More criticism as Li Ka-shing gets new garden

HONG KONG: The home of Hong Kong's richest man is again the subject of controversy, after the government leased a vacant lot next to Li Ka-shing's house for use as his private garden.

The building at 79 Deep Water Bay, under reconstruction, will get a garden of similar size to the house's site — 11,800 sq ft — a map from the Lands Department reveals.

The Democratic Party's spokesman on housing affairs, Lee Wing-tat, criticised government policy on renting land for gardens. "In Li's case, it is questionable why such a large site was rented and not sold to him or to other people, which could generate more revenue," he said.

"I understand that landlords of those areas have enjoyed this advantage for long. But it is unfair. Have you ever seen people living in apartments in urban centres able to turn adjacent public land into their gardens and tennis courts? The policy was so devised that a certain group of landlords get easy access to cheap land."

Last month, Li was reported to have taken advantage of a green policy that exempts amenities and environmentally friendly facilities from calculation of gross floor area. He had the estate enlarged by more than 9,100 sq ft, doubling its area.

The Lands Department said the garden lease followed general policy. The department said there were 1,200 similar cases in the city. "This usually is done by a short-term tenancy by year or by quarter, and the rent is adjusted every five years," it said.

Surveyors say it has been a practice for decades that the government grant such sites to private landlords on short-term, renewable tenancy.

Such a tenancy is common in less densely built — and usually exclusive — neighbourhoods in The Peak, Island south and Sai Kung. The rent for a garden is much lower than that for land for a house.

A spokeswoman for Cheung Kong (Holdings) said the garden lease was governed by the government's policy on village houses and other private land in the city. She said the rent was determined by officials.

She said the lease allowed the landlord to control access of a road, which was non-exclusive to Li, connecting Li's house to Deep Water Bay Road. A wall and a gate were erected for the purpose.

Dr Lawrence Poon Wing-cheung, a spokesman for the Institute of Surveyors, said that whether the site should be sold depended on its commercial value. He disagreed that the policy should be reviewed. He said such sites were usually not attractive to anyone except neighbouring tenants because of their location and cost of maintenance, such as tree and slope management. — SCMP
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