Untapped mass of potential building land

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 October, 2013, 4:59am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 October, 2013, 4:59am

As a professional in the field and an academic, I have always been puzzled by the issue of land shortage in Hong Kong.

According to the 2012 land utilisation analysis in Hong Kong, there are 1,108 square kilometres (110,800 hectares) of land, of which about 30.1 per cent has been developed. This includes residential (6.9 per cent) commercial industrial (2.7 per cent), transportation (5.1 per cent), agricultural (6.1 per cent) and other urban uses.

The balance of 69.9 per cent or 775 square kilometres comprises woodland, grassland and water bodies, of which about 40 per cent has been zoned as country parks; but what happens to the other 30 per cent or remaining 332 square kilometres? Are any parts useable and what are their site conditions, geographical distribution and ownership like?

This land is generally referred to as "other open spaces" and mostly zoned as "green belt" (defined as woodland and vegetated land, urban fringe areas, and countryside containing the sprawl of urban development). It generally covers the lower hillsides between country parks and urban areas and there is a general presumption against development by the government.

However, Hong Kong is not new to attractive hillside developments. Assuming 10 per cent of these green belt areas (not country parks) can be developed, subject to accessibility, environmental conditions and encumbrance, it would release some 3,324 hectares and possibly land for half a million homes at moderate density.

Take, for example, the well-serviced suburban corridor covered by the Sha Tin and Tai Po outline zoning plans (OZP), which comprises a land area of 5,215 hectares. A total of 2,264 hectares or 43.4 per cent has been zoned green belt. Again assuming 10 per cent, or 226 hectares, is feasible for development at a net plot ratio of 3.0 (not including external roads and community facilities), it could generate possibly 100,000 small homes averaging 750 sq ft gross floor area.

While these scenarios are conceptual, subject to detailed feasibility studies, it is not too late for the government to start some comprehensive master planning and urban design studies for Hong Kong; not vision plans or OZPs, but a policy- orientated, analytical, creative but applicable planning and urban design framework with special reference to the green belt to guide the future development of Hong Kong.

We need to examine all planning options with a different policy agenda.

Ho Chi-wing, Central