Hiding in plain sight: Land for Hong Kong development

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Photo credit: Liber Research Community. Five land parcels near Hung Hom promenade laid idle. 

While the Hong Kong government has reiterated that the city is short of 1,200 hectares of land to accommodate housing needs, local NGO Liber Research Community says the government is holding back underutilized land parcels totaling at 301 hectares.

On September 18, Liber Research Community, a research group that concerns urban planning and land use in Hong Kong, published a report titled ‘Missing Option: Research on Temporary Use and Vacant Government Land in Hong Kong’.

The report reveals that there are 532 under-utilised government land parcels, and researchers argue that reserving only one-third of them would be enough for 90,000 container home units.

Lots of land lying fallow

“In March 2018, 493 government land parcels, with a total area of 264 hectares, were not included in any development programmes. While there are development programmes planned for 39 government land parcels, with a total area of 37 hectares, none of them has definite implementation timetable,” says the group in its report.

These land parcels are also located in the urban centres and easily accessible by roads.

According to the group, these land parcels make up the size of almost two Fanling Golf Courses. The 170-hectare exclusive golf course has been a much-debated subject as land activists say it can be developed for 13,000 flats.

“It is a sensible and logical approach to put our existing land resources into good use before resorting to ‘destructive’ and expensive land supply options such as reclamation and country parks,” says Mr Brian Wong, a researcher at Liber Research Community.

There have been talks about large-scale reclamation to build a 2,200-hectare artificial island east of Lantau Island, which is dubbed as “East Lantau Metropolis”.

“Due to the lack of open data in respect of land, the public was misled by the government to believe that we do not have any more land. And this research aims to bust this myth,” Mr Wong adds.

Mr Wong names five land parcels near the Hung Hom promenade as an example.

“Their total area is 1.75 hectares. They have been left vacant or being underutilized as a temporary car park for near 20 years,” he says. “They are all zoned as ‘Open Space’ and supposedly should be turned to parks to satisfy local needs.”

“According to the Planning Department, Hung Hom District lacks open space, but these land parcels are being held up for many years,” he adds. “The government has not explained the reason behind.”

Container homes and facilities needed now

With such land resources, Liber Research Community calls for interim housing, community facilities, recreation and sports facilities and multiple use of land to meet needs in medium and short term.

Using the standard set by the Hong Kong Council of Social Welfare, 90 container home units can be built on 0.1 hectare of land.

“Under this development density, 90,000 container home units can be built in a relatively short period of time by only reserving one-third of the under-
utilised government land parcels, which amount to 100 hectares,” the group says.

These homes could serve around 92,700 households that are living in subdivided flats, according to the group’s estimation.

Another 50 hectares of land parcels could “provide up to 120,000 quotas for community care service and residential care services for the elderly and those in need”. And the rest could be used for building 43 sports complexes in the neighbourhoods.

Inefficient use of land

“A sizeable number of these parcels were never utilised despite development plans simply because of red tape. The long-term plans, therefore, have been replaced by makeshift or temporary uses, such as renting out as car parks, without overall policy coordination,” Mr Wong explains why land resources are not fully utilised.

He says there are 100 hectares of land used as car parks temporarily, but such land has been for “temporary use” for many years. It shelves the long-term plan and hence land resources are wasted.

The group urges the government to relist these land parcels as one of the land supply options. It also calls for disclosure of spatial data of under-utilised government land parcels.

(Printer – R&R Publishing Limited, Suite 705, 7/F, Cheong K. Building, 84-86 Des Voeux Road Central, HK)