The government's change of heart to convert an historic factory resettlement building into public rental housing, rather than redevelop the site, reflects the urgent need to increase short-term housing supply.
The conversion plan for the 53-year-old Chai Wan Factory Estate is one of the short-term housing measures listed by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying on Thursday. The decision surprised the property sector after the Housing Authority decided last year to knock the block down.
Now the building near Chai Wan MTR will be converted into 180 studio flats or one-bedroom units for single applicants or small families. Work will start in the middle of next year.
The revised plan is likely to please conservationists who had earlier called for the building to be saved - the wider public had yet to be alerted to the redevelopment threat.
The H-shaped flattened factory block is the last of its kind and was built under a government resettlement programme after the fire that broke out in the Shek Kip Mei squatter area on Christmas night in 1953. The resettlement programme delivered 22 factory estates between 1957 and 1975 to reaccommodate small factories cleared in squatter areas. Chai Wan was the second-oldest.
They were all located near resettlement housing, for the convenience of factory workers.
A report by the Antiquities and Monuments Office, submitted to a government expert panel, for a heritage grading of the block, found it "stands as a witness to the socio-economic history of Chai Wan [and] the development of Hong Kong's industry after the second world war".
Chau Kwong-wing (pictured), chair professor of the department of real estate and construction at the University of Hong Kong, questioned how cost effective the project would be.
Assuming a plot ratio of 6.5, common for recent public rental housing projects, the 0.45 hectare site upon redevelopment could yield 730 flats of 40 square metres each. The current conversion plan would only deliver 180 units.
The Housing Department has not given the cost of the project.
The chief executive also called on district councillors, who have objected to rental homes for fear they will bring down local private properties prices, to support such projects.
Meanwhile, the government will start a study to make it technically easier for private industrial building owners to convert or redevelop their blocks into residential use.
The study will look into building regulations, especially those related to fire safety, and town planning rules, which often discourage residential use in the middle of industrial zones.