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Hong Kong housing

A home above a container terminal? Hong Kong public consultation to start on land supply options

Government task force says it is open to ideas but lacks sufficient information to determine feasibility

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 November, 2017, 10:06pm
UPDATED : Friday, 17 November, 2017, 11:08am

Would you live in a flat in Hong Kong with panoramic sea views, but have your home built on an 80-metre high podium above one of the world’s busiest container terminals?

Hong Kong residents will be asked in a public consultation next March if they would support relocating the Kwai Tsing container terminal to make way for housing, or have homes built on elevated platforms above the port, among 13 other land supply options.

The Task Force on Land Supply, a government-appointed committee charged with selecting the best solutions for Hong Kong’s dire land shortage, said they were open-minded about both options. It said, however, there was not sufficient information to determine whether or not either option would be feasible.

Could Kwai Tsing container terminal site be the next Canary Wharf?

“We’re not saying it’s feasible, or not feasible at this moment. But we recognise either option does have certain technical challenges that need to be addressed,” task force chairman Stanley Wong Yuen-fai said.

“Our container terminals are running 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If we are to relocate the terminal, or build on top of it, how are we going to ensure that the normal operations won’t be disrupted?” Wong said.

Hong Kong’s port is the fifth biggest in the world, with Kwai Tsing container terminal handling up to 80 per cent of its container throughput of about 20 million units a year.

The port, along with parcels of neighbouring land housing backup facilities, account for 380 hectares, equivalent to nearly 380 soccer pitches.

Wong said one of the biggest challenges would be finding a suitable site to relocate the container terminal as it was highly unlikely that there would be 380 hectares of available land along the coastline.

He added that it would take more than 15 years for any relocation project to come to fruition as land would likely have to be reclaimed for the new port and its upgraded facilities.

Other challenges include whether or not there are sufficient transport infrastructure at the replacement location, as well as what economic, social and environmental impact the two options will have.

“Imagine what the visual impact would be, if housing was built on a 60 to 80-metre podium? Would there be a wall effect? We cannot address these issues today,” Wong said.

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The first container berth at Kwai Tsing opened in September 1972. The facility grew and by the 1990s was the largest container port in the world. It held the ranking for a decade, as Hong Kong became the trade gateway to China. However, the city started to lose its competitive edge as a shipping hub in the past decade as cargo throughput declined, while the mainland continues to liberalise its trade and shipping policies.

Liberal Party lawmaker Frankie Yick Chi-ming, who represents the transport sector, agreed that building residential flats atop container terminal could cause a lot of technical and environmental problems.

“If the government really wants to build flats on the container terminal site, it would be much easier and better for the government to relocate the entire container terminal so as to vacate the land for housing,” Yick said.

Meanwhile, environmental group Green Sense’s voluntary chief executive Roy Tam Hoi-pong, also a Tsuen Wan district councillor, opposed the idea of flats above a container terminal, saying it would create an “environmental disaster”.

“I am not very sure who would like to live atop a container terminal that is operating non-stop throughout the year,” he said.

He also opposed Yick’s idea of relocating the existing container facilities. “That would mean reclaiming the seabed somewhere else,” Tam said.

A spokesman from the Hong Kong Container Terminal Operators Association representing all five of its operators did not say if it would support the two proposals.

“Any proposal to relocate the terminal would be a major infrastructure project for Hong Kong. It is an idea that would require the most extensive and thorough discussion among all stakeholders.

“Hong Kong has an important role to play as the region’s logistics hub. The industry is also a major pillar to our economy. Trading and logistics account for 23 per cent of Hong Kong’s gross domestic product and 20 per cent of Hong Kong’s employment,” he said.