Hong Kong housing

Floating offshore communities could be answer to Hong Kong’s land and housing crisis

Three towns on southeastern edge of city’s marine territory would comprise 66 ships connected to floating piers, and could provide thousands of homes

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 November, 2017, 7:30am
UPDATED : Monday, 06 November, 2017, 7:30am

Imagine living in a “floating community” formed of cruise liners, with its own community square, gardens, open-air theatre and shopping malls, and taking a ferry to get to work in a downtown area.

It may sound futuristic, but a Hong Kong think tank has suggested this could be an efficient solution to the city’s housing shortage and sky-high property prices.

Doctoral Exchange also proposed that the city could lease islands off neighbouring Zhuhai for future development to avoid controversy over country park development and other contentious land use issues.

“The government’s multipronged approach in increasing land supply is generally right,” group convenor Francis Neoton Cheung said.

“But many measures [the government is studying] involve a lot of procedures and time to deal with the interests and concerns of different stakeholders ... Our two proposals can solve Hong Kong’s shortage of land efficiently and permanently.”

Cheung, who was a member of the government’s Land and Building Advisory Committee, said the “floating communities” could be built within four years and serve as short-term or transitional housing while the government secured permanent land.

The think tank, formed in 2010 by a group of doctoral students and graduates, suggested the government could build three communities on the southeastern edges of the city’s marine territory, where there is little transport activity. They would cover about 3,000 hectares.

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Each community would comprise 66 cruise ships connected to floating piers and a central deck, with each ship providing some 4,000 flats ranging from 183 sq ft to 549 sq ft.

Based on the construction cost of existing hotels converted from cruise liners and an assumed average living space of 192 sq ft per person, the cost per capita would be about HK$1.2 million.

Cheung said technologies had been developed to support floating facilities, and that many existing hotel projects such as the RMS Queen Mary in Long Beach in California proved that the project was feasible.

Doctoral Exchange also said the government could lease a group of islands to the southwest of Hong Kong from the mainland city of Zhuhai. They include Guishan, the Wanshan archipelago and Dangan. It said areas between the islands could be reclaimed to provide about 12,000 hectares of land for the city’s future development.

Cheung said the group’s proposal was aimed at turning Hong Kong into a major world metropolis with a population of 10 million and an average living space of 388 sq ft per person by 2050.

The group’s target is much higher than government estimates. According to an official blueprint, Hong Kong will need 1,200 hectares of land for the city’s development by 2030 and beyond to house 9 million people.

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However, the official estimate has been criticised for deviating from its own projection of a declining population, falling from a peak of 8.2 million in 2043 to 7.7 million by 2066.

Chan Kim-ching, a member of land concern group Liber Research Community, called Doctoral Exchange’s proposal “unrealistic”.

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He said the estimated construction cost of ship housing would be unaffordable to the targeted users, who would be low-income families, and the government should use its existing idle land for interim housing.

“Public opinion is very clear that the government should supply land based on demand instead of setting a [population] target,” he said.