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Urban planning

Hong Kong government exaggerated constraints in freeing up brownfield sites for more land: NGO Liber Research Community

  • Study shows amount of land for potential development exceeds official estimate, with only small fraction used for operations that are hard to relocate
  • Findings come as government task force set to present recommendations on boosting land supply in space-starved city
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 December, 2018, 8:03am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 December, 2018, 9:52am

The Hong Kong government exaggerated constraints in freeing up land held by businesses on damaged agricultural sites, a concern group has said.

In a year-long study, Liber Research Community, a local NGO focused on land and development research, found that the city had 1,521 hectares of brownfield sites – damaged agricultural land mostly located in the New Territories – and almost 90 per cent were used for operations that could be easily relocated into multi-storey buildings.

The total amount of such land exceeded the government’s estimate of 1,300 hectares. According to the group, only 12 per cent of the sites studied were identified as container yards and for heavy machinery storage, which are operations that would be difficult to relocate.

“They have land, they have the policies, they have the power, and they have the money. I see no point for the government to further exaggerate the difficulties when they have a lot of tools to tackle the problems of brownfield sites to increase land supply and fix the environment,” Brian Wong Shiu-hung, one of the group’s researchers, said.

They have land, they have the policies, they have the power, and they have the money. I see no point for the government to further exaggerate the difficulties
Brian Wong, Liber Research Community

The findings came as the government-appointed Task Force on Land Supply is expected to submit recommendations to officials later this month on the best ways to plug a shortage of 1,200 hectares for Hong Kong’s housing and economic needs in the next three decades.

Developing brownfield sites is considered one of the fastest options to yield land within 10 years.

Authorities hope to use brownfield sites efficiently by packing operations into specially designed multi-storey buildings, but construction and logistics companies have voiced concerns that there would not be enough space.

The government has also cited challenges in finding alternative sites to accommodate existing business operations.

The group criticised authorities for downplaying the potential in using brownfield sites to boost land supply. “We can come to the very clear conclusion that a majority of them ... can be relocated to multi-storey buildings in a relatively easy way,” Wong said.

Of the 1,521 hectares identified by the NGO, Wong said 1,023 hectares were not included in any new development plans and urged the government to come up with a comprehensive brownfield relocation policy so that the land could be planned and used efficiently.

Liber’s earlier findings suggested that a total of 723 hectares of brownfield plots were each larger than 2 hectares and suitable for development. Officials previously said sites not included in new development plans were too scattered, or too small and irregular in size.

Developing 1,300 hectares of Hong Kong brownfield sites a challenge, panel warns

The group’s findings also came before a government-commissioned study which would show the overall distribution and usage of brownfield sites in the New Territories, to be completed by the end of the month.

Researchers also pointed out that the size of brownfield sites have almost doubled in the past 24 years, as a result of lax enforcement allowing businesses to convert abandoned farmland without proper planning permission.

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In 1993, there were some 792 hectares of brownfield sites. That figure has increased by 92 per cent to 1,521 hectares in 2017, according to Liber.

Most of the brownfields are concentrated in Yuen Long, while the fastest-growing operation type involved covered warehouses and workshops, which increased by more than four times from 139 hectares in 1993 to 647 hectares in 2017. Such usage accounts for 42.5 per cent of all brownfield sites.