Following is a question by the Hon Tony Tse and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Paul Chan, in the Legislative Council today (May 29):
In his 2013 Policy Address, the Chief Executive (CE) put forward a number of measures to increase the supply of housing land in the short to medium term. One of those measures is that he had "asked the policy bureaux to act decisively to optimise the use of land and, where the original intended use is not required anymore, to convert the land for housing development or other uses that meet the more pressing needs in the community as soon as possible". Furthermore, the Financial Secretary is heading the Steering Committee on Land Supply to co-ordinate the overall plans for development and supply of land in Hong Kong for various uses. On the other hand, according to the information provided by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, there are currently about 3 278 hectares of land zoned for "Agricultural Use" in the territory. Yet, there are comments that many pieces of such agricultural land have been left derelict or illegally converted to other uses (such as building houses). In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) whether, regarding how to optimise the use of lands in the New Territories (including Lantau Island), CE has given instructions to various policy bureaux and departments concerned to rezone the agricultural lands which are no longer suitable for agricultural activities to other uses, so as to increase the land supply for development; if he has, of the contents of such instructions; if not, the reasons for that;
(b) whether the responsibilities of the Steering Committee on Land Supply include deliberations on how to optimise the use of lands in the New Territories and implement the relevant measures; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(c) whether it has any plan to set up an inter-departmental committee, comprising heads or representatives of the relevant policy bureaux and departments, dedicated to co-ordinating and organising efforts for resolving the various issues (e.g. planning, building houses, relocation, compensation, transport, ancillary facilities, etc.) which arise in the process of optimising the use of lands in the New Territories; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(d) whether the authorities will comprehensively review the use of agricultural lands in the New Territories, with a view to releasing more land for residential developments; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
In his 2013 Policy Address, the Chief Executive has stated that the Government will adopt a multi-pronged approach to provide sufficient land to meet housing, social and economic needs in Hong Kong. Under such premises, we conduct land use reviews from time to time for all districts, including the rural areas, with a view to achieving optimal land use. We have also been stepping up efforts on various fronts to increase residential land supply and build up a land reserve.
In 2001, the Planning Department completed the Review of Rural Land Uses in Northern New Territories. One of its major recommendations was to preserve high-quality agricultural land for the sustainable development of the local agriculture industry, while some agricultural land of lower quality or lower ecological value could be rezoned into other land-use zones, such as "Other Specified Uses" annotated "Rural Use" ("OU(Rural Use)") in order to facilitate rural development. Owners of agricultural land within the "OU(Rural Use)" zone can apply to the Town Planning Board for specific rural and recreational uses which could improve the environment of the area concerned and preserve the character of the rural area.
In this connection, the Food and Health Bureau advises that it is the Government's existing policy to facilitate agricultural development through the provision of basic infrastructure and technical support, as well as low interest loans to farmers. At the same time, the Government make full use of the Agricultural Development Fund under the Vegetable Marketing Organization to facilitate the further development of local agriculture, enhance the productivity and business viability of the industry, develop modern and environmental-friendly farming technologies with emphasis on preservation of natural resources and the agricultural ecology, thereby helping to produce quality and high-value agricultural products that are safe for consumption. The Government will continue to adopt the above measures for supporting the sustainable development of the local farming industry.
The reply to the various parts of the question is follows:
(a) The Government has been monitoring developments in the New Territories and changes in rural areas. It also conducts timely reviews of land uses in all districts in response to varying circumstances with a view to achieving an optimal use of rural land and striking a balance among environmental, development and social needs. To release the development potential of more land, a series of planning and engineering studies have also been undertaken in order to rezone suitable land within the study areas (including land of "Agriculture" zone) into other land uses, taking into account feasibility in environmental, transport and infrastructural terms. The Government will also expedite the review of agricultural land in North District and Yuen Long currently used mainly for industrial purposes, temporary storage, or that is deserted, with a view to identifying suitable land for housing development.
In order to increase land supply, the Chief Executive has announced a series of measures in the 2013 Policy Address, many of which involve planning and development studies of rural land (including agricultural land). The planning and engineering study projects currently being undertaken include the North East New Territories New Development Areas Planning and Engineering Study (around 787 hectares), Hung Shui Kiu New Development Area Planning and Engineering Study (around 820 hectares), Tung Chung New Town Extension Study (around 287 hectares), Planning and Engineering Study for Housing Sites in Yuen Long South (around 200 hectares), Engineering Feasibility Study for Kong Nga Po (around 19 hectares) and Planning and Engineering Study for Kwu Tung South (around 19 hectares). Through such planning and engineering studies, suitable land within the study areas (including the "Agriculture" zone suitable for other uses) will be rezoned for the purpose of releasing more sites for housing development.
(b) &(c) Since its establishment in November 2010, the Steering Committee on Housing Land Supply, chaired by the Financial Secretary, had done extensive work on reviewing existing land uses, exploring new land resources, co-ordinating the work of relevant bureaux and departments, and tackling issues concerning housing sites, with a view to speeding up housing land supply. As announced in the 2013 Policy Address, the Steering Committee on Housing Land Supply has been re-organised into the Steering Committee on Land Supply responsible for co-ordinating the overall plans for development and supply of land in Hong Kong for various uses, including the optimal utilisation of land in the New Territories. The above-mentioned studies on rural and agricultural land also come under the purview of this Steering Committee.
In addition, the inter-departmental Committee on Planning and Land Development, chaired by the Secretary for Development and with representatives from all relevant bureaux and departments, holds regular discussions on the co-ordination of planning and land development matters, including the development of land in the New Territories. For any co-ordination issues that are beyond the terms of reference of the Committee on Planning and Land Development, they will be referred to the Steering Committee on Land Supply, which will take charge as the co-ordinator and see to it that the work relating to residential land supply can proceed effectively.
As the co-ordination work on planning, development and land supply are now well handled by the Steering Committee on Land Supply and the Committee on Planning and Land Development, we have no plan to set up another inter-departmental committee specifically responsible for land issues in the New Territories.
(d) Outside the existing built-up areas, country parks, conservation areas, hills etc., the New Territories North can be a major source of new land for meeting Hong Kong's long-term needs for housing and other uses. The Government is now examining the further development of areas in the New Territories North, and a feasibility study will be conducted with a view to developing a modern new town there of a similar scale as the Fanling/Sheung Shui New Town. We will work in this direction to further unleash the development potential of suitable sites in the New Territories for meeting the long-term housing, social, economic and environmental needs of Hong Kong. In parallel, the Government will continue to actively explore the development potential of Lantau Island, including rural land within the area.
Ends/Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Issued at HKT 15:14