Rural areas around Kam Tin in the New Territories could be home to 300,000 people within 15 years as part of a drive to find new areas for housing development. The Planning Department is hiring consultants to establish whether long-term growth is possible, including a big urban centre at a road and rail interchange. The study, to start in September, was originally designed to assess whether 200,000 extra people could be accommodated. But the figure could be increased to 300,000, with large-scale developments being built in the next 10 to 15 years. Hong Kong Institute of Planners president Iris Tam Siu-ying said the area had great potential. 'We have to look at a much higher population,' she said. Reports this month that the territory would have to house nearly two million more people in the next two decades have led to speculation about where the extra flats can be built. Principal government town planner Dr Ted Pryor said previously announced development plans for Kai Tak, the extension of Tseung Kwan O and north Lantau would satisfy most demand for the next decade. But the Government is searching for housing locations for the projected one million extra people in the years 2007-2017. Dr Pryor said the Government could not wait until it had finalised the Territorial Development Strategy Review before starting studies for new urban centres. He said if the West Rail project went ahead, the strategic area of Kam Tin would be a 'key interchange'. It would also be close to the proposed Route 3 extension. Alex Yan Wing-lok, general secretary of Green Power, said he expected the Government would preserve the walled village and other cultural sites. But little was known about whether the area had any important ecological features, he said. A study should be undertaken, similar to one done for the new airport, to determine the existence of endangered animal and plant species, Mr Yan said. A property industry source said a number of major developers were buying land and planning small-scale developments. However, they could find their plans blocked if the area proves suitable for big development. One developer has submitted plans for a residential scheme covering several hectares in nearby Sha Po.