LCQ2: Brownfield sites in Hong Kong

Following is a question by Hon Martin Liao and a reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Paul Chan, in the Legislative Council today (November 6):


The consultation document published earlier by the Long Term Housing Strategy Steering Committee has proposed a supply target of 470 000 residential units in the next decade.  The Secretary for Transport and Housing subsequently told the media that the target number represented an increase of around 70 000 to 100 000 units when compared to the existing pledge of the Government, but at present there were not sufficient lands for housing construction.  On the other hand, in his column "My Blog" published on the Internet in January and April this year, the Secretary for Development proposed that "brownfield sites" (i.e. deserted or damaged agricultural and industrial lands) be developed to meet the demand for residential sites.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether the Government keeps the geographic data of all brownfield sites in Hong Kong at present, including data on the quantity, soil behaviour, size, type, distribution by district and the restoration works required; if not, of the reasons for that; whether it has plans to establish a comprehensive database for such data; if it has such a plan, of the implementation timetable;

(b) as it has been reported that some owners of land in rural areas have used agricultural lands for unauthorised developments, such as car parks, container yards, open storages and waste recycling yards, etc., resulting in a rapid increase in the area of brownfield sites in the past decade or so, of the number of cases involving such unauthorised developments uncovered by the authorities in the past five years, as well as the number of cases in which the sites were restored to the original conditions after the persons concerned had been advised to do so; and

(c) whether, in order to reduce reliance on reclamation or resumption of village lands, the Government will formulate a land supply policy under which development of brownfield sites will be accorded priority, including devising a specific policy for the management of brownfield sites, and developing land strategies that accord priority to the revitalisation and restoration of land environment, etc.; if it will, of the timetable; if not, the reasons for that?



Under the multi-pronged strategy for land supply, the Government will carefully consider all the options which can increase land supply.  Through the on-going land use reviews on different types of land, we will identify suitable sites for housing or other development purposes that meet the needs of the society as far as practicable.

Yet, in the face of land supply shortage, there are not many easy options, and the society has to make difficult choices and trade-offs.  The Government is stepping up efforts in the various on-going land use reviews, and has identified a number of sites in various districts throughout the territory which could be considered for conversion to residential use.  Upon completion of studies confirming their development feasibility, we will consult the District Council(s) and relevant stakeholders, and convert the suitable sites for residential or other uses that meet the more pressing needs in the society as quickly as possible.

My reply to the Hon Martin Liao's questions on "brownfield sites" is as follows:

 (a) Generally speaking, "brownfield sites" cover many different land uses, such as port back-up land, deserted or damaged agricultural land, industrial uses like workshops, recycling yards, open storage facilities, etc..  Given no clear and standard definition, the Government has not specifically consolidated a unified figure for "brownfield sites" for the whole territory.  Nevertheless, the Government has been closely monitoring the land utilisation of various types of "brownfield sites" scattered across the territory and currently put into different uses.  Also, for areas with more "brownfield sites" and a higher development potential, we will conduct comprehensive planning and engineering studies to examine the situation and development possibility of land therein, including the "brownfield sites".

(b) Under the Town Planning Ordinance (TPO), the Planning Authority (i.e. the Director of Planning) may take enforcement actions against the unauthorised developments under TPO on land within the Development Permission Areas (DPAs).  These actions include the issuance of Enforcement Notice (EN) requiring the parties concerned to discontinue the unauthorised developments, and where necessary, the issuance of Reinstatement Notice (RN) requiring the EN recipients to reinstate the site.  In the past five years (i.e. from 2008 to 2012), there were 497 and 189 cases involving the requirement of discontinuing the unauthorised developments and reinstating the sites under TPO in the "Agriculture" zone covered by DPAs respectively.

(c) As mentioned above, better utilising "brownfield sites" is one of the options for land supply.  For areas with development potential, we will conduct comprehensive planning and engineering studies to examine whether the land therein (including "brownfield sites") is suitable for development.  Our aim is to convert suitable "brownfield sites" to other appropriate land uses, as long as it is feasible in terms of environment, traffic and infrastructure.  Examples of such comprehensive planning efforts to optimise the use of "brownfield sites" and rural land currently underway include: the Hung Shui Kiu New Development Area (NDA) Planning and Engineering Study, the Planning and Engineering Study for Housing Sites in Yuen Long South, the Engineering Feasibility Study for Kong Nga Po, as well as the Planning and Engineering Study for Kwu Tung South.  The Preliminary Feasibility Study on Developing the New Territories North, to be commenced early next year, will also explore the development potential of the "brownfield sites" and rural land in other areas of the New Territories North.

"Brownfield sites" and rural land with a higher development potential generally require comprehensive planning and supporting infrastructure so as to resolve the constraints in terms of traffic, environment, water and electricity supplies, sewerage, etc. for optimal use of the land.  Besides, these sites usually involve private agricultural land, village houses and squatters, etc. therein. Clearance, land resumption and compensation will be involved in developing these sites, affecting the local employment and economy to a certain extent.  Detailed planning and public engagement are therefore prerequisites.  It should also be noted that we cannot rely solely on identifying individual "brownfield sites" scattered across the territory for development.  These scattered sites may not be able to meet the development needs in terms of infrastructure, traffic, environment and sewerage, etc., and it may be not be justified to provide infrastructure specifically for them given the lack of economy of scale.

The development of "brownfield sites" will generally require the consolidation of open storage, port back-up and even noxious industrial facilities, etc. as appropriate, coupled with the support of suitable infrastructure facilities, buffer areas and landscaping design, as well as improvement in the layout of land uses.  Apart from optimising the land utilisation, the damaged rural environment can be reinstated.

All in all, in addition to the above initiatives to develop "brownfield sites" and other rural land, the Government still need to continue taking forward the various short, medium and long term land supply measures, so as to meet the development needs of and cater for any future requirements of Hong Kong.  We are conducting land use reviews and converting suitable sites to residential or other development uses for increasing the short and medium term land supply.  At the same time, we are undertaking the various large-scale land supply projects in the longer term, including developing the NDAs, developing new towns, reclamation on an appropriate scale outside Victoria Harbour, cavern and underground developments, etc..  While we are facing many difficulties, we must continue to adopt the multi-pronged strategy and initiatives so as to meet the housing demand of the Hong Kong community, and the continued development needs of the society and economy.  All these initiatives are indispensable, and are of equal importance.

Ends/Wednesday, November 6, 2013
Issued at HKT 15:59