Government wins out in battle with Sun Hung Kai over Tai Po site

Town planners opt for scaled-down government estate and reject Sun Hung Kai subsidiary’s private development scheme

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 April, 2014, 4:55am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 April, 2014, 4:55am

The government has come out on top in a tussle with one of the city's biggest developers after its vision for public rental flats on a site in Tai Po won Town Planning Board approval.

The government plans to build almost 1,000 homes and a primary school on a 1.67-hectare site west of Hong Chi Pinehill village as part of a wider scheme to develop eight sites in the town for housing. The rezoning of the eight sites was approved by the board's rural and new town planning committee yesterday.

The government owns half of the site near Chung Nga Road, with the rest owned by a subsidiary of property giant Sun Hung Kai, which applied to build 1,144 flats and a clubhouse on an overlapping 1.97 hectare site. That application was rejected and the developer faces having the government take over its land.

Is there no choice but to resume private land for public housing?
Consultant Winnie Wu

Both sides had made last-ditch attempts at compromise. The government reduced the size of its proposed estate from 1,700 flats to 950. The developer offered to give up about a third of its site, although a government planner said that land was made up of slopes unsuitable for building.

The government argued that there was an overwhelming public interest in developing public housing; the developer insisted allowing the government to take the site would show disrespect for private property rights.

"The acquisition of private land for public purpose, in particular public housing development … is inevitable and not uncommon," said Anthony Luk Kwok-on, senior town planner for the Planning Department.

But Winnie Wu Wan-yin, of planning consultancy firm Llewelyn Davies, which is working for the developer, hit back.

"The government is proposing private housing development on five government-owned sites [in Tai Po], but public housing development on a private site," Wu said. "We feel perplexed by this mismatch … Is there no choice but to resume private land for public housing?"

The government wants to build 10,000 public and private flats in Tai Po to house 29,000 people as part of a drive to increase the housing supply.

The resumption will need Executive Council approval. The Lands Tribunal will then set compensation if the two parties cannot agree.

Lee Wing-tat, chairman of think tank Land Watch, said it would be hard to overturn a resumption order unless a court was convinced the government had not gone through due process. "The government has the power to resume land, but it should be careful not to abuse it when seeking land for public housing," Lee said.