Carrie Lam’s Policy Address yesterday will make animal lovers and environmentalists clap, but people longing to own their own homes will boo. Drivers will be in two minds about measures that will raise their costs but perhaps smooth their driving. Here Trevor Bailey gives a first-glance distillation of what is likely to interest residents most in the Chief Executive’s annual message:
ANIMAL WELFARE: Carrie said, “The Government attaches great importance to promoting and safeguarding animal welfare.” The law is to be amended: increased penalties for cruelty to animals and introduction of “animal keeper’s responsibility for positive duty of care for animals”. “The police are committed to tackling cruelty to animals” and they will implement an “Animal Watchers Scheme” from next year. BIG THUMBS UP.
ENVIRONMENT: A measure that will have a huge impact on everyone in Hong Kong (reported in BUZZ a year or so ago) is to be introduced. A Municipal Solid Waste charging scheme will cause all of us to improve our behaviour. You will be charged for your rubbish bags with the aim of causing you to reduce your waste accumulation and recycle. Everyone will be affected: restaurants, schools, institutions, businesses… Carrie said a bill to introduce measures “to provide financial incentives” to make the public change their behaviour will go to Legco soon.
Air pollutants that we breathe in at roadside are down about 30% over the past five years, she said. Coming moves to further improve air quality: emission standards for new motorcycles to be tightened; an incentive scheme to phase out Euro IV diesel vehicles; subsidies for bus companies to retrofit catalytic reduction systems; encouragement to buy “new energy” private cars in the hope one day all old-type vehicles will be off the road.
The Government is also moving to reduce plastic usage. Water dispensers are to be set up in Government venues to encourage a “bring your own bottle” culture. Officials will work with the F&B industry to cut down on single-use plastic. A feasibility study is to be done on banning disposable plastic tableware. Shoreline clean-up is to be improved with the Government working in support of private initiatives. THUMBS UP.
TRANSPORT: Electronic road pricing is to be introduced in Central and adjacent areas. Congestion charging will be used with adjustments up or down to influence traffic flows at the tunnels and bridges. Tolls will be lowered at the Western Harbour Tunnel and raised at the Central and Eastern Tunnels.
HOUSING: If you want to own your own home in the world’s least affordable market and you are not rich, Carrie can’t, or won’t, help you. BIG THUMBS DOWN. She waffles, fudges and weasels out of confronting the real issues. There is nothing in her speech about: The way the property market overall benefits almost exclusively the super-rich, the families that control the gigantic companies, the only ones big enough to pay the billion-dollar upfront premiums levied by the Government so they can develop large tracts of land. This prevents smaller companies from bidding for the land, diversifying the market, and results in a rotten city. Activist David Webb, among others, has proposed ways to solve this problem, e.g. the Government collects its taxes during the life of a real estate project, not upfront. Cage homes and nano-flats are obscenities that shame a rich city. Carrie says nothing. Why can’t the Government-controlled Housing Society launch public-private partnerships to build decent housing for the middle classes at controlled, affordable prices? Nothing from our Chief Executive.
Carrie does have housing measures for the poor. On newly developed Government land 70% of housing units will be for the public. Subsidised sales flats will no longer be priced in line with the market, but according to affordability. Ninety per cent mortgages will be available for these flats. Whether housing supply is to continue to be 60:40 public/private depends on market developments and the views of various sectors.
LAND SUPPLY: Developing brownfield sites is “logical and natural but fraught with difficulties”. About 540 hectares of such sites in New Territories North are to be used for housing. Private developers hold about 1000 hectares of agricultural land. Under the Land Sharing Pilot Scheme the Government will help developers make use of this land providing 60 to 70 % is for public housing. Revitalisation of industrial buildings is being encouraged. The Government is allowing reconversion of old buildings for “transactional housing”. Artificial islands are to be developed off Lantau at Kau Yi Chau, Hei Ling Chau, north Lantao, coastal Tuen Mun and Lung Kwu Tan.
Lovers of our country parks will be pleased to see Carrie makes no mention of encroachment for housing on them. THUMBS UP
SUMMARY: It is worth taking the time away from social media to go through Carrie’s address. There is something of interest for everyone. I am pleased to see Carrie and her policy makers are not sitting on their hands as we feared, but acting on many community concerns. The big failure, where the people are truly let down, is housing for the middle classes. Like her predecessors, she will not be forgiven for this.
You can see the full Policy Address HERE