Book Review: The First Estates: The Story of Fairview Park and Hong Lok Yuen with Documents

Updated: Oct 31, 2021


FILE PHOTO: Book Review of The First Estates: The Story of Fairview Park and Hong Lok Yuen with Documents. Image © Hong Kong University Press

BOOK DATA


Author: Roger Nissim

ISBN: 9888528254, 9789888528257

Publisher: Hong Kong University Press (Hong Kong, January 10, 2020)


Who is Roger Nissim?


He himself described:


I have lived and worked in Hong Kong for 40 years principally in the land, planning and development fields with 20 year experience in Lands Department of the HK Government followed by 15 years in the private sector with Sun Hung Kai Properties. Since 2007 I have been self employed as a Land & Planning Consultant and also teaching part-time in the Real Estate & Construction Dept of HKU. (1)

Roger's POV on the so called 'land and property' issues of Hong Kong :


The Magnificent Wongs


This book is essential to know about the pre-地產霸權 (real-estate-monopoly capital) period in the history of Hong Kong, especially in the 1970s and 1980s. Moreover the protagonist of this book, Clifford Wong (黃振輝; 1932-1989) was the best personification of the ideal and conscience of 'developers'. The practical opposite to the today's big four monopolistic conglomerates in the private sector due to his artistic consciousness and approach to his social business 'architecture'. Apparently to some extent it freed him from blindly seeking maximisation of personal profits at social costs as a capitalist and made him unique among Hong Kong ruling classes to this day. Although people already know the bad guys (monopoly capital) , a good guy like Clifford Wong should also be highlighted.


In short, the core of the entire book can be summarised by the quotation below:


It is ironic that in Hong Kong, even for supposed low-density suburban houses, there is still the tendency to build tall and dense in order to squeeze as many units within a limited lot size. As such the earlier suburban estates such as Fairview Park and Hong Lok Yuen should be understood, and appreciated, in this context as they provide more true-to-form house-living environment. (2)

It seems that providing human house-living environment is just NORMAL however in Hong Kong it is extremely rare and quite alienated under the brutal exploitation by the big four monopolistic conglomerates. In general, squeezing as many units as possible within limited space resulted in SDUs and nano flats.


Unlike official narrative, even 'public housing' is not suitable living environment for humans. Providing more and more rentable public houses cannot solve the skyrocketing rich-and-poor inequalities which based on monopoly on land and other social production methods. Only 'pure' quantitative change 'increase in supply' without any structural solutions against monopoly (the political signal of this misconception is that there is no qualitative issue within the present structure; total ignorance to the reality of monopoly capital) is blind, helpless and even deceptive in practice. The true and real solution to the 'land and property' issues is 'anti-monopoly' in the first place. The policy of cross-industrial 'anti-monopoly' is today still totally suppressed and excluded from Hong Kong public debates deliberately by KOL con-artists as a taboo. Thus calling for an 'electoral change' instead of 'anti-monopoly' is false and fatal as practice proved.

The opposite of the construction concept of Fairview Park is crystal clear on the smallest 'living' unit in Hong Kong which called 'nano flat':


Hong Kong’s smallest homes have seen their prices soar. The average price of micro apartments in the region jumped 23% between 2019 and 2020, before cooling a slight 1.7% from 2020 in the first nine months of 2021, according to Hong Kong estate agency Midland Realty. With a price of HK$25,512 (US$3,280) per square foot, a typical 200-square-foot "nano flat" comes with a price tag of HK$5.1 million, which is roughly the same cost as a studio in London that’s more than double the size. (3)

This book review is to examine some critical viewpoints in this book in order to serve today's social efforts to put an end to the 'land and property' issues.


Q1: What was Wong's Goal? His Legacy?


The endeavour would be to create a unique low-rise, low-density, and low-cost suburban housing estate which would be the first and the best of its kind in Hong Kong. (4)
What Mr. Xi [father of Xi Jinping, Xi Zhongxun] saw at Fairview Park represented a different mode of living and might have helped inspire similar suburban villa-style estates throughout Guangdong Province and beyond.
[...] So, thirty years after the last house at Fairview Park was finished, the unique legacy of Wong's vision is a 5,000-house development, built to give the man or woman in the street an opportunity to buy a house at an affordable price, to live in with a garden rather than in a high-rise apartment. (5)
[...] The chances of replicating this today are, no doubt, very low because the prohibitive cost of land would dictate a more luxury form of low-rise development. (6)

It is true that Fairview Park is like another world in Hong Kong yet similar style estates are everywhere in Guangdong province. You can check this kind of astonishing landscape from Temple of the Six Banyan Trees.


Q2: How about Hong Lok Yuen?


Unlike Fairview Park which was designed, built, and priced for the mass market, Hong Lok Yuen was always envisaged to be luxury low-rise housing development. This is reflected in the much larger average size of houses at Hong Lok Yuen compared to Fairview Park. It was conceived by Wong back in the mid-1970s as providing a quality living environment at relatively affordable prices, in contrast to the usual luxury high-rise developments being built by most other developers in Hong Kong at that time. (7)

Today Wong's concept indicates that the HKSAR bureaucratic slogan「住大啲、住好啲」 (live larger, live better) ultimately means luxury housing development.


Q3: What are Impacts of the Development of Shenzhen?


These long-term residents are not particularly negative about the impacts of the development of Shenzhen close by. They feel any potential environmental issues such as air quality and noise are offset by the presence of the adjoining Mai Po Nature Reserve, which provides an excellent buffer; so it is, if anything, just the visual impact. (8)
The close proximity to Shenzhen, which could not possibly be conceived of at the start of this development, in no small part has helped support the value of houses here. (9)

Fairview Park provides citizens with insight into 'The Northern Metropolis'. One is importance of environmental preservation to prevent pollution; the other one is that the close proximity to Shenzhen is in fact worthless at all while only 6% of the residents have jobs in Shenzhen.


Q4: How Fairview Park was founded?


Fairview Park is situated at Tai Sang Wai, Yuen Long, and had long been uncultivated because of the high salt-content of its soil and the lack of content of its soil and the lack of about 12.5 million square feet of flood control in the area. In 1962, Sun Wing Wah Co, Ltd. purchased the unusually large single lot of about 12.5 million square feet from the previous owner, a retired Chinese Nationalist general. The initial idea was to develop this land for high-density mixed development of industrial and residential buildings but the banking crisis of 1964 put an end to that. The next idea was to develop the site as a golf course and resort hotel together with a Japanese joint venture partner. But despite progress being made obtaining approvals for this proposal, the pro-Communist demonstrations and riot of 1967, which left fifty-one people dead, severely dented the confidence in Hong Kong. People were selling their properties and migrating overseas, so this idea was abandoned. In mid-1971, the majority shareholders of the company decided to put the land up for sale. Wong had been a minor shareholder and a director of Sun Wing Wah since 1964. When the land was put up for sale, he formed the Canadian Overseas Development Co. Ltd. (CODCL) to secure an opinion to purchase the land within a two-year period. The partnership was with Mr. Hui Chun-fung, also a former shareholder and director of Sun Wing Wah, and Mr. Paul Yuen, an associate of Mr. Hui. They both shared Wong's bold vision of developing this site into the New Territories' first garden city, with two-storey houses modelled after those common in North America where he had studied at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, to become an architect. The directors' meeting of CODCL held on 8 July 1971 resolved to buy the land from Sun Wing Wah for $9.5 million, on very favourable payment terms spread over four years. On 25 July 1973 the directors agreed that, because there were issues related to obtaining vacant possession with fifty fish pond operators to be bought out and sixty squatters to be moved, the original purchase price was reduced by $1 million to $8.5 million. The transaction was completed on this basis on 15 September 1973, and thus the foundation for Fairview Park was laid. (10)

This 5,000-house project in North successfully had proceeded from the site acquisition, negotiations with government, resulting land exchange, complete development and sales during 1975 to 1989.


Q5: How developers use the media network to purchase 'MEDIA EXPOSURE'?


In the 1970s and 1980s most developers did their own selling in-house, employing sales staff and producing their own sales brochures and advertisements, perhaps costing no more than 1 percent of the gross development value of each project. This indeed is what happened at both Fairview Park and Hong Lok Yuen. Today the selling of new developments is significantly more sophisticated and consequently costlier, with the extensive use of a wide range of selling agents who charge in the range of 2.5 to 4 percent agency fees based on the selling price and nature of the development. There are also additional marketing costs related to the need to comply with the Residential Properties (First-hand Sales) Ordinance; production of more glossy sales brochures, erecting mock-up flats, and the wide range of advertising in newspapers and magazines, on TV and radio, social media as well as the use, in some cases, of professional advertising agencies. These costs can run to between 2% and 4% of the gross development value of a project. So together these combined costs are now a significant item in the overall budget for new projects. (11)

This explains why the top real-estate oligarchs own their media, some of them 'PRO-ESTABLISHMENT' 'US company' New World Development even 'purchased' the 'opposition' media i-CABLE recently, became its major stakeholder.


有線寬頻(1097)10月4日停牌,以待刊發可能涉及香港收購及合併守則消息。市場傳出作為有線寬頻大股東的永升(亞洲)或出現股權變動,永升(亞洲)股東之一的遠東發展(0035)主席邱達昌或會退出,其持股會由新世界(0017)主席鄭家純「接貨」

聯交所最新披露,持股43.22%有線寬頻的永升(亞洲)獲新世界發展 (0017) 主席鄭家純增持,他旗下Celestial Pioneer Limited於9月30日向永升(亞洲)某些少數股東簽訂了兩項協議,有條件地收購永升(亞洲)合共 40.5% 的權益。此前鄭家純持有永升(亞洲)31.5%權益,一旦完成後,鄭家純權益達到72%,成為永升(亞洲)最大股東(12)


Q6: How political and financial 'SHOCKs' crises of the 1970s and 1980s shaped the Hong Kong real-estate sector and policy of today?


The 1973 Oil Crisis arose from the Arab-Israel War of the same year. In October 1973, the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries proclaimed an oil embargo. By the end of March 1974 the price of oil had risen fourfold from US$3 per barrel to nearly US$12 per barrel. The impact was global with stock markets crashing, soaring inflation, and high unemployment. Hong Kong was strongly impacted not only by the rise in severe contraction of the global and regional demand for Hong Kong exports. This resulted in our GDP growth slowing dramatically from 12.3 percent in 1973 to 2.3% percent in 1974, dipping further to 0.4% in 1975. The local stock market Hang Seng Index, which in early 1973 was around 1800, dropped dramatically, losing 90 percent of its value by 1975. It followed that the real estate market was also badly hit but ironically this was good news for Fairview Park as they were, in 1975, in the process of negotiating a good deal, indicating how important the timing of conducting these negotiations is. The premium negotiations for Hong Lok Yuen took place in 1977, before the significant recovery in the market from 1978 to 1981 when residential and retail prices advanced by about 50%, so again the timing was quite good. But as one crisis subsided, another one flared up. In 1982 the political talks on Hong Kong's handover of sovereignty to China had not gone well and this had begun to dent both business and consumer confidence. All this culminated in the event known locally as Black Saturday, which occurred on 24 September 1983, and is the name given to the currency banking, and financial crisis when the Hong Kong dollar exchange rate was at an all-time low of US$1 to HK$9.6. A genuine panic situation developed as queues began to gather in supermarkets and the shelves for rice and toilet paper were quickly emptied. In one or two banks, other kinds of queues were firing to make substantial withdrawals of interbank lines and deposits through the drawing of cheques. For a period, some Hong Kong stores had begun quoting products in US dollar prices because of the uncertain fluctuations in the domestic currency. From 1978 until 1981 property values surged but then slumped sharply in 1982 with the drop in both business and consumer confidence. This in turn further threatened banking stability as banks traditionally were highly exposed, directly and indirectly, to the property market and vulnerable to volatility in property prices. Back then the banks did not have the 70 percent loan-to-value guideline for the degree of risks that could be assumed for residential mortgage loans, and so the spectre of negative equity hung over the market, leading to one of the worst monetary and banking crises in Hong Kong's history. Some semblance of stability was only restored when the government responded on 17 October 1983 by introducing the linked exchange rate, also known as the 'peg', underwriting the value of the Hong Kong dollar at 7.8 to US$1. This peg remains in place today which serves to emphasise its importance and effectiveness in providing certainty, and stability to the local currency. (13)

For developers, the best timing for negotiations with the Hong Kong government is in times of social crisis. It is simply because after the end of crises, economic values will mostly bounce back or hopefully further rise with the help from government. In other words, foreign-backed 'regime change' attempts, riots, financial wars, 'laam chaau' and trade wars are only beneficial for real-estate oligarchs at the end. Today so called 'laam chaau' (shock doctrine stuff) became a conscious tactic for political and economic gains of oligarchs.

This book is highly recommended as a historical book!


NOTES


  1. Hongkongmediator.com, Hong Kong Mediator, (October 30, 2021) 'Roger Nissim.' Available at http://hongkongmediator.com/mediators/profile/1476

  2. Roger Nissim, Hong Kong University Press (Hong Kong, January 10, 2020) 'The First Estates: The Story of Fairview Park and Hong Lok Yuen with Documents', p.56.

  3. www.mansionglobal.com, Mansion Global Daily, (October 19, 2021) 'Mansion Global Daily: Big Cities Back on Top, Micro Apartments in Hong Kong Record Massive Price Gains, and More.' Available at https://www.mansionglobal.com/articles/mansion-global-daily-big-cities-back-on-top-micro-apartments-in-hong-kong-record-massive-price-gains-and-more-150851

  4. Roger Nissim, Hong Kong University Press (Hong Kong, January 10, 2020) 'The First Estates: The Story of Fairview Park and Hong Lok Yuen with Documents', p.3.

  5. Ibid., p.9.

  6. Ibid., p.10.

  7. Ibid., p.64.

  8. Ibid., p.59.

  9. Ibid., p.57.

  10. Ibid., p.27.

  11. Ibid., p.23.

  12. 黃文琪, Hong Kong 01, (October 7, 2021) '新世界鄭家純接手有線寬頻 於永升持股升至72% 疑邱達昌退場.' Available at https://www.hk01.com/財經快訊/685908/新世界鄭家純接手有線寬頻-於永升持股升至72-疑邱達昌退場

  13. Roger Nissim, Hong Kong University Press (Hong Kong, January 10, 2020) 'The First Estates: The Story of Fairview Park and Hong Lok Yuen with Documents', pp.21-22.


 

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