Leung Chun-ying's housing push puts industrial sector out
Chief executive's focus on building homes is making space for other uses scarce, say critics who want to a see a broader development plan
Peggy Sito and Yvonne Liu
The government's bias towards housing development in planning policy has left business owners crying out for industrial space.
As Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's administration enters a third year, planners and property consultants say the government should have a blueprint for the development of the city as a whole, rather than use town planning as a tool to remedy a housing shortage.
Their concerns have been sharpened by Leung's activism on the policy front to enable 470,000 flats to be built over the next decade.
Property consultants said the government's priority of boosting housing supply had come at the expense of other land-use needs, in particular, crimping the stock of industrial land.
"If all this land is changed to residential, where do all the industrialists go?" said Darren Benson, an executive director of industrial and logistics services for CBRE Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.
Benson said that while industrial vacancy rates were now only about 1 per cent, thanks in part to good economic conditions, this was not healthy.
Many industrialist tenants, particularly in the car sector, were struggling to find suitable accommodation, he said.
A car importer has been looking for a site that is between 40,000 and 50,000 sq ft to build a multiservice centre for parking and car servicing. The company has scoured Kwun Tong, Cheung Sha Wan, Sha Tin and Tuen Mun for years, but to no avail.
Aside from industrial users, commercial projects are also feeling the pinch from the policy tilt to housing. Developers seeking to convert residential sites to other uses, including office and commercial projects, have suffered a run of knock-backs. The Town Planning Board has rejected seven such applications since the middle of last year, citing the need to boost home supply.
Planners said that while it was legitimate for housing to be the government's top priority, the city needed supporting facilities, and adequate industrial space was one such requirement.
"A house is not a home. You need to provide other facilities to support the development of housing," said Ng Mee-kam, a professor of the department of geography and resource management at Chinese University. "We can't develop a new district with only one type of land use."
Residents at Pak Shek Kok lost recreational area after two adjoining sites were rezoned for residential use last year. The nearby Hong Kong Science Park then lost four sites for housing expansion after they were rezoned in February.
"The Science Park should be important for Hong Kong's future economic development," Ng said.
Benson said he was worried about the development of the targeted areas in northeast New Territories. "Do we really need to create these new cities in an already overcrowded Hong Kong, especially when there are plenty of vacant apartments across the border?" he said.
Ng also questioned the assumptions underpinning the government's housing push.
"I can't understand why the government is so desperate in seeking residential sites," he said. "They are going to develop northeast New Territories, Tung Chung and Kai Tak. The government should provide more figures to show the growth in population in the future.
"We need a blueprint."
Surveyor Albert So Chun-hin said the rezoning of the six sites in Pak Shek Kok made developers wary of government moves.
The area had only five residential sites when Sino Land and a partner bought the land in 2007 and 2009, before the six sites were added over the past year.
"Developers will be cautious in land bidding in future because the government can increase land supply in any area significantly," So said.