Hong Kong housing

Reclaim 2.6km-long strip in Victoria Harbour to ease Hong Kong’s housing woes, architect group proposes

But critics say plan has low chance of success given existing law against development in the area

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 September, 2018, 11:02am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 September, 2018, 2:53pm

Apart from building a mega artificial island offshore, why not think about reclamation in the heart of Hong Kong?

That was the question raised by a group of surveying and architectural sector professionals on Wednesday, as they suggested developing a 2.6km-long strip of harbour next to the city’s iconic former airport runway in Kai Tak.

The Hong Kong City Development Concern Group said that “Project City-E” would provide an additional 85 hectares of land – enough to build 70,000 flats by 2027 – and would help ease Hong Kong’s housing shortage in a relatively short time frame compared to other reclamation projects.

Critics however said that the proposal was not realistic as such large-scale work would violate the Protection of the Harbour Ordinance, which prohibits any reclamation in Victoria Harbour.

Vincent Ho Kui-yip, the group’s convenor, said the strip was conveniently located in an urban area that already had a well-established transport network, including the future Sha Tin-Central rail link and the Tseung Kwan O-Lam Tin Tunnel that would go through the area.

“How many existing sites are there in Hong Kong’s urban centre that can provide a large supply of housing? None. All of the other short to medium land supply options are in the New Territories,” he said.

“The reclaimed area would be government land, meaning it does not involve time-consuming processes of dealing with existing land rights and land resumption either.”

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Ho added that the project would be cheaper and faster than other reclamation options as the harbour was only five to six metres deep, while land reclamation offshore outside Victoria Harbour would cost more and take longer as the water was 20 to 30 metres deep.

“It’s not a matter of technical difficulty, this is an issue of public consensus … it is whether the government has the political will and courage,” he said.

Reclamation, which is usually considered a long-term option that takes 15 to 20 years, is one of the most controversial land supply options and is staunchly opposed by environmentalists, who say that construction would harm marine life.

The proposal came as the secretary for development said on Wednesday that the government would do more in-depth design and planning studies for reclamation to the east of Lantau Island and four other nearshore sites.

The government had initially approved plans to reclaim the area next to the runway in 2002 as part of its master plan for redeveloping Kai Tak in Kowloon after the airport was relocated to Chek Lap Kok on Lantau Island.

But the entire project was sent back to the drawing board in 2004 when the Court of Final Appeal ruled against reclamation in Victoria Harbour unless there was an overriding public need. The government then proceeded with a new plan for Kai Tak’s redevelopment under a “no reclamation” principle.

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Ivan Ho Man-yiu, a member of the Harbourfront Commission, said the feasibility of the new proposal was “very low” given the court ruling and historical background.

“If it was really feasible, the government wouldn’t have pulled out of it in the first place years ago,” he said.

If it was really feasible, the government wouldn’t have pulled out of it in the first place years ago
Ivan Ho, Harbourfront Commission member

“They would need to spend a lot of effort to convince those who want to protect Victoria Harbour, but the chance of that happening is slim, it’s only going to end up being a war of words,” Ivan Ho said, adding that there was already strong public sentiment and consensus against any large-scale reclamation at the city’s famed waterfront.

Paul Zimmerman, an adviser with the Society for the Protection of the Harbour, agreed that the proposal would likely not be able to meet the criteria of an overriding public need for reclamation at that location.

“Following an intense public debate, discussion over implementing legislation and years of court cases over what the law is, the community consensus was that Victoria Harbour is a special asset to be protected,” he said.

Vincent Ho, of the concern group, argued that developing the water strip in question – part of which also acts as a typhoon shelter for yachts and boats – would not be damaging to the harbour as the site did not have any ecological value.

Ho said that the waterfront would not be narrowed. Instead, the reclaimed area could provide an opportunity for more green space.

The convenor said that while there was a need to respect the ordinance, amending the law to exclude that area could offer a solution to the city’s dire housing shortage.

“This is for the benefit of Hong Kong people and our next generation. If there’s a consensus and the government is willing to do it, then there is no difficulty at all,” he said.