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Let numbers speak

When I attended the question-and-answer session at the Legislative Council (LegCo) on July 11 this year, LegCo Member Mr Gary Fan accused the Government of grabbing land blindly without giving due regard to over 150,000 residential units currently left vacant in Hong Kong, and asked the Government to review the North East New Territories development plan accordingly.

I was pleasantly surprised at the figure quoted by him of over 150,000 residential units currently left vacant. I was surprised because there was a huge discrepancy between that figure and the actual figure. And it was a pleasant surprise because the Government would not have to make so much effort to find land should the alleged figure be correct.

I asked Mr Fan right away about the source of the figure and the locations of those units, but I did not get an answer. After the session, I instructed my colleague to ask Mr Fan in writing for the relevant information.

In his reply, Mr Fan said that the figure came from an article published in Next Magazine last year. I read the article carefully and found that the figure of “over 150,000 units” included all non-residential units ordinarily occupied, such as homes for the elderly, hospitals, boarding schools and prisons. Obviously, this figure should not be used to assess the vacancy position of residential units.

In fact, the Rating and Valuation Department collects information on the territory’s properties regularly from owners’ declarations. According to the figures released by the department in the middle of this year, there were about 48,000 vacant private residential units as at the end of 2012 (representing the lowest vacancy rate for the past 10 years), not 150,000 units as claimed by Mr Fan. The number of vacant public rental housing units was even less, at just 3,689 units.

The correct figures show that there are evidently not enough vacant residential units to satisfy the demand of the public. There is therefore a pressing need for the Government to develop new land on a large scale.

I urge Mr Fan to take note of the actual housing supply and demand in Hong Kong and, as early as possible, openly lend his support to the North East New Territories development plan and other plans to increase land supply.

August 9, 2013