Technology offers way to monitor progress of public rental housing projects

    07/05/2022 - 10:47

    This article appeared originally in the China Daily on 18 July, 2022.
    Authors: Ryan Ip, Research Director and Head of Land & Housing Research, and Calvin Au, Assistant Researcher at Our Hong Kong Foundation.

    運用GIS技術 助公營房屋供應提速

    The latest forecast on public rental housing (PRH) completions in the next five years further postponed the completion dates of some housing construction projects, extending the waiting period for PRH to a record high. 

    The shortfall of the PRH supply has been a chronic issue through which the general public in Hong Kong has learned to grin and bear daunting deficiencies and chilly disappointments. The grassroots entrapped in overcrowded subdivided flats, however, are at the end of their rope for housing issues, but the nightmarish figures released by the special administrative region government are simply too frustrating to bear.

    All strata of society are keeping a close eye on how the new-term government tackles the PRH shortage. First and foremost, the public needs to keep track of policy efficacy and monitor PRH project progress.

    The transparency of PRH leaves much to be desired when compared with that of private housing, as Our Hong Kong Foundation has consistently revealed in various research reports. The development process, unfortunately, seems to have “fallen into a black hole”, making it hard for the public to track the progress. Thus, the government should establish a one-stop platform to post updates on PRH projects of the coming decade. Otherwise, project delays are likely to prevail without external supervision, and the SAR government’s backloaded approach to resolving PRH supply will then be difficult to materialize.

    With the new-term government and bureau heads announced, the best timing for change is now. Meanwhile, the long-awaited Common Spatial Data Infrastructure (CSDI) Portal will be fully operational by the end of 2022. This is a one-stop information disclosure platform running on a geographic information system (GIS), which integrates data sets from different government departments and enables data visualization through interactive maps, enabling a clear display of the geospatial relationship of various data for public use and analysis. Hence, CSDI can possibly be a “powerful medium” for the public to monitor PRH project progress.

    Since 2021, all government departments have been requested to submit their Annual Spatial Data Plans, and the Spatial Data Office of the Development Bureau is responsible for coordination. In the plans, government departments are required to set out the spatial data sets to be put out on the CSDI Portal in the coming three years for public use. The latest plans submitted show that some departments value quantity over quality. For instance, among the Housing Authority’s 19 spatial data sets released or soon to be released, 11 are the transaction records of subsidized housing, which do not disclose much about spatial relationship beyond geopositioning. Such submissions look perfunctory.

    With the government’s resolution to relieve the PRH shortage and its drive to optimize CSDI, it could step up its effort by urging relevant departments to actively publicize spatial data about future PRH projects on CSDI to keep the public informed of the progress. As an example, the government should coordinate the release of in-depth spatial data regarding the PRH projects of the next 10 years, i.e., the precise locations and scopes of sites for the 350 hectares of land ready for the construction of 330,000 flats, as well as updating relevant data sets on a regular basis. Moreover, relevant executive bodies, including the Planning Department, Lands Department, Civil Engineering and Development Department and HA/Housing Department, should also regularly update the spatial data sets related to the progress of PRH project rezoning, land clearance, site formation and superstructure works on CSDI to ensure all projects are on track and progressing well. Besides, the government should proactively consider higher-level accountability on cross-departmental spatial data coordination, maybe under the direct supervision of the deputy secretary, so as to enhance the overall efficiency of relevant development.

    GIS can also facilitate public consultation during housing development by integrating disorganized information into a single source of truth so that stakeholders can get the whole picture effortlessly. As an open system with great compatibility, GIS can collect and collate information and data from different sources, gathering data in varying formats, such as statutory plans, building information modeling, computer-aided design, 3D digital models and satellite images, at one spot. Stakeholders can view all works-related information simultaneously without switching to another interface and then voice their opinions precisely and efficiently in the subsequent consultation. The government can also take the initiative to offer an objective basis for analysis during public consultation via GIS in order to swiftly reconcile the expectations between different stakeholders.

    In addition, GIS can solve most knotty problems arising from logistics planning. The government has repeatedly proposed using Modular Integrated Construction to expedite PRH supply. However, Hong Kong lacks prefabrication yards, and bulky modules need to navigate busy narrow roads when transported from the mainland to the cramped sites in Hong Kong with short lead time to (or before) the actual assembly. Thus, comprehensive transportation and logistics planning is the crux of the matter. Not only can GIS boost the efficiency of preliminary planning and feasibility studies, and speed up the progress of transportation and environmental impact assessments, it can also provide real-time traffic updates and optimize logistics routes by gathering and processing GPS data in the cloud. With such, project delays that stem from emergencies or inadequate planning can be well contained.