Urban planning

Solution to cargo blight will require compromise

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 March, 2008, 12:00am

Cargo storage sites have blighted the New Territories landscape for years. Along with clusters of ugly village houses, they have ruined what could otherwise be an unspoilt 'great outdoors' of sprawling greenery and country parks. Fish ponds and farmland have been turned into environmentally destructive depots. Many of these sites are operating illegally. Some are also used for dumping rubbish; others double as junkyards for abandoned vehicles. Some are run by organised-crime syndicates.

This problem has been allowed to continue for years through neglect and lack of planning. It is, therefore, good news that planners are finally showing a willingness to tackle the problem. Their solution is to set aside sites and facilities in designated areas to encourage existing operators and truckers to relocate there.

One reason the government is pushing for a solution with renewed energy is that it has been under increasing pressure from the logistics industry, which has been pushing for more cargo storage space. The city's growing trade volumes make this necessary. However, unless the new government sites are chosen judiciously, they risk merely relocating or even aggravating the problem instead of solving it.

Critics have already complained that some proposed sites are too close to green belts, agricultural land and homes. Several Town Planning Board members yesterday warned the problem could spread to Lantau once construction of the cross-delta bridge increases freight traffic between Hong Kong and the western delta.

Fairview Park in Yuen Long is a case in point. There have been heated disputes between its residents and truckers over the use of a private road since a truck driver ran over and killed a 12-year-old boy last year. It is an example of the problems and dangers that can be created when cargo depots are sited too close to residential areas. Industry representatives, however, have countered that the problem will not be solved unless the new sites are accessible. They have pointed out that truckers are reluctant to use many existing legal sites because they are out of the way.

Some of the areas designated for additional depots - Ha Tsuen, Kam Tin South and Lau Fau Shan - already have cargo container storage yards. One proposal is to enhance the facilities at Ha Tsuen, near where the Hong Kong-Shenzhen Western Corridor, a cross-border road link, makes landfall and therefore popular with truckers. It is also not too close to homes or ecologically sensitive areas.

The trick, therefore, is to identify more sites like that. But if the plan is to work, officials must make sure operators and truckers use only legal sites and crack down on those who break the law. They have failed to do so until now.

Understandably, planners have a difficult job balancing the demands of truckers, green groups, villagers and other residents. There are no perfect locations and all sides need to compromise. But the government's plan, if executed properly, ought to be able to balance the legitimate interests of the industry with the need to protect the environment. It should also restore damaged sites and meet the public's demand for more green open spaces.