Rezoning hurdles slow residential land release

Community objections over changes to land use frustrate government's housing goals, with 19 of 34 residential sites in sale programme held up

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 September, 2014, 3:57pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 October, 2014, 3:45am

The government faces an uphill task in increasing land supply, with more than half of the residential sites in the land sale programme yet to complete the rezoning process.

Given the shortage of residential sites, the government has to rezone some "government, institute and community" and "greenbelt" sites to residential if it wants to increase land supply. But it has run up against strong objection from District Council members and local residents in trying to do so.

Nineteen of the 34 residential sites in the land sale programme cannot be released for sale because they need to be first rezoned for residential use. That explains why only six residential sites will go up for tender in the next quarter. These sites could yield a total of 1,250 flats, the lowest since land for 1,500 flats was released for tender in the second quarter of 2012.

"Rezoning is the faster way for the government to get residential sites. But many rezoning proposals are objected to by residents or those involved in judicial reviews, mainly because of personal interests," Polytechnic University real estate professor Eddie Hui Chi-man said.

"Many people worry new developments will affect the value and views of their own flats. Since Hong Kong is a high-density development, it is often difficult to get the support of existing local residents."

The government added seven Tai Po sites in the land sale programme for the current fiscal year. But none of them has been rezoned. The rezoning proposal for four Pak Shek Kok sites for residential use received more than 450 comments from local residents and lawmakers in June, most of them objecting to the plan as they are against seeing more people in their area.

Some of the locals said the government should reserve the site for the expansion of Science Park. The Town Planning Board has deferred the decision and is awaiting further information regarding the development of Science Park.

Its proposal to rezone eight "greenbelt" sites in Tai Po to residential use received 6,321 objections in August.

The rezoning of a Ngau Chi Wan site was met with resistance from District Council members and residents concerned that new homes would block their views and lead to traffic congestion.

In Mong Kok, although two sites were cleared for rezoning for residential use in December, the process is yet to be completed as the Mong Kok draft zoning plan is still under judicial review in the Court of First Instance.

"If the government fails to increase land supply, it would be difficult to curb property prices. Only rich people are able to buy flats these days," Hui said.

"There can't be any solution to the housing problem if the land supply is not increased, and the public needs to help in this."

Lawrence Poon Wing-cheung, a real estate academic at City University, said: "The government will be able to achieve its land supply target [of nearly 30,000 flats] for the year to March with the help of MTR Corp's development projects.

"But it will be challenging in future. The government can't rely only on MTR projects in the long run. One thing it can do is reclaim land from sea, which would find less local resistance as it wouldn't affect that many people."