The Transformation of Industrial Zones in Hong Kong

The Government intended to test the possibility of developing our old industrial buildings into 'lofts' which have grown rapidly to become an integral part of the regeneration of run-down industrial areas in many cities, said the Secretary for Planning and Lands, Mr John C Tsang, today (November 30).


Mr Tsang said that it was quite commonplace to find in overseas cities old industrial buildings and godowns that have been converted into up-market residential uses, such as loft apartments and studio flats.


'Loft living' first started in New York City in the 1950s. Artists, attracted by the cheap rent and the large space that was suitable for both living and working purposes, chose to move into these abandoned industrial buildings.


He said that their popularity has changed the attitude of the New York City authorities from branding them as illegal initially to encouraging such developments at a later stage.


Addressing the Annual Dinner of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers at the Furama Hotel, Mr Tsang said he was looking to effecting a quiet change in mind set in the process of redeveloping the many under-used industrial buildings in our community.


"Hong Kong's economy has experienced several phases of transformation from the predominantly labour intensive manufacturing industries in simple factories to more sophisticated products, meeting the demand of importing markets.


"As the Mainland began to implement the open door policy, our labour intensive industries further relocated their production facilities to the Pearl River Delta region where the prices are competitive," he said.

"As a result, a large amount of industrial premises have been made surplus and redundant. It would, indeed, be a big waste of scarce resources if they were simply left idle."


He said that over the past few years, the Government has also cut down considerably the scale of reclamation for our development projects, adding that new land would be harder to come by in future.


In Hong Kong, obsolete industrial buildings are often located in the midst of other industrial buildings that are still in active use. This is because the transformation process is continuing, and mixed use in the meantime creates a number of inter-face issues.


In considering how we could better manage the process of transformation of our industrial areas, Mr Tsang said the Government would adhere to three guiding principles.


First, the Government should seek to minimize disruption to the established economic activities and employment in the industrial areas. Secondly, the process of transformation must be market driven.


Thirdly, the Government should take up the role of a proactive facilitator by removing the institutional barriers and creating an environment that is conducive to the transformation.


Mr Tsang said, "In accordance with these principles, we have adopted a two-pronged approach by rezoning surplus industrial land for other uses and introducing more flexibility in the use of industrial buildings."


The Town Planning Board would have rezoned by the end of this year 165 hectares of surplus industrial land to 'Other Specified Uses' annotated 'Business' and 47 hectares to other non-industrial uses, such as residential development and community facilities.


The 'Business' zone provides much more flexibility in land use in that three economic activities i.e. clean industrial, general office and commercial uses can co-locate in the same building without the need for planning application. The total amount of rezoned industrial land already represents about 40% of the original stock.


"We have also taken steps to introduce even greater flexibility in the use of existing industrial buildings.


"Recently, the Town Planning Board agreed in principle to permit, either as of right or by way of planning permission, the use of IT and telecommunications industries, public entertainment and educational institution in industrial buildings."


He said that these measures should serve as powerful catalysts to bring life back to our old industrial areas.


Referring to the development of lofts, he pointed out that there were many institutional barriers besides the inter-face issue, rendering it difficult to realize the concept in Hong Kong in the near term.


We need to resolve issues like difference in permissible plot ratios between domestic and non-domestic buildings, land premium, building and fire safety requirements and more. These are all important aspects that should be examined further in detail.


"I look forward to the establishment of Yuppie Hubs in our industrial areas with studio flats, home offices, art galleries, theme restaurants, pubs and innovative entertainment centers," he said.


To conclude his speech, Mr Tsang said as the Annual Dinner was held at the Furama, he was glad to join the other guests to bid farewell to a Hong Kong institution where many memories were made and thanked the hosts for their foresight for making this historic choice of venue.


End/Friday, November 30, 2001