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Hong Kong housing

Greenpeace trip aims to show Hong Kong grass roots families ‘real’ housing situation in city

Campaigners took 30 low-income Hongkongers to top of Tai Mo Shan to show them brownfield sites that could be used for public housing instead of country parks

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 August, 2018, 7:02am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 August, 2018, 7:02am

Kindergarten teacher Carmen Cheng lives in a 110 sq ft flat, subdivided from a larger flat, with her husband and two sons in Kwai Chung. That has been all they could afford in Hong Kong’s red-hot property market, but after a six-year wait, they will soon get keys to a larger public rental flat.

Cheng was among 30 low-income Hongkongers that environmental advocacy group Greenpeace and other grass-roots concern organisations brought to Tai Mo Shan, Hong Kong’s highest peak, on Tuesday morning.

After a short hike, the entire group gathered at an observation deck to peer at Yuen Long district down below, and saw an expanse of abandoned farmland used as scrapyards and to store containers.

Greenpeace campaigner Andy Chu Kong said the purpose of the trip was to help these families grasp “the real situation at hand”.

Yuen Long has at least four large clusters of these brownfield sites spanning 126 hectares and Chu insisted the government should prioritise building flats on these sites, instead of targeting country parks.

He was referring to a Housing Society study proposed by the government on whether two 20-hectare sites on the fringes of protected country park land could be used for public housing and homes for the elderly.

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Clearing brownfield sites is seen as one of the fastest ways to yield land for development within 10 years. This was among 18 options put up for public consultation by the government, in its quest for 1,200 hectares of land for Hong Kong’s housing and economic needs in the next three decades.

Hong Kong is desperately in need of affordable flats as home prices had risen for 27 consecutive months as of last month, making it one of the most expensive cities to own a property.

The government previously said it had failed to find enough land for public housing by 2027, and this would result in a shortfall of 43,000 flats.

While the city has some 1,300 hectares of brownfield sites across the city, the majority are occupied by businesses using them as storage for heavy construction machinery and scrapyards, among other purposes.

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Around 540 hectares already feature in new town development plans, while officials previously said most of the remaining 760 hectares were either too small or scattered to be developed.

However, research compiled by Liber Research Community, a non-governmental research group on land and planning issues, showed that there were at least 723 areas with sites larger than two hectares each, which would be big enough for low-density public residential housing estates.

The group estimated that some 230,000 people could have homes to live in even if only a third of the 723 hectares were developed for housing.

Chu said on Tuesday: “Here in front of them they have damaged farmland that could be developed in the short term, but they keep giving excuses saying it’s too difficult with all the existing operations and businesses and have instead turned towards supporting [land] reclamation and country parks.”

Cheng mused: “If I didn’t see it with my own eyes, I would’ve just believed the government’s excuses that these sites were too scattered to be used for housing.

“But there’s a lot of land concentrated here,” she continued.

Another resident on the tour, a security guard who only wanted to be known by his surname Cheng, said: “It doesn’t seem fair when we see this view in front of us of all these brownfield sites being abused and some even being used as illegal electronic waste dumping grounds, and on the other side of the mountain we see people having to be crammed into tiny flats in residential towers.”

Cheng was referring to a Greenpeace estimation that at least 50 brownfield sites were being used illegally to dismantle electronic waste imported from overseas, a hazardous process that damages the environment and poses health issues to workers.

Cheng, who lives in a 100 sq ft subdivided flat in Sham Shui Po, also called for the preservation of country parks.

“For people like us who have lived in concrete jungles all our lives, we need these country park spaces. I don’t want to see every inch of Hong Kong being covered with high rises.”