Industrial Buildings

As a result of Hong Kong's economic restructuring, a considerable portion of our industrial premises have been left vacant or under-utilised. Meanwhile, there are widespread non-compliant uses in industrial buildings (i.e. uses not complying with the planning intention or the land lease conditions, or both), which often result in mixed industrial and commercial uses in the same building. This is a cause for concerns because industrial activities tend to carry higher fire safety risks and is thus non-compatible with commercial activities that would attract a large number of customers.

In his 2009-10 Policy Address, the CE has announced a package of measures to accelerate the transformation of the existing stock of industrial buildings to provide suitable land and premises to meet Hong Kong's changing economic and social needs, including those of the six economic areas. To encourage redevelopment and wholesale conversion of existing industrial buildings, the Government will

  1. lower the threshold from 90% to 80% for owners of industrial buildings situated in non-industrial zones and aged 30 years or above to apply to the Lands Tribunal for compulsory sale for redevelopment;
  2. allow tailor-made lease modifications so that the land premium payable for redevelopment of industrial buildings situated in non-industrial zones will be assessed according to the optimal use and proposed intensity of the redevelopment (i.e. "pay for what you build");
  3. allow owners seeking redevelopment through lease modification to opt for payment of land premium by instalments over five years at a fixed interest rate; and
  4. allow owners who choose to convert rather than redevelop an industrial building to apply to change the use of the building at a nil waiver fee for the lifetime of the buildings or until expiry of the current leases, provided the conversion applies to the entire building (i.e. wholesale conversion) and the building meets the age criterion and has obtained planning permissions.

Details of these measures and their implementation are set out in a separate Legislative Council (LegCo) Brief.

Land Supply

It is the Government's policy to facilitate Hong Kong's progressive development through providing a steady and sufficient supply of land to meet the needs of various sectors in the community. We have seen a stable and robust property market since the financial tsunami last year, but the recent high value transactions and relatively low supply of new flats have given rise to public concerns. As announced by the CE, we will closely monitor the situation and finetune the land supply arrangements if needed.

Apart from the revitalisation of industrial buildings which will provide the needed space to support the development of the six economic areas identified by the Task Force on Economic Challenges, we will continue to identify sites for the purpose. For instance, in support of the policy to facilitate medical services development in Hong Kong, we have earmarked four sites for private hospital developments. In the education area, we have identified two sites suitable for development of tertiary institutions.

For a built-up city like Hong Kong, use of underground space could help to provide the much needed land for development in the urban area. Caverns could be a cost effective form of land to be made available for development, particularly for development of environment, safety and security sensitive facilities. We are launching strategic planning and technical studies to facilitate planned development of underground space with the objective of promoting the enhanced use of rock caverns in our pursuit of sustainable and diversified development. We hope to be able to provide creative and sustainable solutions to ease the pressure of land shortage in Hong Kong and to meet the needs of specific facilities, particularly in the urban area.

Government Expenditure on Infrastructure Projects

The spending performance of the Capital Works Programme (CWP) in 2009-10 is satisfactory, meeting in full the original estimate of about $39.3 billion. This is a notable improvement from the actual expenditure of $23.4 billion in 2008-09.

We are making headway with various major infrastructure projects under our portfolio. For the Kai Tak Development, construction of infrastructure works to serve the first package of developments, which include the first berth of the proposed cruise terminal, runway park, government offices and public housing developments, commenced in July 2009. The Administration will seek funding approval for the site formation works and the construction of the cruise terminal building for approval in the 2009-10 LegCo session.

On the Lok Ma Chau Loop (the Loop), the Hong Kong and Shenzhen Governments have initially considered that higher education could be the leading use in the Loop, complementing hi-tech research and development facilities as well as cultural and creative industries. A joint comprehensive study is now underway to explore the feasibility of developing the Loop on the basis of mutual benefits.

On New Development Areas (NDA), we have commenced the Planning and Engineering Study (P&E Study) for the North East New Territories (NENT) NDA (Kwu Tung North, Fanling North and Ping Che/Ta Kwu Ling). The preliminary Outline Development Plans will be available in the fourth quarter of 2009 for the Stage 2 Public Engagement. The commencement of P&E Study for the Hung Shui Kiu (HSK) NDA is under review to take account of further investigation on the possible spur line connecting the Hong Kong-Shenzhen West Express Line with HSK.

We have also made good progress on other major projects which will help improve our living environment, including the three drainage tunnel projects at Hong Kong Island, Tsuen Wan and Lai Chi Kok; and the improvement works under Stages 1, 2 and 3 of Replacement and Rehabilitation (R&R) of Watermains Programme. We are also expediting the proposed R&R works on watermains crossing major roads such as the Red Routes to prevent the recurrence of the August 2009 Gloucester Road incident.

Job Creation

Apart from pressing ahead with major capital works projects, we are making extra efforts in minor works in order to create more jobs for the construction sector.

Minor Works

Operation Building Bright

In response to the overwhelming response from building-owners to the OBB, the Finance Committee approved an additional allocation of $1 billion on 3 July 2009 for the OBB. The budget of the scheme thus totals $2 billion (i.e. Government contributing $1.7 billion and the HKHS and URA $150 million each). We estimate that the OBB will assist about 2 000 target buildings and create 20 000 jobs for the construction and repair workers as well as the related professionals and technicians.

Up to 30 September 2009, HKHS and URA had issued a total of 442 approvals-in-principle to eligible Category 1 target buildings (i.e. those with owners' corporations established). Some of the owners' corporations have started the relevant works in the third quarter of 2009. We have so far also selected 460 buildings as Category 2 target buildings (i.e. buildings having difficulties in organising repair works). In the event that the owners are unable to coordinate the repair, the Buildings Department (BD) will carry out the relevant works for such buildings. Up to 30 September 2009, BD had started repair works for 69 Category 2 target buildings and created about 1 060 jobs for building professionals, technicians and workers.

Manpower Supply in the Construction Industry

With the rapidly rising Capital Works Programme expenditure, we need to assure the required delivery capacity. This includes ensuring adequate supply of professional and supervisor staff as well as construction worker supply in the construction industry.

On the professional side, we have commissioned a study which revealed that there should not be a major problem in the supply of manpower in most construction related professional disciplines to meet the demand in the coming few years. Notwithstanding, we have expanded the quota of the DEVB's Graduate Training Scheme and increased the attractiveness of the Scheme to train up more young professionals. We are also pleased to see that the private sector has also taken similar measures to attract new entrants.

On the labour/supervisor side, the Construction Industry Council (CIC) has commissioned a similar study to assess and forecast the supply and demand of construction workers and supervisors/ technicians in the coming years. Although the study has not yet been finalised, the CIC has implemented a number of measures to enhance training of construction workers to address the potential problems of skill mismatch, ageing and the reluctance of the younger generation to join the construction industry. Amongst others, the CIC has launched the Construction Industry Youth Training Scheme to attract new entrants of the young aged group. It has also rolled out training courses in collaboration with contractors for specific trades such as tunnel boring machine operation and shotfiring. Further, the CIC has expanded its training capacity with the opening of the new training centre at Tin Shui Wai Area 112 in September 2009.

Meanwhile, we will continue to work in collaboration with the CIC and industry stakeholders to monitor the manpower demand and supply situation.