Hong Kong lawmakers and industry experts have weighed in on sole chief executive candidate John Lee’s manifesto, which was launched on Friday. While critics have noted a lack of environmental policy and called his housing policies “a step back,” supporters have said it gave “hope” to residents.

Chief executive candidate John Lee announced his election manifesto on April 29, 2022. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

In the face of the city’s high property prices and six-year average wait for public housing, Lee vowed to simplify land and housing development procedures, to allow people to move into public housing estates before all of the supporting facilities are completed, and to establish two groups to coordinate government efforts.

“The housing problem has been looming for over 20 years. We had numerous large debates and discussions on what to do, but I think it is time for this [upcoming] administration to implement [them],” Lee said. “We can continue to deliberate, but [we] must act on our words, so my idea is to enhance the government’s capability of execution.”

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However, Chan Kim-ching from Liber Research Community told HKFP that he thought Lee’s housing plans were merely “minor fixes” and he worried some might bring unwanted side-effects.

The founder of the independent land research group said the root causes behind Hong Kong’s public housing shortage were an insufficient supply of land from the government and the self-financing nature of the Housing Authority – which administers the public housing programme.

Chan Kim-ching (right) from Liber Research Community and the Professional Commons. File photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

“This is what the central authorities refer to as problems in the top-level design,” said Chan. “Why would you request [the Housing Authority] to balance its books when it has such a important role in the system?”

Chinese Vice-Premier Han Zheng reportedly said in early March that Hong Kong’s next leader should improve the “top-level design” of the city’s housing policy. Citing Han’s quote, Chan said he thought Lee’s manifesto “falls short” of the mainland’s expectations.

Chan said that Lee’s proposal to speed up development plans could actually harm people’s quality of life, “if procedures allowing citizens to participate and provide opinions are simplified.”

Chan said he was concerned that many of Lee’s pledges on housing – such as streamlining government procedures and allowing private companies to participate in the construction of public housing – were aligned with the interests of property developers. There was also a lack of concrete targets on the number of public housing units and the utilisation of unused developed land, he said.

Housing estates in Hong Kong. Photo: GovHK.

Additionally, Chan said if the government prioritised the distribution of public housing to those who were willing to compromise on living conditions, “there will always be a group of people who want a normal neighbourhood with community [facilities], and they may never finish waiting [for public housing].”

Chan said Lee’s plans to address the city’s housing issues “can be described as a step back” compared to what Lam presented five years ago, as “they lack considerations of procedures, fairness and quality.”

Mok Kin-shing, a spokesman for the Democratic Party, said in a press release that many newly completed public housing estates were already accepting residents before supporting facilities were completed.

“[We] do not see how the plan is a new policy,” he said.

Representatives of Greenpeace submits a petition signed by over 100,000 people in opposition to the government’s Lantau Tomorrow Vision project. Photo: Greenpeace.

International environmental group Greenpeace also said it was “disappointed” by Lee’s manifesto. “It has no mention on policies related to sustainable development, and continues to push for Lantau Tomorrow Vision,” it said in a press release.

While the current administration had suggested expanding the jurisdiction of the Environment Bureau, “the manifesto does not mention anything about these important environmental issues. It makes people feel that it has overlooked sustainable development and worry about the consistency of related policies.”

References to the “environment” in Lee’s manifesto were related to land development and green finance, HKFP found.

Allowing citizens to ‘see hope’

Lawmaker Frankie Ngan – who represents pro-establishment party DAB – said in a statement that Lee’s pledges on housing and land development were “a vision that answers what citizens demand.”

Another DAB lawmaker Lau Kwok-fan also said the proposed housing policies “can help citizens queuing for public housing see hope and get their flats faster.”

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The pro-establishment New People’s Party also issued a press release supporting Lee’s manifesto on Friday afternoon, saying it was “happy to see” Lee’s suggestions on housing and hoped that the plans could “raise speed, efficiency and quantity” laid out by Lee.

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Peter Lee

Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.