Hong Kong media praises how awesome S’pore housing is to criticise HK housing

It pulled no punches in its effusive praise of us.

Matthias Ang |Jack Lau | August 27, 2018 @ 11:11 am


On Aug. 14, Hong Kong news site HK01 published a video titled, “Why can everybody in Singapore live in big houses? There are three keys to planning”.

It was in Cantonese and Chinese.

Interviewed Singaporeans

Shot entirely in Singapore, some of the more notable figures interviewed in the HK01 report include a Hong Kong family living in Singapore, veteran architect Liu Thai Ker — also known as the “architect of modern Singapore“, and Professor Ng Mee Kam of the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s (CUHK) Geography and Resource Management Department.

They were asked about the housing policies in Singapore.

Criticism of Hong Kong housing policies

Their answers are then used to frame a comparison and criticism of Hong Kong’s own housing policies, with the video concluding with three main reasons or “keys”, as to why Hong Kong’s housing policies are inferior to Singapore’s.

They are:

1. Lack of land

Here, the lack of land refers not so much to the physical space of Hong Kong, but rather, the amount of land that is actually owned by the Hong Kong government.

Liu told the reporter: “Hong Kong does not lack land at all.”

Source: Screenshot from HK01 YouTube channel

However, as the reporter highlighted at about the four-minute mark in the video, the public-private ratio for Hong Kong is rather low, compared to Singapore.

In all, Hong Kong has “800,000 public rental flats, 400,000 subsidised flats and 1,600,000 private flats”, where the “public-private property ratio is 4:6”.

In contrast, Singapore has “1,010,000 HDB flats and 370,000 private flats” and “the public-private property ratio is 7:3”.

To top it off, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said: “800,000 public flats are enough to meet HK’s demand”.

This means that Hong Kong’s lack of land is the result of allowing a greater proportion of private land ownership than public land ownership.

This leads to the next reason.

2. Lack of determination and authority by the HK government

Adding on to his statement that “Hong Kong does not lack land”, Liu said that this is because the Hong Kong government “lacks the ability to develop the land”.

The video quantifies Liu’s statement by giving instances of how the Singapore government exerts its ability to develop the land and take it from private ownership.

Huang Qi Zhong, Chief designer and planner of Morrow Architects & Planners, was quoted as saying:

“Singapore does not differentiate the rich and the poor. Other countries will reserve the best parcels of land for the more expensive properties, but Singapore wouldn’t do that.”

“The government will control the rent and type of shops in HDB shopping centres and markets. The government will not let big brands operate in the HDB estates.”

Liu also gave his own personal take on how the Singaporean government takes land from private ownership.

Liu said in response to the reporter’s question, “Why is the Singaporean government willing to appropriate land, while the Hong Kong government is reluctant to do so?”:

“Once, I asked a friend whose land is being appropriated by the government how he felt about that. He said he had no choice. He said, ‘The people is on the side of the government. How can I stand on the other side?’”

Above all, however, the greatest issue is that there is a lack of planning.

3. Lack of planning

Or rather, small-mindedness and short-sightedness in urban planning in Hong Kong.

Ng from CUHK, who has been living in Singapore for the past three months, laid down the difference between Hong Kong’s approach and Singapore’s approach to urban planning:

“The Hong Kong government’s Planning Department is merely curating and organising the government data from different departments in its development plans. This is different from Singapore’s central, macro planning. These are very different takes at urban planning.”

Source: HK01 YouTube Channel

At the seven-minute mark of the video, the report said this “central, macro planning” is long-term and more importantly “human-centred” which:

“… is the key to Singapore’s success. Singapore’s 50-year development plan consists of a national vision, demographic planning, and distribution of civic functions. This grand plan is updated every 10 years. Under this plan is another plan by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) that envisions Singapore in 10 to 15 years. This plan specifies what types of land are needed, their function, development data, and an overall development plan. This plan is revised every five years.”

This difference is brought into sharper contrast when the reporter asked Liu:

“People in Hong Kong criticise their government for not devising a long-term plan, and the Hong Kong government would say, ‘We already have plans that envisions HK in 2030’. Do you think a 10- to 20-year plan is sufficient?”

Liu replied:

“Plans like this are like ‘small turkeys’. I wish to do ‘big peacocks’.”

Hong Kong family’s refusal to return home from Singapore

Such are the reasons, as the video implied, for the refusal of the Hong Kong family to return to their home city.

Source: Screenshot from HK01 YouTube Channel

There is the grandmother of the family who said: “Singapore is more comfortable than Hong Kong. No matter how poor you are, you can have a HDB flat.”

The most biting comments, however, came from the grandfather of the family who said:

“Living in such [Hong Kong homes] cramp spaces is an insult. I think the Hong Kong government lacks a long-term population policy and it has not prioritised housing as a problem that needs solving.

He added:

“You [the Hong Kong government] can’t touch country parks, can’t touch golf courses, you don’t reclaim land, you don’t think about how to reclaim brownfields, and you don’t think about how to develop farmlands. The government needs an overhaul to solve the housing problem. If not, I don’t think I will go back to live in Hong Kong in my lifetime.”

How bad is the housing situation in Hong Kong?

According to South China Morning Post, the housing situation is at crisis levels.

The price of private housing has been on the rise for the past 27 months.

And the space of public housing has been shrinking.

Currently, two-thirds of the city’s 800,000 public housing rental flats are smaller than 430ft².

A four-room HDB flat in Singapore is about 1,000ft².

The crunch in size is expected to affect future private flats as well, with 45 percent of all private flats to also be of a similar size by 2019.

This has resulted in concerns that if nothing is done to stop these trends, the quality of life in Hong Kong will continue to decline.

Top images from HK01 YouTube Channel

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