Friday, August 21, 2009

Hong Kong's 50-yr rule has marred skyline

COLLECTIVE property sales opponents like Mr Dennis Butler ('En bloc sales: Adopt HK's 50-year limit', last Saturday) and Mr Augustine Cheah ('The difference', last Saturday) have quickly latched on to Ms Tan Hui Yee's piece, 'En bloc debate, HK style' (Aug 10) and hailed it as a 'well-argued commentary'.

Few people in Singapore know that all Hong Kong properties are on a 50-year leasehold term, beginning from the handover date July 1, 1998, except the land on which St John's Cathedral stands in Central, which is the only freehold land in Hong Kong.

That may be one reason why the Hong Kong administration proposed a condition to lower the 90 per cent consent threshold to 80 per cent - that the building be at least 50 years old. For example, if a 30-year-old building was demolished after a collective sale, the remaining lease on the land would be below 20 years.

From Hong Kong's international airport, you take a ride through the scenic beauty of the New Territories. Then you pass through downtown Kowloon and Hong Kong Island on the way to Central, and your opinion changes as you see many dirty and derelict buildings along the way. Many note that Hong Kong is a city of great contrast: modern skyscrapers exist side by side with rundown buildings.

With Mr Butler's suggestion of a 50-year age limit before a collective sale can take place, the Hong Kong scenario could well be part of our skyline in time to come.

Still, I believe buildings under 20 years old, in particular those under 10 years old, should be barred from collective sales unless there are structural problems.

Mr Butler and Mr Cheah latch on to a comment from a Hong Kong letter writer: 'Making a profit for developers is not a public purpose.' I do not dispute the sentiment but I am surprised they left out those who also make money: home owners who sell out, voluntarily or not.

There have been more than 100 collective sales in Singapore over the years, with 80 to 90 per cent consenters and 10 to 20 per cent objectors in each sale. Thus the proportion of proponents to opponents is four to one or higher. I hope the authorities will take note of this point if they see fit to fiddle with the collective sales rules yet again.

Ace Matthews

Source: Straits Times, 21 Aug 2009

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