Concrete Analysis

Finding land for residential housing is easy, just move the Kwai Tsing terminals

Relocation of the Kwai Tsing Container Terminal would open an area larger than that of the Kai Tak Development Area, the site of Hong Kong’s old airport, for residential and commercial land development

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 September, 2018, 12:03pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 September, 2018, 7:19pm

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor told a Q&A session in the Legislative Council (Legco) on July 12, that reclamation projects outside Victoria Harbour are inevitable in the long run, to ease the current strain on land available in the city for residential development.

But “long run” could be years, perhaps even a decade or more. And so I am in line with the growing argument that reclamation must happen sooner, as the obvious measure to increase supply.

One suggestion already being pushed hard by civic think tanks, and which gets my vote too, is for the relocation of the Kwai Tsing Container Terminal, one of the world’s busiest.

Unless a major sea reclamation project is given approval soon, however, it could take many years to build a replacement.

According to documents released by the government’s Task Force on Land Supply, Kwai Tsing currently covers a total area of 279 hectares – allowing nine terminals with 24 vessel berths. In addition, there are 100 hectares of land next to the terminal, which is considered “backup area”.

If the government confirmed a relocation of the Kwai Tsing’s terminals, an area of 380 hectares – that is larger than that of the Kai Tak Development Area, the site of Hong Kong’s old airport – could be released for immediate planning.

Hong Kong’s port is the fifth biggest in the world, with Kwai Tsing handling up to 80 per cent of the city’s total container throughput of about 20 million units a year.

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Some parties have already suggested building a huge platform on top of the existing container site, which could support an estimated 180,000 residential units.

But that is will not be easy, given the vast area of land, and water, involved.

A lot of technical challenges, such as air, noise and light pollution would have to be considered. While piling work above the terminal may cause serious disruption to ongoing terminal traffic, already being challenged by other major ports in the region.

Even so, this looks like the best immediate solutions to Hong Kong’s growing land shortage.

Kwai Tsing Container Terminals are sandwiched between Kwai Chung district and Tsing Yi Island. A Legco report written in 2013 revealed the water depth along Kwai Chung reaches a maximum 15.5 metres, which meets current navigation requirement for the safety of container ships.

Last year, the Hong Kong Container Terminal Operators Association also urged the government to expand its facilities for barge berths.

So far the only realistic replacement site is Area 41, along the coastline of Tuen Mun district, which has a water depth of 11 metres, still within container ship guidelines, which would require minimal reclamation and excavation of the seabed.

The site is also ideal, as container lorries would have to travel far less to get over the mainland border, avoiding a lot of Hong Kong’s built-up areas, through which they currently have to travel.

To meet growing international standards, major container ports now have to have at least 25 hectares of backup land per berth. However, the current terminal has less than half that.

Chiu Kam-kuen is head of valuation and advisory services for Asia-Pacific at Cushman & Wakefield