The government prepared yesterday to tackle a complex new challenge in its hunt for housing land as it began to gauge public views on a new town in Yuen Long South.
The proposed site of about 200 hectares has multiple owners, no connection to major highways or the rail system, lacks public sewerage and poses construction problems because of underground cavities.
"There are no constraint-free areas in Hong Kong any more," a Development Bureau spokesman, replied when asked why a site with so many difficulties had been chosen.
About 85 per cent of the site in the Shap Pat Heung, Tai Tong and Ping Shan areas, is held by villagers and developers and close to half is occupied by open storage areas, car-repair shops and warehouses run by about 1,000 small businesses. It also houses some small private estates and squatters.
"This site has merits as well," the bureau spokesman said. "It is flat land close to the new town in Yuen Long and existing transport. The government can also take this opportunity to better use the brownfield [under-used industrial land] sites and increase its land value."
Officials already face strong opposition from villagers and activists to other new town developments being planned in the north-east New Territories.
Yuen Long District Council chairman Leung Che-cheung said most councillors supported the latest proposal as it would ease the living density of the existing town in Yuen Long.
But New Territories Warehouse and Logistics Business Association chairman Hsu Wei-chian said Shap Pat Heung had about 1,000 warehouses and open storage areas for building materials and machines, of which he owned 30.
"We have nowhere to go. Open areas in the north-eastern New Territories like Fanling are already being developed," he said, adding that the industries provided about 6,000 jobs.
While most parts of the site lack a public sewerage system, the bureau pledged that the future development would not increase pollution of ecologically sensitive Deep Bay.
Constraints are posed by cavities in marble rock in the eastern part of the site.
The government has yet to decide the development model, proportion of public and private housing and the population.
"These will be decided in the studies, including whether to co-develop the land with private owners," the spokesman said.
The site does not include any indigenous villages, but hundreds of squatters are among the 2,400 residents. It is understood that developers including Henderson Land, New World Development and Sun Hung Kai also own some of the land.
The Legislative Council in July last year approved funding of HK$49.5 million for planning and engineering studies which will take 30 months. The consultation will last two months.