Industry players have given a cool reception to a proposal to convert industrial buildings into loft-type apartments, and others say it would need incentives such as land-premium concessions. Allowing the re-use or conversion instead of demolition and redevelopment of obsolete industrial buildings for other, particularly residential, use is raised in a Government study on long-term use of land. The Planning Department is consulting the public on nine issues, including the use of industrial buildings in a more sustainable way, to prepare the overall planning strategy for Hong Kong for the years up to 2030. As more industrial space in Hong Kong becomes available, one suggestion is to allow the conversion of factories into spacious homes with a mixture of homes and workshops for artists and professionals. Planning Department chief town planner Alfred Lau Yiu-kwong said the idea of building loft-type homes in Hong Kong was supported by some professional bodies, but such a move would depend on public opinion. He said SAR residential units were not spacious enough to motivate people to work at home, which was becoming increasingly popular in the United States. But some Hong Kong people were renting tenements as their home-offices. Converted industrial properties could provide spacious homes with high ceilings and fewer partitions, he said. But the issue was whether Hong Kong, as a cosmopolitan city, should follow this development strategy. Mr Lau said conversion was also in line with sustainable development because, unlike redevelopment, it involved less building waste. Ma Tau Wai, Yau Tong and Tai Kok Tsui were identified as pilot areas for the change. Some large-scale redevelopments were planned by developers for industrial buildings in these districts and the department would target remaining lots, he said. Gold Rich Consultants director Francis Lau Tak suspected the economic viability of the concept, saying developers would rather redevelop industrial properties if sites were earmarked for residential use. The construction cost of redevelopment was HK$800 to HK$1,200 per square foot while the cost of conversion would be HK$500 to HK$600 per square foot, he said. But a converted home might be worth only HK$1,000 per square foot, compared with a redeveloped home's HK$3,000 per square foot, he said. Mr Alfred Lau said implementation would generate technical problems, such as land-premium charges for conversion of a factory to residential use. He said the public had to discuss whether the land premium for conversion should be lower than that for redevelopment. The Planning Department had not discussed this issue with the Lands Department because it was still consulting the public. Another consideration was that loft conversion, if implemented, might require restrictive lease conditions to control flat size to stop developers using approvals to produce cage homes, he said. If industrial buildings had a higher plot ratio than residential developments in the same district, the developers might have to turn some floor area of converted properties into open space. Hampton Victoria director Simon Chow said converting factories into homes for the elderly might be more financially feasible and the converted factories would offer a better environment than most centres for the elderly. Toco Planning Consultants managing director Ted Chan Tat-choi said Hong Kong was no longer short of residential land. The Government should not focus on residential supply but on how to make use of vacant industrial units to boost employment. The Government had introduced initiatives in recent years such as rezoning industrial land into industrial-office or business use and broadening use within industrial areas to help rejuvenate the sector. The Planning Department said rezoning alone was not the remedy for under-used industrial buildings and the greatest obstacle was multiple ownership of most buildings.