A plan to move Yuen Long South's rural industrial operations into high-rise factory buildings to free up space for flats and cut pollution has run into strong opposition.
The Planning Department wants to squeeze the assorted businesses that cover some 100 hectares of rural industrial land in the district into just 20 hectares by rehousing the space-intensive operations in newly built, multi-storey flatted factories.
But many operators are opposed to the plan, which they say could put jobs at risk.
"The idea of building high-rise storage won't work for us unless the government resumes the land and builds the factories for us," Ken Hsu Wei-chian, chairman of the New Territories Warehouse and Logistics Business Association, said.
"How can small companies pay for the construction of costly facilities?
"Will operators have to pay high management fees?"
Hsu estimated that, given a near 80 per cent cut in the land available to them, half of the district's 1,000 open-storage facilities would be displaced, putting 5,000 jobs on the line.
He said members of the association were planning to protest.
The district has been home to low-end industrial activities, including open storage, vehicle maintenance and waste recycling workshops, for decades.
A source close to the department said it had hired a consultant to see how the flatted factories could meet the operators' practical needs.
"The design for those buildings will be almost unprecedented in the city. It would require innovative designs featuring very high ceilings and strong structures to accommodate extremely bulky goods."
The buildings would also be fitted with proper sewerage to minimise pollution from the industrial activities, the source said.
The department will submit its plan for the Town Planning Board's examination today.
Its aims are twofold: to develop the sparsely populated district of 2,200 to accommodate 78,000 residents; and to clean up the environment. Active agricultural land will remain.
The district of Yuen Long South spans 216 hectares. Under the development plan, the first of 26,100 new flats, of which public housing makes up 60 per cent, will be ready in 2025.
Just under half of the district's area - about 100 hectares - is currently taken up by rural industry.
Under the development plan, only 20 hectares along Yuen Long Highway, next to Tong Yan San Tsuen, would be set aside for the operators - five hectares for open storage and 15 as industrial land.
Hsu questioned whether this was enough, saying that at present, open storage facilities occupied much of the 100 hectares. About half of these stored bulky materials such as construction machinery, coffins and large pieces of glass. "Why would the land owners sacrifice their business and sell … the sites?"
The planning source conceded that private ownership was a challenge in delivering the plan. Some 85 per cent of the land was in private hands.
Whether the government would buy the land for the factories or leave it to the operators would be decided after public consultation ended in July, the source added.
A town planning expert at the University of Hong Kong said housing the industrial activities in multi-storey buildings was feasible, provided operators received incentives such as cheaper management fees.
It would defeat the purpose if they moved to other districts, such as Lok Ma Chau, Professor Ng Cho-nam said.
Spread across the New Territories, brownfield sites are eyesores and sources of pollution. Operations are allowed as long as the land owners renew temporary planning permits with the department.
The redevelopment potential of these sites came under scrutiny after Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying called for a citywide land search to meet his ambitious housing target.
Besides Yuen Long South, a new town development in Hung Shui Kiu will also reduce brownfield sites, by about 70 per cent.