City of Sadness fear for new towns in New Territories

New blueprint cuts job opportunities in New Territories project by 14,000 and raises spectre of another Tin Shui Wai planning blunder

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 July, 2013, 7:50am

The loss of a special industries zone in a revised blueprint of the new town project in northeastern New Territories takes with it 14,000 job opportunities - raising fears that more "Cities of Sadness" like Tin Shui Wai are about to be created.

Ping Che-Ta Kwu Ling was originally earmarked as a specialist new town with an emphasis on industries rather than homes. The idea was that it would provide jobs to future residents in the other two proposed towns, Fanling North and Kwu Tung North.

Indeed there will be fewer job opportunities. But there will be a new MTR station in Kwu Tung North and 80 per cent of the future residents will be living within walking distance of the station
Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po

But yesterday Ping Che had been dropped pending further study and the triple new town project now reduced to the two overwhelmingly residential towns - a situation that led to disaster in Tin Shui Wai in the northwestern New Territories.

"Indeed there will be fewer job opportunities," Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po conceded yesterday.

"But there will be a new MTR station in Kwu Tung North and 80 per cent of the future residents will be living within walking distance of the station. It will be convenient to commute."

The number of jobs has decreased from 52,000 in the three-town scheme to 37,700 in the two-town project.

Albert Lai Kwong-tak, of the Professional Commons, noted that the proportion of public housing in the two towns has been raised from 43 per cent to 60 per cent.

"The kind of employment that public housing residents look for is usually different from people in private housing, because their background and economic conditions differ," he added. "The richer people can afford the travel expenses and commute."

Tin Shui Wai, a new town completed in the 1990s, ended up with a large proportion of public housing and a lack of economic activities and community facilities. High rates of unemployment, suicide and domestic violence resulted.

Back in 2008, officials behind the three-town project had stressed they wanted to avoid creating another Tin Shui Wai.

Yesterday's revised blueprint said the government would acquire developers' land that falls within areas planned for public housing and infrastructure, such as roads, under the Land Resumption Ordinance.

But if a private site is located within space zoned for private housing or commercial uses, and it is larger than 4,000 square metres, then owners will automatically get the development rights.

They will have to go through a land exchange process with government officials to redraw the site boundary to fit the planned zone, and pay a premium.

Developers would also have to compensate tenants currently farming their land in a similar way to how tenants on government land are compensated.

Lee Wing-tat, a former lawmaker who now runs concern group Land Watch, said the size requirement would lead to a "monopoly by big developers".

But Tony Tse Wai-chuen, lawmaker for the architectural, surveying and planning sector, said: "Developers are usually quicker in construction and planning. Land exchange will speed up the overall housing supply."

Paul Chan said the blueprints were drawn up without any information on land ownership.