The city's quest to reclaim more land from the sea is not going to help home buyers in the short term, government officials warned yesterday.
Five reclamation sites and plans for an artificial island have made the shortlist from 25 sites earmarked by the Development Bureau for a "strategic land reserve".
One of the sites, at Sunny Bay in north Lantau, could provide up to 100 hectares of land. But it lies directly under the airport flight path, meaning residential development is not an option.
A site at Siu Ho Wan - with a potential supply of up to 150 hectares - faces the same problem as it would lie under the proposed third runway.
Officials said the two sites could be ready for development as early as 2019, but the locations meant uses would be restricted. They said the aim of the strategic reserve was to fill gaps in the long-term land supply in time to take account of development needs and population growth.
The bureau is launching a three-month public consultation today on the six proposals.
A consultation exercise in 2011 concluded that Hongkongers were divided over reclamation, but that there was overall support to build up a land reserve.
Officials remain reluctant to say what these reserves could be used for without knowing the exact scale of each site.
"We want the public to tell us what their concerns are, and we will present to them the opportunities and challenges facing each site," said an official who did not want to be named.
The official said the bureau hoped to convince the public of the need for funding to further study reclamation feasibility.
The five near-shore reclamation sites could provide a total of around 600 hectares. One of them - Lung Kwu Tan in Tuen Mun - could supply at least 200 hectares. Officials believe the Tuen Mun site is suitable for residential use despite its proximity to power plants.
"There are two chimneys at the coal-fired power plants. If the building height is restricted, residential uses might be feasible," said an official who preferred not to be named.
Another shortlisted site potentially fit for housing is at Ma Liu Shui, near the Sha Tin sewage treatment works, with a potential land supply of up to 60 hectares.
But development might hinge upon relocating the sewage plant to a nearby cavern, freeing about 28 hectares of land. Officials said this plan could take decades to materialise.
A site at Tsing Yi is capable of supplying 100 hectares but is already being targeted for a proposed container terminal. A decision on whether that will go ahead may be two years away.
Officials say the artificial island could provide between 1,000 and 2,000 hectares. They are eyeing a spot between west Hong Kong Island and east Lantau. And they said they would not rule out using the island to relocate facilities that cause pollution from urban areas.
Detailed studies on infrastructure such as road links were still needed.
To address environmental concerns, officials plan to conduct a cumulative impact study for reclamation sites in western waters, to see if these projects would overburden the area due to other infrastructure works either ongoing or being planned.
"If these studies show any problems, we can adjust the size of reclamation or fine tune their locations," the source said.
Alan Leung Sze-lun, conservation manager of WWF Hong Kong, welcomed the studies but urged officials to reveal more details. "This is the right direction to go in and it shows they are willing to face the problem," he said.