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Tuen Mun’s River Trade Terminal could make way for housing. Photo: Wan Kam-yan

Hong Kong task force mulls plan to scrap cargo terminal in Tuen Mun to build 22,000 new flats

The terminal is underused, government says, but district councillors cite potential complications and question liveability of area

A 65-hectare (161 acres) container terminal near Tuen Mun in Hong Kong’s northwest could be a site for 22,000 new flats to ease the city’s housing crisis.

The idea of developing the site was to be discussed on Tuesday at a meeting of a task force advising the government on land supply.

Flats above container port could ease housing shortage, Hong Kong engineers say amid government scepticism

River Trade Terminal is used for cargo moving between Hong Kong and ports in the Pearl River Delta. The government’s rough estimate in a paper submitted to the task force was that if flats were built there, they would be equivalent to 13 per cent of existing housing in Tuen Mun, according to a source.

The scale of the proposed development would be similar to two Taikoo Shings – the popular housing estate in Quarry Bay on Hong Kong Island.

But local district council members fear the impact on existing infrastructure and worry about the area’s liveability.

The terminal is used for cargo moving between Hong Kong and ports in the Pearl River Delta. Photo: Felix Wong

“You can’t just think of housing whenever you see land and disregard the district-wide plans,” said district councillor Tam Chun-yin of the Labour Party. “It’s very irresponsible to do that.”

You can’t just think of housing whenever you see land
district councillor Tam Chun-yin

Tam gave a list of potential complications.

Tuen Mun Road, the district’s main artery, was already packed with vehicles and faced significant traffic congestion every day.

The West Rail Line, the only MTR line to the district, was also “overflowing” during peak hours, he said.

Tuen Mun Hospital, which was handling 20 per cent more patients than it was equipped to in busy seasons, could not handle more residents in the area.

Furthermore, the terminal was next to a sewage treatment plant, the airport’s aviation fuel facility, a steel mill, a cement plant and a power station, he said.

“How can people live happily in such an environment?”

Hong Kong is the world’s most expensive property market. Since 2003 private home prices have jumped by 445 per cent. Housing affordability has fuelled dissatisfaction among working adults and concerns that the younger generation will face a gloomy future.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor appointed the Task Force on Land Supply last year, and it agreed with the government’s long-term development plan that the city would need another 1,200 hectares of land – on top of its current supply – for future development.

Plans for container homes in Hong Kong get a mixed reaction from experts

After discussing 14 proposals to expand land supply, the task force will start public consultations on each proposal from next month. Among them is a suggestion to build homes on elevated platforms above the Kwai Tsing container terminal.

On why the Tuen Mun terminal was an option, a source said the facility, on the district’s southwestern coast, did not seem necessary.

District councillors worry about Tuen Mun Hospital’s ability to serve more residents. Photo: Jonathan Wong

The government paper cited figures showing that on average, the terminal’s 49 berths were underused last year and operating at only 24 per cent of capacity. Cargo handled by the terminal was only 4.7 per cent of all shipments handled by Hong Kong ports, leading to the thinking that its cargo could easily be absorbed by other facilities.

Another factor, the source said, was that the terminal was about 1.5km away from the nearest residential community and it was on flat land with convenient infrastructure.

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

But the source added that the government had raised some concerns, such as industrial pollution and noise, traffic congestion, and the building height limit, as the area was near the coming third runway at Hong Kong International Airport.

Another problem was the lease: the land is currently rented to a joint venture between Hutchison Port Holdings and Sun Hung Kai Properties until June 30, 2047.

The source said the government considered that the proposed reclamation of 250 hectares along Tuen Mun’s western coast might provide space to relocate these industrial sites, thus freeing up the terminal and its surrounding land for residential development.