Hong Kong housing

Task force considers plan to build podium housing over Hong Kong roads and railways

Group says plan is possible despite significant technical challenges

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 February, 2018, 9:01pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 February, 2018, 11:00pm

Building housing on top of Hong Kong’s busy transport hubs is “not impossible” but faces technical hurdles, a government-appointed committee on boosting land supply said on Tuesday.

The option was earlier suggested by the Hong Kong Countryside Foundation, a charity dedicated to conserving the city’s countryside, saying housing could be built on elevated podiums above transport interchanges, highways, railways and roadside areas.

The Task Force on Land Supply, which discussed proposals aimed at boosting land supply in a meeting on Tuesday, said housing in transport hubs would be considered a medium-to-long term option, but it would pose engineering challenges.

“Although not impossible, there are a lot of technical challenges that perhaps require substantial engineering studies to facilitate these particular developments to move forward,” said task force chairman Stanley Wong Yuen-fai. 

The foundation suggested five sites which had development potential, such as the Pat Heung railway depot and the road interchange at Yau Ma Tei. But Wong cited a number of technical considerations to build over the 10-hectare site above Yau Ma Tei interchange, which covers a section of the West Kowloon highway and a number of elevated roads.

“One would have to build a podium no less than 35 metres high and 60 metres wide … [they will have to think] of how to deal with environmental challenges, air ventilation, the noise mitigation and so and so forth,” he said.

Hong Kong has plenty of experience with topside development, Wong said, citing examples of residential projects built on top of MTR depots and railways. However, one crucial difference was that such topside developments were planned in tandem with the transport infrastructure during its design stage. 

A home above a container terminal? Hong Kong public consultation to start on land supply options

Looking forward, Wong said the government should plan ahead for future developments to make a more efficient use of space.

“The members agree in principle, that due to the scarcity of land, any development in the future would have to take a three-dimensional town planning concept in mind. So whenever any infrastructure is being planned, the government should also consider whether there are any topside development opportunities that can be harvested at the same time,” Wong said.

Wong also revealed after the meeting that the public consultation, which was scheduled for March, would likely have to be delayed to early April, after the Easter holiday. 

“We’re trying our best to include some land supply options which had not been included in our original list, but had been raised by different stakeholders in the community. Hopefully we can at least take two to three additional options on board for the public engagement exercise as a meaningful trade-off [for the delay],” he said.

Most of the 14 land supply options that have been discussed by the task force since its appointment in September were considered medium-to-long term options that would generally take more than a decade to come to fruition. 

One of the few short-term solutions discussed on Tuesday was to examine whether the city’s 183 vacant school sites could have alternative uses.

The members considered that most vacant school premises were not suitable for large housing developments, but said the government could review whether they could be used for transitional housing or other uses. Out of 183 vacant schools, 70 per cent of the sites were located in rural areas without proper transport infrastructures, and each was less than 32,000 square feet in area. 

A total of 137 sites were recommended for government, institutional or community uses, while 18 larger sites have already been zoned for public and private housing.