Hong Kong housing

Use 110 hectares that are idle or leased short-term for prefab Hong Kong housing, political party says

Its study finds two sites in city could together offer 18,000 units converted from containers

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 September, 2017, 9:02pm
UPDATED : Monday, 25 September, 2017, 10:54pm

Some 110 hectares of government land which has been sitting idle or temporarily leased out has the potential to be used for prefabricated housing to provide short-term relief for Hongkongers living in undesirable conditions, a study released on Monday has found.

Lawmaker Andrew Wan Siu-kin, whose Democratic Party carried out the study, said one such site would be an eight-hectare plot in Ma Wan that had been left idle with no immediate plans for development.

Another site that does not fall into this category but still has potential would be the 60-hectare site in Sunny Bay on Lantau Island reserved for developing the second phase of Disneyland, Wan said.

The lawmaker claimed these two sites alone could provide some 18,000 prefabricated units converted from containers for those waiting for a public housing flat or living in undesirable conditions.

Using idle government land to develop prefabs is the quickest and most efficient way
lawmaker Andrew Wan Siu-kin

“Using idle government land to develop prefabs is the quickest and most efficient way because the government already has a list of these sites and knows what the plans for them are,” he said.

There are 5,300 short-term agreements leasing out public land, covering 2,400 hectares. Hong Kong International Airport accounts for 60 per cent of that total.

The study found that, excluding the portion for the airport, 927 sites or about 14 per cent of the remainder – 110 hectares – had been zoned for residential use.

“If the government has plans to develop public housing on any of these sites in the next five years, then please do so as quickly as possible,” Wan said. “But if there are no immediate plans for some of the sites, the government should consider using them for social housing instead of leasing them out for other short-term purposes.”

He argued the Disney site, for instance, would not be developed in the next decade and was within “reasonable distance” to the nearest MTR station and could provide some 10,000 prefabricated flats.

Although the lawmaker admitted it would take some time to outfit the site with water, electricity and gas supplies, he said its sheer scale made it worth considering.

The Ma Wan site, he believed, could provide about 7,800 such flats.

Having visited prefabricated social housing in the Netherlands and Britain, Wan said the flats, ranging from 226 to 750 sq ft, could be put together at a speed of 150 units per month and rented out for as low as HK$3,000 a month.

It would also be easy for the prefabricated housing estates to be moved elsewhere, he added, citing the example of a movable prefabricated public housing estate, Spacebox, in the Netherlands.

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Lau Chun-kong, president of the Institute of Surveyors, said the government should study the party’s suggestion.

But he saw several problems, such as whether the targeted residents could afford long-distance travel or living in a middle-class neighbourhood, and whether it would be easy to relocate residents when their short-term tenancy was up.

“The government has a lot of experience in handling these issues,” said Lau, who also sits on the government’s task force on land supply. “It’s worth considering.”

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A Development Bureau spokeswoman said the government was “open-minded to any idea which may help provide relief to those with housing needs”.

The government puts most short-term tenancy sites up for open tender but also grants sites directly to applicants at undisclosed prices for non-profit-making uses, if it sees fit.

Officials have pledged to publish details of all short-term tenancy sites, including rentals, next year, after land concern group Liber Research Community found at least three hectares of such land had been leased out for 23 private swimming pools and eight private tennis courts.

The group accused the government of making private deals with the city’s rich, granting them public land to expand their homes, while taking away other residents’ chances of using the sites.

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As of June this year, 150,200 families and elderly people were waiting for public housing, with an average wait of 4.7 years – exceeding the targeted three years.

Another 127,600 non-elderly people on their own are in a separate, lower-priority queue. Some of them have been waiting for more than a decade.

In 2015, a government survey showed 41 per cent of some 88,800 households living in subdivided flats were waiting for public housing. The flats are often criticised as crowded, poorly ventilated and overpriced.