Monday, March 05, 2018

Land use Hong Kong

"Developers are profiting off of illegal land rights sales through the Small House Policy, a 1970s rule that lets villagers build small houses with few restrictions. 

The cluster of buildings that make up the gated Elegant Park apartment complex in Yuen Long are typical of the low-rise developments found across Hong Kong’s New Territories, the kind of place that many residents may choose to live if they are searching of cheaper rent or more open space.

While many associate Hong Kong with towering skyscrapers of Central, half of the city lives in the New Territories, 368 square miles of planned “new towns,” outlying island communities, country parks, and former villages now sprawling into abandoned agricultural land.

Situated across from one such village and among a number of new villa developments, Elegant Park is innocuous in almost every way with its tiled exterior walls and small balconies—except that it has been identified as a possible case of real estate collusion between “indigenous” villagers and developers, according to public interest group Liber Research Community.

Liber estimates that as many as 10,000 houses in the New Territories are cases of such collusion, relying upon a rural housing policy from the 1970s that allows male “indigenous” villagers—descended from the region’s original inhabitants—to build a “small house” without paying a government premium or submitting construction plans."

Map of the illegal dwellings:


From Designing Hong Kong. September 15th, 2018

Land supply? Follow the money

Three core issues are starting to crystallise as the consultation process about Hong Kong’s land supply moves along. And the options will definitely not be cheap. Let’s look at who is chasing the money.

The construction and engineering industries, together with the Government, are in favour of a plan to create a large new reclaimed island between Lantau and Hong Kong Island. Our Hong Kong Foundation has taken the lead in calling for an Enhanced East Lantau Metropolis of 2,200ha – double what the Government has proposed. The cost is estimated at $2,000/sq.ft., or about $500 bn.
The beneficiaries of the funds will be the contractors and engineers. And the Government will generate land premiums from the land sales. The proponents’ argument is that resolving the issues involved in  developing the New Territories will take too long. Opponents are concerned that, besides the damage to the marine environment, the fact that so much money is tied up with this mega-project means there will be no resources left to clean up the New Territories.

Unlikely partners – green groups and the landowners, including our home-grown developers and the Heung Yee Kuk – are favouring development of the New Territories. Green groups are keen to see a stop to the environmental rot of the brownfields, while the landowners want to cash in on their land banks. Green groups want land-resumption programmes, together with a strengthening of the Government’s resources and legal powers to ensure that brownfields don’t spread to other land, destroying habitats and agriculture. Many of the landowners, however, want the right to develop their own land. Some are suggesting a compromise solution, with Public Private Partnership developments. The cost of land resumption to be paid to owners is lower than the cost of building the artificial island, but it will require more government manpower to negotiate with the many parties involved. Our “lazy” government prefers writing a tender for a reclamation project and then leaving it with the contractor.

Military land
Much of the 2,700 hectares of military land is currently underutilised. The naval base at Stonecutters is an essential facility and it would be impractical to move it. The air force facilities in Shek Kong are also essential, but they could perhaps be moved to Chep Lap Kok airport once the third runway is in place. The nearempty barracks and the firing range in Tuen Mun should be reviewed to see whether the land can be used for better public purposes.
Article 13 of the Garrison Law promulgated by the NPC in 1996 allows exactly for this negotiation to take place between the Hong Kong Government and the PLA. It also sets out how to deal with the associated costs and the compensation to be paid. Given the clamour for land, both parties have a serious responsibility to weigh military versus public uses for each site. Article 15 explains how such a discussion is to proceed.

The above are the three big items. Other options are near-shore reclamations (these are generally supported, but there are local objections), the use of golf courses (there’s endless debate over
privileges, but we do lack sports facilities) and moving the container port (or consolidating it with other ports in the Pearl River Delta).
(Article published in Southside Magazine - September 2018 issue)

Citizens Task Force on Land Resources Position Paper on Land Consultation

1. There is no land shortage — we need better strategic land use planning.
2. The elephants in the room: Financialization of property and housing
3. Reconsider growth by numbers
4. Misaligned housing policies
5. Holistic planning based on solid principles
6. Comprehensive criteria for evaluation of land supply and development strategies
7. Social justice in planning and development
8. Life cycle analysis beyond technical feasibility
9. Environmental justice is vital to the quality of life
10. The goal of land planning is an improvement of the quality of life for the general public
11. We have a land reserve: Ample existing land can be optimized through better planning
12. Priority should be better use of land resources in the New Territories
13. Stop the spread of brownfields
14. Resolve infrastructure capacity for existing and future residents and business in NT
15. Turning Fanling Golf Course into a public good
16. Near-shore reclamation can be source for land under the right circumstances
17. The military land is not taboo.
18. Village environs are not taboo.
19. Land options that should be ruled out — East Lantau Metropolis
20. Country Parks are a special asset, not a land bank.

21. Hong Kong needs an independent land resource committee

Underutilised land resources in the New Territories:
  1. Brownfields: At least 723 ha[1]
  2. Additional NDAs in New Territories: 720 ha
  3. Land banks held by large private developers: 1,000 ha
  4. Military Sites: At least 270 ha
Other sites:
  1. Short-Term Tenancies, Unallocated Government land&Temporary Government Land Allocation: 270 ha
  2. Underused land near to Disneyland: 60 ha
  3. Nam Tong and other near shore reclamation: 688 ha
Total: 3,731 ha

Contrasting views on the best approach to find land to build flats on.

Bernard Chan
“Unfortunately, the easiest land options are potentially the worst. It would be simple to find more land for housing by taking small slices off country parks. But as environmentalists point out, it almost certainly wouldn’t stop there. Future governments would go back for more – and country parks as we know them would be finished.”

“Politically, the idea of resuming developers’ unused land in the New Territories is also quite popular. But in practice such an effort would probably be bogged down in legal challenges and other difficulties. We could get quicker results by offering landowners positive incentives to develop – but then we run into public hostility to “collusion” with developers.

Using brownfield sites in the New Territories also sounds easy. But we are talking about hundreds of small plots of land, each with its own legal and planning issues.”

The last statement has been completely debunked by many groups(1); there are more than enough large plots of land that necessary. What is lacking is political will.

“In the short to medium term, we have no choice but to carry on finding and developing land on a small-scale, piece-by-piece basis. This points to agricultural and brownfield sites. It will involve ownership problems, infrastructure challenges and probably resistance from residents in adjoining areas.”

Quite revealing in that the government would rather spent billions to avoid any kind of responsibility or accountability in managing the re-redevelopment of existing land!

“When I chaired the Council for Sustainable Development, we recommended various planning reforms to make urban areas less crowded and more liveable. Not much happened because officials were under pressure to squeeze more homes into the available space.

This is frustrating. But it seems clear to me that if we really want to rethink our urban environment and improve quality of life – on a serious scale – we need to find a long-term supply of decent quantities of land. And the realistic way to create much larger, new, empty space is through reclamation.”

Basically, it sounds like that what Chan wants is to reclaim land so he can build a North-American style suburb!? This is foolishness of the highest order; density IS what makes Hong Kong so efficient from an infrastructure point of view. It also gives Hong Kong an economic advantage, and makes it a unique place in the world where the great outdoors can be enjoyed within a few minutes public transportation from the thrills of the city.

“Various groups have been making proposals for major reclamation recently. I was involved in an Our Hong Kong Foundation idea for a 2,200-hectare artificial island east of Lantau, which could house a million people. Some other proposals are not on such a big scale.
Obviously, there are objections – notably about the financial costs or environmental impact. But the potential benefits for Hong Kong would be huge.
Put briefly, the government could for the first time have significant empty land available. There would be far less bureaucratic pressure to maximise revenue from land sales. And officials could plan from scratch.”

“The government could decide how big flats should be, how many should be public housing, or how much the private ones should cost. It could design ‘smart city’ features, leisure facilities, homes for the elderly and green transport systems that we can only dream about today. It would also provide extra capacity for when older districts need to be redeveloped in the decades ahead.”

All of this is possible now… with a bit of thinking. This just reads like PR for his pet project…

‘amwg’ on the comment section of SCMP notes about that article:
“Vested interest and collusion of the highest order. Bernard Chan is the vice chairman of Our Hong Kong Foundation which is founded and chaired by Ex CE Tung Chee-hwa, The foundation’s governors and supporters represent the major developers, financial groups, big business and powerful insiders – New World, Henderson, Hang Lung, Sino Group, Shui On, Shimao, Shun Tak, Fung Group, Lan Kwai Fong Group, Arthur Li, Elsie Leung.
These property developers are salivating at the $248 million feasibility study and $500 to $700 billion capital cost of the government East Lantau Metropolis and the foundations' Enhanced East Lantau Metropolis..
Yet Bernard Chan sits in the Executive Council and can lobby Carrie Lam and others from inside the highest level of the government.
If this is not conflict of interest, I don't know what is.”

An now what is essentially a rebuttal from Tom Yam, still in the SCMP:
“Reclamation is unavoidable, says Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor. What’s more, it must be “large scale” to create land for urgently needed housing and for long-term economic development. You can be sure a large chunk of Lam’s policy address will lay out reclamation as the solution to most, if not all, of Hong Kong's problems.
But is it? Even green groups would agree that near-shore, cost-effective reclamation should be considered. But the extremely high cost, complexity, risks and environmental consequences of large-scale reclamation in the middle of the sea make it a wholly different animal. And that animal will turn out to be the kind of white elephant beloved of property tycoons and construction companies.

Let's put a name to the large-scale reclamation that Lam favours: the East Lantau Metropolis, proposed by the government. It is estimated this artificial island of 1,000 hectares, to house up to 700,000 people, will  cost HK$470 billion. But even an animal as massive as this is not monstrous enough for the Our Hong Kong Foundation, a think tank chaired by former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa. It is now lobbying for an Enhanced East Lantau Metropolis, doubling the size to 2,200 hectares of reclaimed land, housing up to 1.1 million at an estimated cost of HK$700 billion.

Before committing to the biggest infrastructure project in Hong Kong’s history, likely to take 20 to 30 years, costing more than the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge, third runway and high-speed rail link to the mainland combined, detailed scrutiny of its viability is imperative. Astoundingly, in glossy brochures and glib speeches, government and foundation officials deploy skewed projections, emotive images and feel-good scenarios in place of serious analysis.

They begin by inflating the demand for land. The government puts demand at 4,800 hectares, on the assumption that 300,000 buildings older than 75 years need to be redeveloped. By lowering the threshold to 50 years, Our Hong Kong Foundation bloated the buildings that need to be developed to 600,000. It further increased the demand for land to 9,000 hectares by assuming a plot ratio of 3.6, much less than the Planning Department’s guideline of 6.5 for new development areas. Many experts consider these estimates excessive.

Then they gloss over potentially serious issues. Fundamental to these Lantau reclamation plans is the viability of their location. Such a city-in-the-sea, kilometres from land, will be vulnerable to rising sea levels and extreme weather. Reclaiming a huge swathe of sea will shrink the navigable waterways, narrow some passages and strengthen currents, making it more hazardous for marine traffic. Other areas will be almost enclosed, deadening the marine environment.

And were it viable, is it needed? Due to the ageing population and declining birth rate, Hong Kong’s population will peak at 8.22 million in 2043 and decrease to 7.72 million in 2066. Yet with this new metropolis, or its enhanced version, Hong Kong will have the capacity to house 9 to 9.4 million people. Why create unnecessary capacity at astronomical cost, draining funds from social welfare, education and public health?

Both the government and the foundation use heart-rending images of families currently in dire housing to sway public opinion. But creating a new town on existing land takes 12 to 15 years; longer if the land has to be reclaimed. Thus, reclamation cannot improve the lot of the 210,000 residents in the 93,000 partitioned units, or shorten the waiting time of 5.3 years for public housing.

So if the Enhanced East Lantau Metropolis plans don’t provide more housing in the short term and lead to overcapacity in the long term, can it be justified for future economic development? Its lobbyists invoke “integration” with the Greater Bay Area and Belt and Road Initiative in vague terms, never articulating precisely which sectors of the economy will benefit and to what degree. Unlike Pudong and Singapore, where reclaimed land fit into a specific economic strategy, in Hong Kong the strategy seems to comprise a plethora of grandiose slogans like “game changer” backed up by no deliverables.

The figures that the foundation has produced are so unrealistic as to be laughable. It claims a fast-tracked Enhanced East Lantau Metropolis can be ready for initial residential intake in 11 years (2029) and completed in another three years.

Think about that: 14 years to reclaim 2,200 hectares from the sea, construct 37km of railways and 20km of roads, five undersea tunnels, two tunnels through Lantau’s mountains, along with sewerage, utilities, schools, hospitals, etc, to support 1.1 million people. Then think about the big projects in the past decade that have all failed timing and cost predictions, and compromised safety.

Our Hong Kong Foundation is campaigning for reclamation on a scale even larger than the government has proposed, but otherwise they are singing from the same song sheet. And it’s the usual two-part harmony.

The foundation’s governors and supporters represent the major developers, financial groups, big business and powerful insiders – New World, Henderson, Hang Lung, Sino Group, Shui On, Shimao, Shun Tak, Fung Group, Lan Kwai Fong Group, Arthur Li, Elsie Leung, and Bernard Chan. So it has deep pockets to lobby for reclamation-centric development.

The foundation and Carrie Lam are talking up a “fast track” approach towards reclamation, even before the end of the current public consultation on land supply. Whatever the results, expect Lam to use them to claim a public consensus for reclamation in her October policy address. After all, it’s “unavoidable”.

Tom Yam is a member of the Citizens Task Force on Land Resources, a group of professionals dedicated to broaden and facilitate the debate to critical issues including sustainable development, the optimal uses of land, and the conservation of resources”


A bit of a data dump...

"We are an important force in stabilizing Hong Kong."
- Leung Fuk-yuen, chief of Tai Tong village in Yuen Long
Read: We ensure the status-quo and support Beijing. We do not care about high property price as long as we can keep making millions on the back of the overwhelming majority of Hong Kong population.


“'Only 24 per cent of total land (size of 110,000 hectares) in Hong Kong are developed land, with the rest being greenery, including country parks, farm land and land for other uses,' said Wong in a luncheon meeting on Thursday."

That is exactly what makes Hong Kong a unique place in the world, and what makes its mass transit work.

Our Hong Kong Foundation, founded by the Bejing and Heung Yee Kuk supported Tung Chee Wa says more reclamation is needed. I call bullock!


Sun Hung Kai Properties Ltd., Henderson Land Development Co., New World Development Co. and CK Asset Holdings Ltd., are sitting on land banks holding more than 1,000 hectares of unused farmland. These could yield 500,000 new homes over the next 25 years according to CLSA Ltd.’s CEO Jonathan Slone. But developers say the government charges them very high premiums for converting farmland to residential use. One option the task force is considering is a public-private collaboration where the government would cut those premiums and help pay for roads, water and other infrastructure serving the sites, while the developers provide some affordable public housing.


Revamping use of of so-called brownfield sites on private land in the New Territories, currently occupied by a smattering of open air storage facilities, warehouses and carparks, could free up 1,300 hectares of land. The plan would involve relocating these sites into multistory industrial structures, reducing the amount of land they occupy by two-thirds. Lawmaker Kenneth Chan said on Radio Television Hong Kong on Feb. 22 that part of the government’s projected HK$168 billion ($21.5 billion) budget surplus for the year ending March could be spent on building these new structures.