Harbour 'cheaper route to gain land'
Olga Wong and Ng Kang-chung
Reclaiming land to provide sites for development may be controversial - but the cost could be less than half that of freeing up rural land for housing or industrial use.
That is the verdict of the Civil Engineering and Development Department, which has released more details to encourage support for further reclamation outside Victoria Harbour, the subject of an ongoing public consultation exercise.
The department said it would seek to protect the natural coastline and marine life as much as possible when selecting reclamation sites.
But property experts say relying on cost alone to make decisions on land use oversimplifies a complex political issue.
'At this stage, it is quite obvious that the public has grave concerns about the impact of reclamation on their living areas and the environment,' said Robin Lee Kui-biu, deputy head of the department's civil engineering office. 'We will take them into consideration in the site selection process.'
Lee was responding to comments from residents who may lose their sea views, as well as environmentalists who fear rare marine life and unique shorelines will be lost.
A total of 25 areas were marked for possible reclamation in a public consultation launched by the Development Bureau in November to gauge public views on building up the city's land reserve.
Marine biologist Wong Chi-chun warned last month that a third of the proposed reclamation sites were home to rare species. Other critics say reclamation should be a last resort and that underused land in the New Territories should be developed first.
Lee said that in most cases reclamation in shallow waters would cost about HK$4,000 per square metre, the same as the reclamation work involved in the Disneyland project.
But preparing an agricultural site in the New Territories could cost between HK$6,000 and HK$10,000 per square metre, according to feasibility studies conducted in Kwu Tung, Fanling and Ta Kwu Ling.
'In fact, the engineering costs of these projects can be as cheap as HK$2,000. It's the compensation paid for the land that pushes up the price,' Lee said.
However, he agreed with biologists that diverse marine life might be found in Wu Kai Sha and that the coastline in Tseung Kwan O may need protection. These factors would be considered in technical studies.
But Professor Eddie Hui, of Polytechnic University's department of building and real estate, said: 'Developing rural land might not necessarily be more expensive... It depends on the size, location, and ownership status of the land.'
He said past reclamation had proved cost-effective but 'nowadays, when you want to fill a seabed, there can be public opposition from all sides of the community. It is more a political issue than a cost problem'.
Stephen Chung, managing director of Zeppelin Real Estate Analysis, said the cost to the public of preserving rural areas and the sea would be a more crowded city.
'There is no simple answer,' he said. 'It depends on what our community wants. And how or what to give and take is the key.'
Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen said in his final policy address last year that the government would explore six options to increase land supply, including developing underused land and moving facilities underground to free up space.
The government says at least 1,500 hectares of new land is needed. Doubts have been cast on that estimate, but Lee said it took into account the trend towards smaller households and the need to diversify the local economy.
The approximate size of vacant development land in Hong Kong as of 2010, according to the Planning Department