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Hong Kong housing

Hong Kong businesses fear being squeezed out in city’s quest to find land for housing in New Territories

Housing authorities plan to create a new town in area in six years, but have only reserved 61 hectares of land to relocate companies that currently occupy 190 hectares

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 July, 2018, 9:30am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 July, 2018, 9:30am

Construction and logistics companies being forced out of Hong Kong’s New Territories so the government can build 61,000 flats there say their business will take a hit if they are not relocated to a large enough space.

About 300 companies employing 3,900 workers are now in the Hung Shui Kiu area in Yuen Long. They occupy 190 hectares of brownfield land – abandoned farmland used for storage of heavy machinery and as container yards, among other things.

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But housing authorities are planning to create a new town in the area in six years, and have only reserved 61 hectares of land to relocate the businesses.

Authorities hope to pack all of them into specially designed multi-storey buildings and open spaces in the area.

On Thursday, during a visit to two operators arranged by the Heung Yee Kuk, the rural body that represents New Territories villages, one of them said he was doubtful the affected companies would fit into the new area.

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“The government said they would build hotels and commercial buildings here, but have neglected to say how they would relocate us,” said a spokesman of Kanson Crane Service, a company that supplies large cranes and heavy machinery for construction projects.

Large cranes used in government projects, such as the MTR’s Sha Tin-Central rail link, have been stored on a 120,000 sq ft brownfield site in Ha Tsuen in Yuen Long for more than 20 years.

The spokesman, who only gave his surname as Kong, said the construction industry would be paralysed if they had no storage space.

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“How can infrastructure and development projects continue in Hong Kong if you don’t even have space to put the most necessary equipment and machinery for the projects?” he said.

Kong added that multi-storey buildings were not suitable for their equipment because some cranes were more than nine storeys high.

The industry’s plea comes as the Hong Kong government struggles to find enough land to churn out at least 8,000 new subsidised flats for sale, 20,000 public rental flats and 18,000 private flats a year. A public consultation on the best ways to find 1,200 hectares for Hong Kong’s housing and economic needs in the next three decades is ongoing, and developing some brownfield sites is considered one of the fastest among 18 options, yielding land within 10 years. There are about 1,300 hectares of brownfield sites across the city.

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On Thursday, Jacson Li Ki-shun, the operation manager of a company supplying steel bars and materials for construction projects, said finding suitable land in Hong Kong to store such construction materials was difficult and relocating to China was not an option.

“Some might say land in mainland China is cheaper, but any steel imports would see a hefty import and value added tax of 24 per cent, that would just put us out of business,” Li said.

The company accounts for half of the steel used in the city’s construction projects, and has been involved in building major infrastructure such as Ting Kau bridge.

“We’ve tried to find other land in Hong Kong in the past 10 years, but the chance of finding sites that have no slopes, easily accessible roads and are big enough for our trucks transporting 12-metre long steel bars, is close to none,” he said.

Heung Yee Kuk chairman Kenneth Lau Ip-keung, who visited the brownfield sites in Ha Tsuen on Thursday, urged the government to meet with operators affected and to have a better long-term planning, so operators “could all survive”.

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Stanley Chaing, the chairman of the Lok Ma Chau China-Hong Kong Freight Association, said: “It’s going to be very difficult for the industry if the government is just going to take back the land for development and ask us to move elsewhere. If there is no land for us, they are just forcing us frontline operators to shut down.”