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Jake's View
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 October, 2013, 3:59am

Let container port go into terminal decline, then let's build some flats

There have been suggestions that Kwai Tsing Container Terminals is no longer needed. Some even suggest it would be better suited as a location for housing.

This might alleviate the city's housing shortage, but how would this affect Hong Kong's logistics industry which employs some 200,000 people?

Gerry Yim, Managing director,
Hong Kong International Terminals

Letters to the Editor,October 9

Teacher, teacher, I had my hand up first. The answer is that it will affect Hong Kong's logistics industry very little as only a small fraction of these 200,000 people are employed in moving containers from one ship to another.

Increasingly this is all that we do at the container port. Now that the mainland has its own smoothly functioning ports it no longer makes sense to ship goods from workplaces in China the long way round. Why go through a Hong Kong border, with the many grasping hands that afflict all border crossings, and then down yet more congested roadways to a Hong Kong port when the shorter route is much easier and cheaper?

As the chart shows, the tonnage of actual exports and imports moving through our port has declined steadily over the past 15 years, while the total tonnage of freight through mainland ports has risen more than sevenfold.

The business we still have left is transshipment of goods from one mainland port to another, and this now accounts for more than 60 per cent of the business through our container port.

The reason we still have it is that Beijing forbids foreign-flagged vessels from carrying goods between mainland ports. This is called cabotage, and is considered a very bad thing by protectionist-minded governments.

Hong Kong, however, is not considered foreign for these purposes and so we are allowed to handle these shipments.

The continued existence of our port therefore depends heavily on Beijing not realising that an artificial restraint on shipping really does not make much economic sense and only adds unnecessarily to the cost of trade at a time when the mainland's exports already face pricing pressure.

Let the authorities once appreciate this and our transshipment business will go into rapid decline. Costs will then rise even more rapidly for the bedrock import and export business. Its decline will then accelerate as well, and we shall have the answer to our chief executive's prayers for more land to solve our supposed housing shortage.

That comes to 2.7 square kilometres of land. Cover a quarter of this land with 30-storey housing blocks featuring flats of 750 square feet each and we get 290,000 flats.

Consolidate this with container facilities on Tsing Yi and a little reclamation infilling and we could have perhaps five square kilometres of land. This is enough land for well in excess of the 470,000 flats our bureaucrats are talking of building.

Now I am not saying that we should tell our container port operators to get out of Kwai Chung and send in the bulldozers immediately. Mr Yim is right that there is still a worthwhile business being carried out there.

But it is one in terminal decline and we should no longer be propping it up with infrastructure projects for a future demand that we can now see will never materialise.

Let this business come to its natural end, as it did in London and New York. Around the world it has become apparent that inner cities are not the right places for big ports.

Let's just stand by, build no more facilities to serve the port and wait until our big redevelopment opportunity falls into our hands.



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Good article and good reminder. Whether or not the calculations are exactly correct doesn't matter. The points are 1) HK should not spend more money on ports, and 2) the port lands could be a real asset to HK as a vibrant mixed housing /commercial waterfront area. If anything, the port business should be encouraged to move elsewhere. The port lands could be a well planned, attractive, waterfront destination with, marinas, boardwalks, cafes, art galleries, housing, businesses, etc. Of course, the government will delay forever on this transition and then get a developer to build walls of ugly concrete tower blocks, but hey, that is the HK government for you on their quest to ruin this city.
I read JvdK not for simple first order estimates, things
that he could well delegate to any intern of his subordinates
that sensible readers would register in a normative and not an absolute scale
It’s disappointing that the article is abused for bashing LKS
and mouthing half-baked housing irrelevance
While everyone knew all along that it was problematic, until recently
logistics was billed an important pillar of the city’s economy
But now the industry is publicly recognized as dying and it’s generally presumed
that housing development is the only or best substitution for logistics
Even if logistic workers could instantly turn construction workers
the question remains:
how do those who move into these new housing make their livings?
The first time a journalists writes something untrue or ridiculous, we can put it down to an honest mistake. The second time, we can't and it becomes outright demagoguery.

Again, just like one month ago, Mr van der Kamp proposes to "(c)over a quarter of this [2.7 square kilometre of] land with 30-storey housing blocks featuring flats of 750 square feet each and we get 290,000 flats."

2.7 square km = 270 hectares.
A quarter of 270 hectares = 68 hectares

The density of an average 'new town' area in Hong Kong is about 600 flats per hectare, and with the also standard assumption of 2.3 people per flat, that makes for a population density of 1400 people per hectare. Mr van der Kamp's 68 hectares could be home to about 95k people in this vision.

Compare and contrast: Tseung Kwan O's total development area = 1,700 hectares, for a planned population of 450k. The proposed Fanling North development = 533 hectares, to become home to about 150k people.
Mr van der Kamp's statement that 68 hectares can become home to 290,000 FLATS (not people!) is ridiculous. It would exceed even the densest of current population densities anywhere in Hong Kong.

Where he gets his calculations from is a mystery. My guess is thin air. It is a dishonest statement; an outright lie.

To then use this 'fact' to argue that the redevelopment of the container port makes sense is a classic 'false choice' rhetorical fallacy and his whole 'argument' can only be called pure demagoguery.
But how are you taking into account JVDK's "quarter"?
If the entire container port area is re-zoned to residential, but only 25% of it is built on for flats per se, then JVDK's maths work out ok relative to your density figures, don't they? The 75% remaining can be access roads, parkland etc.
And where are your own [unreferenced] density figures are coming from? Put it this way: the population of Tsing Yi island is around 200,000 (source: Wikipedia). This population is almost all living on the north and north-east parts of the island. Now look at the area of the container ports on Tsing Yi, Stonecutters Island and Kowloon (i.e., CT1 to CT9). I would say that there is easily enough to site another 290,000 people there, given that 200,000 are already on a much smaller part of Tsing Yi island itself.
So he made a math mistake - that was not the point of the piece, which was -
"do not build any more expensive infrastructure to support a declining industry".
The Stonecutters-Tsing Yi cable stayed bridge was built to provide easy access for
container trucks to the port, but is in fact a huge waste money and land.
It is not he just made a math mistakes. JVDK shouldn’t have made the same mistake twice according to jve; especially on numbers, After all, we readers who depend on JVDK to have numbers right. Your comment in part is very off.
JVDK still needs to response to avoid the suspicious that his article is in aid LKS to get the best price for his waterfront property through public opinion. Premium charged for land use change is not science. It is subjective and political.
Go home.....
"The urban area of Hong Kong has the highest population and employment density in the world. Measured at block level, some areas may have population densities of more than 400,000 people per square kilometre."
A respond from JVDK is required to avoid being suspicious the article is aiding LKS by pumping up the value of those terminal properties. The public opinion is pivotal and should be built upon correct information.
Are you so ignorant of land matters here that you don't realize that the lease restricts the use to terminals and premia have to be paid for change if use. If that is your level of knowledge go and do some reading before you comment again.
This is a logical assumption in a law and order society when people accept rule of law. Please don't be so trusting.
Hong Kong people are too readily in accepting reality. A reality sometimes too superficially seen and understood. The first wave refugees from mainland are not that they can outwit most of us with their hands down but because most of us are just pushovers. Please also read my other comments above.
I've been called ignorant nowadays in these comments few times. I'll do my best to share my ignorance with all. Perhaps, saving the Victoria Harbor and City Hall and pressing for abolition in school banding of which I had done in SCMP letter writings decades ago are all ignorant acts to you.




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