Hong Kong developers eye green belt land for flats as government plans rezoning

Developers in city are seizing opportunity to rezone green belt sites for residential use as planning department works to meet housing targets

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 September, 2014, 3:01pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 September, 2014, 6:29pm

Developers are taking advantage of the government's controversial plan to rezone green belt areas to meet housing targets.

The Planning Department has been rezoning green belt sites for residential use across the city to meet the government's goal of building more than 470,000 flats in the next decade.

In April, the department proposed rezoning seven sites to residential use in Tai Po. The relaxation provoked more than 6,000 objections in August. However, it has also given Henderson Land Development hope for its residential project on a green belt site in the district.

The developer has applied to the Town Planning Board to rezone two sites at Shan Tong Road from green belt to residential use.

The sites cover an area of 614,205 square feet close to JC Castle and village houses. The developer proposed building 18 residential blocks with eight to 19 storeys, providing up to 2,064 flats.

Henderson Land's application received more than 600 objections, mainly from residents worried the development would destroy the natural environment and affect water and air quality.

Alex McMillan, a resident in the area, said: "No building in the area is above the village house three-storey limit.

"The green belt surrounds a stream, a beautiful valley, and abuts many village houses. The skyscraper development will be an eyesore for people hiking on the Wilson Trail and Leadmine Pass," he added.

Other developers such as New World Development, Sun Hung Kai Properties and Wheelock Properties have been snapping up green belt land and conservation areas in the New Territories for years.

"Previously, about 90 per cent of the rezoning applications in a green belt would be rejected by the Town Planning Board. But now the board is more flexible and would make its decision on a case-by-case basis," said surveyor Albert So Chun-hin.

The green belt zoning is aimed at avoiding overdevelopment. "But now that we are facing a lack of land supply, we have to face reality," he said. "The board should be flexible in approving residential developments on a green belt [since] some are not vegetated."

However, Ng Mee-kam, a professor of geography and resource management at Chinese University, worries the over-dense environment in Hong Kong could worsen if the government continued to use town planning as a tool to increase housing supply.

"The green belts recently rezoned were mature vegetated. It would destroy the natural environment," she said.

"Even if we rezone green belt sites to residential use, it doesn't solve the problem of the housing shortage. Take the green belt sites in Tai Po rezoned by the government as an example. I don't think the government will build public housing on those sites," Ng added.

"The whole town planning system does not protect public interests. You can't find another city with such a high density."

Ng believes the government should recycle sites in urban areas for residential use.

"If the government uses the industrial districts for residential use, it could avoid affecting the lives of citizens," she said.

Watch: Rezoning of Tai Po green belt site causes controversy among residents