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Urban planning

About 300 hectares of Hong Kong government land underutilised or vacant, study by concern group finds

Liber Research Community says 532 undisclosed land parcels should be included in 18 options put forth for public consultation on land supply

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 September, 2018, 9:29pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 September, 2018, 1:07am

Some 300 hectares (740 acres) of government land in Hong Kong are “underutilised”, with about 40 per cent left vacant, an independent concern group has said, hitting out at authorities over a lack of transparency on data.

Liber Research Community, a local NGO focusing on land and development research, said it found plots of at least 5,000 sq ft that were accessible by roads, relatively flat and not included in development plans.

In a study, the group identified 532 land parcels – most of them in Kwai Tsing, Sha Tin, Tuen Mun and other areas in the New Territories – with a combined area the size of 14 Taikoo Shing estates, or 1.7 times the size of the Fanling golf course.

About 60 per cent was leased out or allocated for use such as car parks, while the rest was vacant.

Their findings were based on a 2012 government study of unallocated land, and supplemented with information from mapping tools, satellite images, site visits and official papers.

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Researchers said such areas were left out from a public consultation under way on land supply because the government had failed to disclose such information.

“Instead of arguing about destructive land supply options such as reclamation and developing country parks, why doesn’t the government first fully utilise their own resources and review their potential?” Yeung Ha-chi, a Liber researcher, said.

Instead of arguing about destructive land supply options such as reclamation and developing country parks, why doesn’t the government first fully utilise their own resources?
Yeung Ha-chi, Liber Research Community

Yeung said the land parcels in question could be put to temporary use such as building interim homes for those waiting for public housing and other community facilities.

It estimated that the 300 hectares would be enough to provide 90,000 prefabricated modular housing units, 43 sports complexes and benefit 120,000 people who required elderly residential care services.

Of the 532 land parcels, 306 sites were used for short-term leases or temporarily allocated for government use, while more than half housed temporary car parks. Other uses included open storage sites, bus depots and temporary offices.

Amon Yiu Yeuk-wa, another researcher from the NGO, argued sites functioning as temporary car parks were not optimising land use.
“These car parks are often just occupying the ground level, but it could be more efficient if the government could develop multi-storey buildings with car parks on lower levels, while upper floors could have other community facilities,” Yiu said.

Of 226 sites that were left vacant, about half were zoned for village-type development, while the remainder were not yet allocated for any use.

The largest site, a piece of unallocated government land near a public cargo working area at Stonecutters Island, spanned some 10.78 hectares. The space had been left idle for eight years.

In another case, a 1.97-hectare site located near the Kwai Tsing Container Terminal was left vacant for as long as 24 years, satellite images showed. According to its official zoning, the land could be used for container-related purposes or sewage treatment facilities, the study found.

The group said such sites should be listed among the 18 land supply options put forth in a five-month public consultation on land supply, which ends next week.

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Under the exercise, public views were sought on the best ways to plug a shortage of 1,200 hectares of land for Hong Kong’s housing and economic needs over the next 30 years.

The group also urged the government to be more transparent in disclosing data on its use of public land.

In response to media inquiries about the study, a spokesman from the Development Bureau said they had “never ruled out” any possibility of using short-term tenancy sites, unallocated or vacant government land for development.

However the bureau said the development potential of such sites “should not be overestimated”.

“It is not practical to assume that these temporary uses, such as car parks or workshops, can be terminated or relocated at any time,” a bureau statement said.

For vacant land, the government said that even providing interim housing had to consider sewage, traffic and other needs specific to the area.

“’Vacant’ cannot simply be regarded as ‘developable’,” it said.

It added the government was looking into further increasing transparency of land information subject to resources and manpower.