LCQ3: Resumption of land in the New Territories for housing development

Following is a question by the Dr Hon Kwok Ka-ki and a reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Michael Wong, in the Legislative Council today (November 1):
Currently, about 1 300 hectares of land in the New Territories may be regarded as brownfield sites. There have been public comments that the problem of scarcity of land for housing stems from the Government's failure to properly address the hoarding of agricultural land by developers and to put the large number of brownfield sites to optimal use. Regarding the resumption of land in the New Territories for housing development, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the total area of the brownfield sites owned by each of the top 10 owners owning the largest aggregate areas of brownfield sites in Hong Kong at present;
(2) whether it will consider resuming all the brownfield sites for housing development by invoking the Lands Resumption Ordinance; if so, of the details and timetable; if not, the reasons for that; of the respective numbers of units of public rental housing, subsidised sale housing and private housing that can be provided on such brownfield sites; and
(3) given that the authorities are adopting an enhanced Conventional New Town Approach in taking forward the Kwu Tung North and Fanling North New Development Areas project, under which owners of private land with an area of not less than 4 000 square metres may apply for modification of lease to pursue their own development of the land, but sites with an area smaller than that will be resumed by the Government for development, of the criteria adopted by the authorities for determining that threshold; whether the authorities will, for the sake of fairness, consider standardising the compensation to land owners basing on the rate of ex-gratia allowance for Zone A agricultural land upon resumption of the land; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
My reply to the three parts of the question raised by the Hon Kwok is as follows:

(1) In examining whether to develop a site, the Government will consider mainly, among other factors, the planning for the surrounding area, actual geographical environment, traffic and infrastructure capacities, urban design, environmental and ecological impacts, outcomes of other technical assessments, etc. As the Government does not take into account the ownership status of private land in the land use planning process, we do not keep the information requested by the Hon Kwok.

(2) According to the Lands Resumption Ordinance (the Ordinance), the Government may invoke the Ordinance to resume private land, having regard to the Government's need, only for an established "public purpose" pursuant to the Ordinance. Generally speaking, land resumption for a "public purpose" takes place usually in development projects for new towns, public housing, or community facilities under public works programmes such as schools, parks, hospitals, welfare service complexes, etc. In other words, the Government has no justification and power to invoke the Ordinance to resume private land before the relevant "public purpose" is established.

It is rather unrealistic to expect the Government to resume all brownfield sites for housing development, as such an expectation presupposes that all brownfield sites are suitable for housing development and that those sites to be resumed must meet the requirement of "public purpose". Indeed, not every brownfield site has development potential, in view of their scattered distribution, irregular shape, or locations subject to certain development constraints, etc.

This notwithstanding, the Government is not leaving brownfield sites untouched. Under the multi-pronged land supply strategy, brownfield sites are one of the main established sources of medium and long-term land supply. To develop brownfield sites in the rural New Territories (NT), we must first resolve issues concerning transportation, infrastructure, and supporting community facilities. Therefore, we are according priority to tackle large clusters of brownfield sites with higher development potential, with a view to carrying out comprehensive planning and large-scale development together with their adjoining areas. This approach helps achieve a self-sufficient community and enhance the cost-effectiveness of the supporting infrastructure. Along this direction, the three new development projects involving land resumption in the coming few years in Hung Shui Kiu, Yuen Long South and Kwu Tung North/Fanling North, together with the potential development areas in the NT North, will cover around 540 hectares (ha) of brownfield sites.

The number of residential units to be developed in any particular New Development Area (NDA) depends on various objective factors and technical constraints, and therefore is not estimated in a generalised manner. Taking the Kwu Tung North/Fanling North NDAs (KTN/FLN NDAs) as an example, the development area amounts to 320 ha, including about 50 ha of affected brownfield sites. Upon full development, about 60 000 new residential units can be provided, of which about 60 per cent will be public housing. The development area of the Hung Shui Kiu NDA amounts to 441 ha, including 190 ha of affected brownfield sites. Upon full development, about 61 000 new residential units can be provided, with about equal proportion of public and private housing. As for Yuen Long South, the development area is about 185 ha, including 100 ha of affected brownfield sites. Upon full development, about 28 500 new residential units can be provided, of which about 60 per cent will be public housing. The above three new development projects will deliver a total of about 149 500 residential units, of which about 85 100 will be public housing. The actual ratio of public rental to subsidised sale housing within the total supply of public housing will be determined by the Hong Kong Housing Authority in the detailed design stage, with regard to the housing needs of the society and the situation of housing supply at the time.

In addition, the Government will strive to complete the survey on the existing profile and operations of brownfield sites and the consultancy studies on the feasibility of accommodating brownfield operations in multi-storey buildings within the coming year, so that both the Government and the community will be in a better position to look for the best way to deal with the remaining brownfield sites of about 760 ha.  When it is necessary to resume private land for development, the Government would exercise the powers conferred by relevant legislation to effect the resumption and make compensation accordingly.

Most brownfield sites are currently occupied by various industrial operations providing support for the development of local industries (such as construction, logistics and recycling industries), and generating employment opportunities.  When developing brownfield sites, it is necessary to examine carefully how to optimise land use and consolidate operations that are still needed in Hong Kong.

(3) Under the enhanced Conventional New Town (CNT) approach adopted for the KTN/FLN NDAs, the Government would, as a general rule, resume and clear all private land planned for developments, and dispose of the land planned for private developments in the market.  Prior to the resumption and clearance of land, the Government may allow in-situ land exchange applications from land owners of sites planned for private developments, subject to their meeting the specified criteria and conditions. This approach is similar to the one adopted for the development of new towns, such as Sha Tin, Fanling/Sheung Shui and Tseung Kwan O New Town, in the past when the Government undertook most of the work of private land resumption, while allowing at the same time private land owners to apply for modification of lease (including in-situ land exchange) for private developments. Compared with the original CNT approach, the enhanced approach imposes more stringent requirements for lease modification applications, including those concerning the site area, development timetable, and compensation offered to tenants or occupiers by applicants.

Regarding the land area, the Government specifies that for applications for in-situ land exchanges in the KTN/FLN NDAs, the site under application should have an area of not less than 4 000 square metres, with all the lots within the area under a unified ownership, to ensure planning integrity and comprehensive development. Having reviewed the circumstances and cases of site developments in existing new towns, the Government considers that specifying the area requirement of a proposed site for in-situ land exchange being not less than 4 000 square meters is reasonable, as this may help ensure that the developments to be carried out by the landowner would have some greening and ancillary facilities (such as recreation facilities and carparks) without being too fragmented or deviating from the appropriate form of development envisaged in a NDA. Furthermore, any development under a lease modification application is required to ensure timely supply of housing and other facilities.  For applications failing to meet the requirements by the specified timeframe set for the development programme, the private land in question would be resumed by the Government for development.

Under the Government's prevailing compensation arrangements for acquisition of private land in the NT, statutory compensation is made to landowners in accordance with the applicable legislation. In addition, the existing mechanism provides for an alternative to statutory compensation, i.e. an ex-gratia zonal compensation system consisting of four compensation zones (i.e. Zones A, B, C, and D). Generally speaking, if the area concerned is located in the New Town Development Areas, it is classified as Zone A under the existing mechanism.

Thank you, President.

Ends/Wednesday, November 1, 2017
Issued at HKT 16:41