Hong Kong needs new towns now as much as it ever has

Thanks to the foresight of planners, new towns have become an integral part of urban living. It would be unimaginable to be without them today

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 February, 2016, 12:46am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 February, 2016, 12:46am

Once a fertile alluvial plain of paddy fields, Yuen Long is now home to 600,000 inhabitants. The transformation of the area in Northwest New Territories over the past few decades shows that our city cannot afford to stand still. We need forward-looking planning and a strong will for progress to meet our development needs.

Having pushed through the initial funding for the New Territories Northeast development, officials are raising the momentum for further development of the northwest region. Under the Yuen Long South development plan, the 183 hectares of land south of the new town will turn into a major hub by 2026, with 27,700 flats and commercial and community facilities.

Covering less than one-third of the size of the northeast development, the Yuen Long South project may seem less controversial. But the scale belies the challenges ahead. Most of the land is currently privately owned. The proliferation of open storage yards, warehouses, workshops and industrial operations on so-called brownfield sites makes land resumption and relocation difficult. There is also a cultural heritage and natural landscape features worthy of conservation.

Resistance is to be expected, but it should not become an obstacle to development for the public good. The need to further develop the area has been acknowledged in four consecutive policy addresses since 2011. The latest public consultation is the third of its kind. While there will be practical issues to be resolved, opposition will only cause further procrastination. The government should smooth the process by giving those affected proper compensation.

The acute shortage of land supply for housing makes such major development essential. Our new towns like Sha Tin and Tseung Kwan O were built from near-deserted areas. Thanks to the foresight of planners, they have become an integral part of urban living. It would be unimaginable to be without the new towns today. The development plan should swiftly move ahead.