Hong Kong housing

Hong Kong prefabricated home trials to be launched at HKU and Science and Technology Park

Prefabricated accommodation will house employees and university students as government considers alternative solutions to housing supply problem

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 September, 2017, 3:40pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 October, 2017, 11:46pm

The Science and Technology Park and the University of Hong Kong will be the sites for two trials of prefabricated homes for students and employees, the secretary of development has revealed.

Both the government and the construction industry welcomed the idea of relieving housing pressure in the city through use of prefabricated living units, Development Bureau chief Michael Wong Wai-lun said on Thursday morning, just a day after he said the government had no particular stance on building container homes.

The idea of using such structures as low-rent residences was raised on Wednesday by the Council of Social Service. The council has been in talks with several developers over plans to build container homes ranging from 160 to 320 sq ft in size, which could each house two to five people. These homes are to be rented at cheap rates to families on the waiting list for public housing.

Speaking at the opening ceremony for Construction Safety Week, Wong said the government had two pilot projects in mind: one called InnoCell at the Science and Technology Park in Sha Tin and the other at the University of Hong Kong in Pok Fu Lam.

The prefabricated houses would be dormitories for young employees of the park and for students at the university, the development chief said.

According to a paper handed to the Legislative Council’s panel on commerce and industry by the Innovation and Technology Bureau in July, a piece of rectangular land about 31,000 sq ft in size near the south end of the park would be used to develop InnoCell and provide about 500 cubicles in 2020. The expected monthly rent would range from HK$8,000 to HK$10,000 for a furnished unit about 190 sq ft in size, about 40 per cent cheaper than the market price for the area.

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Though prefabricated homes could be a time-saving alternative in face of a limited housing supply, as land could be cleared and levelled while the units were being manufactured and assembled in factories, Hong Kong has no official guidelines for this type of architecture.

Wong said the Buildings Department was consulting the construction industry for a new set of practice notes, the completion of which would speed up approval procedures.

As for the container homes suggested by the Council of Social Service, Wong said the government would not get in the way if social groups had some “innovative ideas” to solve the housing problem and submitted their applications for construction.

The Buildings Department would handle the approval procedures according to existing regulations and make sure that the structures met stability and safety standards, Wong said.

Bernard Chan, chairman of the council, said the idea of container homes was worth considering, although there were technical difficulties to be faced, as well as limitations when it came to finding land.

“If we can provide tens to a hundred or two hundred homes, why don’t we consider?” asked Chan, who is also the convenor of the chief executive’s cabinet, adding that the project would not run on a large scale.

Before unveiling its container home initiative on Wednesday, the council had rolled out on Tuesday an affordable shared housing project, which was expected to supply 500 flats for 1,000 poor households over a three-year period.

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Given that NGO had presented two plans in a row this week to help the government meet its public housing provision target, both the council and the government were asked if the leading role in tackling the city’s housing problem had been handed over.

Chan said the council served only as a platform, and it was not the only NGO that had been initiating similar projects.

Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said on Thursday that the government would “definitely not” pass the problem to social welfare organisations but would remain a dominant role in forging housing policies. Meanwhile, he said, the government would play “the roles of coordinator and promoter” when good ideas such as the container homes were raised by the non-government sector.

“The shared housing project is a good example and a good starting point of cooperation among ordinary citizens, the commercial sector, government and social groups,” Cheung said.

A 17-storey dormitory building in Wong Chuk Hang, which could at most house 1,228 students from the University of Hong Kong was considered “very suitable” for prefabricated construction, said a spokesperson of the University.

Though it would require amendments to the original design plan, the levelling the hillside land and other preparatory works would grant the University enough time, said the spokesperson.

The Centre for Innovation in Construction and Infrastructure under the Civil Engineering Department would be consultant to the project, ensuring the structural stability and safety of the building.

The Science Park said the construction of InnoCell was still in planning stage, and different construction methods and techniques were being explored for effective development.

The Construction Industry Council said it supported the introduction of prefabricated housing to the local Industry because the constriction with prefinished modules would be time-saving and could reduce dust and noise pollution.

Additional reporting by Kimmy Chung