Plan to convert factories to homes 'not desirable'

Safety and hygiene issues have to be considered when trying to turn old industrial buildings into short-term housing, says bureau official

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 July, 2013, 4:03am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 July, 2013, 7:32am

A proposal to convert industrial buildings into "transitional accommodation" is not a sound option to help people who are queuing for public housing, development officials have concluded.

They say the idea, floated by Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor in September, involves issues of building safety and hygiene that cannot be easily resolved.

Converting individual old factory blocks within an industrial zone is not desirable from the perspectives of building control and planning

"Converting individual old factory blocks within an industrial zone is not desirable from the perspectives of building control and planning," Thomas Chan Chung-ching, deputy secretary for development, told lawmakers on a subcommittee on long-term housing strategy yesterday.

"A better way is to rezone an industrial district into residential use for more comprehensive planning. The Planning Department is doing such a review."

Chan said residential buildings had stricter requirements for natural light and ventilation than their industrial counterparts.

Not every facade of an industrial block can meet the requirements on windows prescribed for housing, for example. To create more windows, the owner may have to substantially alter or even demolish parts of the building, making the project costly and technically difficult.

Safety and hygiene issues will also arise if a residential block is surrounded by factory blocks that are still operating.

Chan was explaining a study started by the Development Bureau last year after Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and Lam suggested converting industrial blocks into homes to increase short-term housing supply, offering temporary accommodation for people whose wait for public housing often lasted for years.

At the time, Lam said the government would "clear the town-planning obstacles" by amending certain building legislation, promising to present a proposal in 12 months.

Lawmaker Wong Yuk-man expressed support for the Development Bureau's conclusion.

"The top officials are just making up numbers on housing supply, regardless of whether it's a good way," he said. "You are professional civil servants and should not execute their ideas blindly."

Dr Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung of the Labour Party said the bureau's findings showed what Lam had said was "rubbish".