm, said he had had fewer mainland clients with the advent of the government's new immigration policy.

"However, the number rebounded significantly after Chinese New Year," he said.

"Mainland cities such as Guangzhou and Shanghai have imposed restrictions on buying second and third homes, which has caused mainland investors to refocus attention on the Hong Kong property market. Also, stock analysts expect the Hang Seng share Index will climb to above 28,000 points this year, which will offer a higher upside potential than mainland stock markets. So despite the increased immigration hurdle, the influx of mainland buyers will continue in the next few years. It won't change."

Kwan said Hong Kong was likely to remain a popular investment destination for mainlanders the currency differential favoured them and there were fewer restrictions on investment here.

Jones Lang LaSalle's Tsang said his firm had not noticed a decline in the number of mainland buyers of Hong Kong property in recent months, even though banks on the mainland banks had tightened loan conditions.

He estimated that more than half the buyers who bought flats priced at HK$30 million or more were mainlanders, and expected the influx of mainland buyers to continue in the next few years. "As a result luxury property prices will surge a further of 20 per cent this year," he said.

While David Ng, head of regional property research at The Royal Bank of Scotland, is cautious about the outlook for the mass residential market, he shares the optimism of many commentators about the luxury residential market.

"I would not be surprised to see the Borrett Road site sold for a price higher than market expectations," he said. "Luxury residential prices will continue to grow due to the influx of mainland buyers."
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Old March 3rd, 2011, 12:28 PM   #1136
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Time to take a regional view on our long-term housing strategy
2 March 2011
South China Morning Post

Much has been made in the recent budget of the impact of an increase in the supply of land for both residential and commercial purposes.

To be fair to the administration, a combined programme of government-initiated auctions and tenders and an expanded application list should, over time, produce more housing units and increased office floor area - hence, at least, slowing the pace of price growth experienced over the past two years.

But in reality it is not just the numbers that are important: timing, location, appropriateness of product and responsiveness to market needs are also key considerations when the government seeks to influence the market. Furthermore, as Hong Kong already tops the league in terms of both residential and commercial values, it is going to become an even more expensive place to live and do business in the future if rents and prices continue an upward trend.

On the timing front, obviously units that have not yet been started cannot be delivered in the short term and some of the new supply will not be ready for occupation for three or four years. This begs the question as to why we are where we are and the failure of government to take steps earlier to address concerns over shortage of supply, which have been apparent since before the 2008/2009 financial crisis.

I think the best that can be expected is that the more proactive approach which is now proposed will have a calming effect on the market and should contain price growth in the mass market. However, this may be difficult to achieve given the ongoing appetite of potential purchasers, particularly up-graders, to take advantage of the low interest rate regime and the expectation of further price increases due to the strong economy and forecast inflation.

However, the more challenging policy aspects are location and appropriateness of product, particularly in the context of affordability and quality of life concerns. In fairness, again to the administration, there has been some attempt to provide a wider range of choice by designating sites in the New Territories, where smaller units will be a condition of sale - but is this really the only answer going forward?

The average size of units has fallen over the past few years from 53 to 47 square metres, but prices remain unaffordable to many in the community. How much smaller can they go before there is an adverse impact on social harmony?

The difficulty, of course, is how to reconcile the established position of the haves with the weak purchasing power of the have-nots since any attempt to reduce prices could undermine the family wealth of those who already own their own homes.

The ideal would be for the residential market to take a breather and, while it may well do so once interest rates begin to rise, this seems unlikely in the short term.

Although I doubt that the present administration will be inclined to take up the challenge, I think we really need to rethink our long-term housing strategy in the context not only of Hong Kong but also the Pearl River Delta, particularly Shenzhen.

Obviously there are political undertones, but if we really believe in further integration with the mainland at all levels, then housing has to be one of the main focuses.

We lack churn in the public rental housing sector; there are challenges associated with gaining entry to the next rung on the housing ladder; and we are building ever smaller units which people still cannot afford. Yet there is ample land in Shenzhen and an average flat size of 100 square metres (double that of Hong Kong), where apartments sell at prices of no more than a third of those in the New Territories.

Hopefully the need for a new long-term housing policy will feature as a key issue when we see the manifestos of the candidates for chief executive later in the year.

A big play is made in the budget of the fact that government will make available land that could provide 6.5 million square feet of commercial floor area to boost Hong Kong's competitiveness.

Mention is made of the proposed demolition of the West Wing on Government Hill (which is already the subject of some controversy), of sites in Kwun Tong and Kowloon Bay, of the airspace above the High Speed Rail Station in West Kowloon, of the move of certain government departments to Kai Tak, and the eventual redevelopment of the three Gloucester Road government office towers.

Again, there is clearly an issue on timing in that the demand is there today, and not three to four years hence, with prime rents in Central already exceeding HK$150 per square foot and likely to reach HK$200 before the year is out.

However, the wider issue is that we have simply run out of development/redevelopment opportunities in Central which can deliver any significant quantity of additional floor space to prime/grade-A specifications.

Just as in the case of the residential sector there is the need for vision and some long term strategic thinking if Hong Kong is not to fall behind its rivals as a major financial services centre. Even many of the existing buildings in Central are not ideal, given modern office standards, and can hardly be regarded as top of the range yet they are developed to their full site potential.

In addition, Central is becoming more congested.

Kowloon also does not provide the answer with its fortress-like new developments above the various transport nodes.

To my mind the issue is very clear: if we aspire to becoming a major player in the commercial world in the future, then we should seriously consider building a dedicated financial district, well served by public transport and underpinned by the latest technology and soft infrastructure.

Normally such an opportunity would not be available in a greenfield location in the centre of a city but we have the ideal location on the former Kai Tak apron. This would be well served by public transport (including the MTR) in the future and the government has already signalled its suitability by allocating land for government offices.

Height also need not be an issue as it is floor plates that drive prime office, not necessarily the number of floors.

Whilst rezoning of the former apron for commercial development would involve revisiting current planning, it need not materially affect the plans for the former runway or the ongoing work on the Cruise Terminal.

In any event, as the secretary for development said, in the context of an ever-changing economic backcloth, zoning plans should be regarded as a work in progress and subject to revision if the circumstances warrant.

Nicholas Brooke is the chairman of Professional Property Services Group
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Old March 3rd, 2011, 07:20 PM   #1137
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What a washout
The Standard
Wednesday, March 02, 2011











A water main burst and set off a day of chaos in Happy Valley and Causeway Bay.

The primary pipe rupture under Wong Nai Chung Road came before most people were ready for work.

And after struggling through the mess in the morning some people had to walk home again. For trams were halted and minibuses rerouted amid traffic chaos that lasted throughout the day.

Retailers around Times Square saw a drop in business as they became virtually marooned, while restaurants and scores of shops suffered, along with thousands of residents, without fresh water for more than 10 hours.

Ruttonjee Hospital had to rely on water trucks. So did some restaurants, with police called in to handle would- be queue jumpers as staff and residents waited with pails for the trucks after supermarkets sold out bottled water.

But many restaurants decided closure was the best course. The manager of a Chinese restaurant said all reservations by tour groups had to be cancelled.

Temporary repairs were completed by late evening and water supplies restored to most areas by 9pm.

The 45-centimeter diameter pipe - laid more than 30 years ago - had burst at around 4am, with water gushing into the air from a meter-long crack. Wong Nai Chung Road became a fast-moving river up to a meter deep.

Among the sights, people going to work removed their shoes to wade to bus stands on Leighton Road.

The surge of water and the depth made it hard for a Water Supplies Department team to fix the burst. "The road surface could not be seen clearly," said senior engineer Lau Wing-keung.

A department spokesman said later that an entire section of the pipe will be replaced by year's end.
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Old March 4th, 2011, 08:12 AM   #1138
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97pc cut in office leases at Central, Admiralty
Reduction planned to relieve rental costs

3 March 2011
South China Morning Post

The Hong Kong government will dramatically slash the amount of prime office space it leases in Central and Admiralty by 97 per cent in about four years and free up sites it owns for development of grade A premises.

The government now leases 7,900 square metres of prime office space in Central and Admiralty, and would reduce it to 230 sq m by 2014, the Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury said.

"Our basic policy is to relocate government offices with no location requirements out of high-value areas, including central business districts," Professor Chan Ka-keung said during a Legislative Council meeting yesterday. "We are concerned about the impact of rising prices and the rental expense of commercial buildings on the operating costs of the business sector."

The relocation of government offices to other areas will also reduce leasing costs, as it now pays more than HK$24.5 million for 56,125 sq m of office space in seven prime locations including Central, Sheung Wan, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok.

The Ratings and Valuation Department said prices for grade A offices in core districts in December last year surged by 43 per cent since July 2009. Rental prices rose 16 to 20 per cent in the same period.

"This causes the operating costs of enterprises to increase drastically and will ultimately aggravate the burden on consumers," said Starry Lee Wai-king, a lawmaker of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.

Other legislators were concerned about the shortage of office space in central business districts.

DAB legislator Chan Kam-lam said that since Hong Kong's office rents exceeded those of other business hubs such as New York, the government should set a timetable for the relocation of departments to free space for developing grade A offices.

Alnwick Chan Chi-hung, executive director at property consultancy Knight Frank, said the 7,670 sq m the government planned to release would only provide offices for three to five companies. "It will take at least six years for the government to turn the three government office buildings on the Wan Chai waterfront and the Central Government Offices in Central into commercial buildings."
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Old March 6th, 2011, 04:40 PM   #1139
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'Irrational exuberance'
The Standard
Thursday, March 03, 2011

A top realtor warns the government's overzealous target of providing 35,000 new private homes per year will result in a glut of flats, and if interest rates rise, housing prices may plunge more severely than what was seen during the Asian financial crisis.

Midland Realty director Albert Wong Kam-hong made the bold comment after suggesting the property market is being dominated by "irrational exuberance" - rather than rational thinking - after the financial secretary vowed to increase land supply in his latest budget.

"The government is now targeting to provide 35,400 private units per year, and this is way over the annual average of 26,883 private flats between 1999 and 2004," Wong said.

"Home prices plunged 70 percent during that period [from the 1997 peak]."

In the past 10 years, about 19,200 private flats were newly occupied annually, according to data from the government's Rating and Valuation Department. The 20-year average is around 20,600 flats, and the 30-year average 22,400.

"The latest target is way over the actual needs," said Wong, who expects supply to exceed demand in a year or so.

"Home prices would then see further drops if the [interest] rate hike cycle comes back," he said.

Hong Kong's real estate market slumped in 1997 right after then-Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa announced housing measures that included a pledge to provide 85,000 flats each year.

The market was further devastated by the ensuing Asian financial crisis.

While Wong's comments are a refreshing departure from the usual boosterism touted by most property agents, he borrowed a phrase - "irrational exurberance" - which was used by former US Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan during the dotcom bubble back in the 1990s.

Since then, the term has been interpreted as a warning that the market may be unrealistically overvalued, as people tend to look at home prices through rose-colored spectacles.

However, other realtors disagreed with Wong's outlook, saying that homebuyers' minds are uncluttered.

"Hongkongers have better buying power now," said Louis Chan Wing- kit, managing director of rival Centaline Property Agency. "The 35,000 new units proposed in the budget are not the real supply. It is a rather flexible target."

Chan said the market collapse in 1997 will not happen again, and he expects home prices can jump up to 20 percent in the first half of this year, on the back of overwhelming demand by mainland homebuyers.

Jeffrey Ng Chong-yip, a director at Hong Kong Property, said: "Even when rate hikes start again, local mortgage rates won't jump vastly."

Meanwhile, Ricacorp head of research Patrick Chow Moon-kit said he believes flat prices will continue climbing this month and next.

"Purchasers are not bulk-buying irrationally - they know exactly what they want," Chow said. "The home purchase restrictions in the mainland will force the capital to flow into the local housing market."

He said housing prices rose about 8 percent in January and February, after the effects from the government's curbing measures, including additional stamp duties, were priced in.

"Another round of ample capital from China is starting to move into the city now," Chow said.

He said homebuyers remain active despite rising prices. For example, he pointed to a recent buying spree at the new Festival City II project in Tai Wai despite escalating prices.

"A secondary unit that is 20 years older in a nearby area costs HK$6,700 per square foot. A new flat in Festival City is selling at only a 30 percent premium. It's a good deal, so why not?"

Chow added the prices at the project may shoot up to HK$10,000 psf.

Ringo Lam Chun-chiu, director of AG Wilkinson & Associates, said buyers remain very cautious and rational.

"Home prices will remain firm due to limited supply in the short term, especially when home owners are not [motivated to sell]," Lam said. "Inflation is another major factor, while home owners hope to hedge inflation with their properties."

Lam said the government is not providing many small and medium-sized flats - currently the much needed type of home - so this will not help cool the market.

However, any changes in policy, such as tightening mortgage loans, can hit the market hard, said Eddie Hui Chi- man, a professor at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. "But home prices seem to stay on the upside despite further volatility."

Back on December 5, 1996, Greenspan said: "Clearly, sustained low inflation implies less uncertainty about the future, and lower risk premiums imply higher prices of stocks and other earning assets ... But how do we know when irrational exuberance has unduly escalated asset values?"

The memorable comment was followed by immediate slumps in stock markets worldwide, provoking a strong reaction in financial circles and making its way into colloquial speech.

The SAR's housing market may not see the impact right away, as it takes time for those flats to be built, said Midland chief analyst Buggle Lau Ka-fai.

"In 2016, we may see an overwhelming supply that is way over the actual demand," Lau said. "The effect may come sooner, if the uncompleted flats are launched in presale."
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Old March 7th, 2011, 05:44 PM   #1140
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Bus routes in chaos after pipe bursts
The Standard
Monday, March 07, 2011



In the second waterpipe-related incident in a week, more than 20 bus routes were diverted as a result of a burst pipe in Lam Tin.

A section of the mains in front of Lam Tin MTR station on Lei Yue Mun Road burst shortly after 10pm on Saturday, spraying water two meters into the air and damaging the road and pavement.

Three of the four lanes on Lei Yue Mun Road were closed that night and most of yesterday to allow repairs.

Traffic heading into the Eastern Harbour Crossing was also affected when vehicles moving in the direction of Lei Yue Mun were diverted before the Kwun Tong Bypass.

But the diversion signs, handwritten and only in Chinese, proved a challenge for some drivers who found themselves going around in circles before they could figure out what was going on.

An expatriate, who declined to be named, said he spent 30 minutes trying to get to Hong Kong Island when he missed the diversion leading to the Eastern Harbour Crossing. He then had to use the Cross-Harbour Tunnel, which took more time.

Operations at a nearby bus terminus were halted when rapidly flowing water prevented vehicles from leaving. The three services disrupted had a temporary terminal set up near Lam Tin MTR station.

Authorities managed to switch off the water supply by 11pm to begin repair operations.

As of last night, two lanes remained closed to traffic.
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