Hong Kong's New World Development donates farmland for social housing

HONG KONG (Reuters) - New World Development Co Ltd 0017.HK will donate 3 million square feet of its farmland reserves for social housing, it said on Wednesday, two weeks after Beijing singled out Hong Kong developers for not doing enough to alleviate housing problems.

The company said it will first offer three plots of agricultural land in the New Territories, totaling 28,000 square feet, to a non-governmental organization called “Light Be” to build over 100 small-sized apartments by 2022 at the earliest.

New World Development, which announced a 22% fall in annual net profit on Wednesday, had an agricultural landbank with an attributable total site area of around 16.9 million square feet pending for land use conversion, according to its financial report for the year ended June 30.

In an attempt to address a housing shortage in Hong Kong - where millions of anti-government protesters have taken to the streets for more than three months - political parties have called on the government to make more use of an ordinance to resume agricultural land from property developers to build public housing.

On Sept. 13 China’s state newspaper People’s Daily in a commentary criticized Hong Kong developers for hoarding land and said it was time for them “to release the greatest goodwill, instead of just playing their own calculations, smashing the land, earning the last copper plate”.

Adrian Cheng, executive vice chairman of New World Development, told the group’s results press conference on Wednesday that the donation was a separate issue from the ordinance, and that the company had an open attitude if the government needed to look for land for public housing.

Reporting by Clare Jim; Editing by Susan Fenton