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LCQ5: Development of brownfield sites

Following is a question by the Hon Gary Fan and a reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Paul Chan, in the Legislative Council today (February 3):

Question:

The Chief Executive has indicated in this year's Policy Address that "since taking office, the current-term Government has been increasing land supply through a multi-pronged approach and addressing the supply-demand imbalance by formulating short, medium and long-term measures". A community group has earlier publicised a study report, pointing out that the existing "brownfields" in Hong Kong cover an area of 1 192 hectares, which is 3.7 times of that of the Kai Tak Development Area.  However, the Policy Address has only classified the development of brownfield sites as a research project under "Long-term Town Planning", and yet categorised the development of artificial islands in the central waters and the development of Lantau as projects under "Medium and Long-term Land Supply" which are accorded higher priority. The community group is of the view that the Government should first develop brownfield sites before considering using methods that will cause greater environmental impacts to increase land supply, such as reclamation and reduction of green areas, etc. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) given that the authorities have so far released information only on those brownfield sites involving new development areas (e.g. the Hung Shui Kiu New Development Area), of the details of the remaining brownfield sites available for development under study by the authorities at present, including their total area, as well as the size and current use of each of them; how the "brownfield sites" delineated by the authorities compare to the "brownfields" mentioned in the aforesaid study report of the community group in terms of land coverage;

(2) whether the authorities will study the establishment of an open database keeping information about the names of the owners and the sizes of various brownfield sites, to facilitate members of the public in giving views on issues relating to the development of brownfield sites; and

(3) whether the authorities will consider, pending the formulation and implementation of a comprehensive brownfields development policy, suspending the study on the development of artificial islands in the central waters and the public consultation on the blueprint for Lantau development in order to implement the "brownfields first" policy?

Reply:

President,

Under the multi-pronged land supply strategy, the Government will carefully consider all possible options, and prioritise the developments having regard to the physical environment, technologies, resources and current situation of the sites concerned, to increase land supply in the short, medium and long term through a series of initiatives in order to meet the land requirements for housing, economic and social developments in Hong Kong. Development of land in the northwest and northern part of the New Territories (NT), where brownfield sites are concentrated, through the new town development approach is a definite option for land supply. The Government has reiterated in the Policy Addresses and Budgets over the past few years that we would proactively handle the issues of brownfield sites and explore the feasibility of releasing them for new town developments.

A number of large-scale land supply projects with more advance progress involve large areas of brownfield sites, including around 50 hectares of brownfields in the Kwu Tung North and Fanling North New Development Areas (NDAs), around 190 hectares in the Hung Shui Kiu NDA, and over 100 hectares in the Yuen Long South development. According to the current programme, these NDAs are expected to be completed progressively from 2023 onwards to provide a total of 148 000 residential units, 7 million square metres of industrial and commercial floor areas, and 200 000 new job opportunities. Looking ahead, we are carrying out the "Preliminary Feasibility Study on Developing the New Territories North" to look into the NT North as a long-term strategic development area in Hong Kong in addition to Lantau. The study also covers a large number of brownfield sites, and releasing them for development purposes is one of the foci.

To develop these areas where the brownfield sites are concentrated into new towns, full-range infrastructural and community facilities have to be provided. Land resumption and clearance, compensation and relocation arrangements, etc. will also be involved.  Thorough planning and consideration are hence necessary. Economic activities generating services and job opportunities that are still needed in Hong Kong are found at most of the brownfield sites on private land, alongside squatter households, agricultural activities and even farms, etc. In order to fully address the environmental problems caused by brownfield sites, to release the development potential of suitable sites, and at the same time to provide spaces for those operations still in demand, we must conduct comprehensive and integrated planning with corresponding infrastructure upgrading.  The Government will designate the Hung Shui Kiu NDA as a pilot area for examining the feasibility of relocating some of the brownfield operations to suitable multi-storey buildings. As such, the development of brownfield sites can only provide medium to long-term land supply, which cannot substitute the short to medium-term land supply measures such as land use rezoning that we are pressing ahead full steam.

Moreover, I have to point out a common misconception about the development of brownfield sites that we can consider converting certain brownfield sites for housing or other developments individually. As a matter of fact, there must first be adequate provision of infrastructural facilities and capacity, sewerage for example, before the brownfield sites can be used for higher density developments. The additional population so generated must also be supported by transport and community facilities. To provide infrastructure and various facilities in an efficient and cost-effective manner, we must plan those sizable brownfield sites in conjunction with the adjoining areas for development under the new town approach.  Without overall planning and supporting infrastructural facilities, individual developments of brownfield sites in a piecemeal manner would be difficult to support high-density developments including public housing, and very often these individual sites would only be developed into low to medium-density private housing. We see many of these developments in the NT where private developers carried out low-density land development projects in the past.

My reply to the three-part question is as follows:

(1) and (2) Brownfield sites cover many different land uses. They generally refer to deserted or damaged agricultural land in the rural NT that have been converted to other uses. These brownfield sites are mainly located in the relatively flat and more accessible areas in the northern and northwestern part of the NT, and have been occupied by various industrial and port back-up operations that are mostly incompatible with the surroundings, including container yards, container vehicle parking spaces, container vehicle repair yards, logistics operations, industrial workshops, open storage yards, recycling yards, construction machinery and materials storage yards, etc. Many of these sites also involve squatter households, agricultural activities and even farms, etc.

As mentioned above, for areas with more brownfield sites and having development potential, we will conduct comprehensive planning and engineering studies to examine the situation and development possibility of the land and the brownfield sites therein. The studies of the three NDAs just mentioned have examined in detail the land within the areas concerned (including brownfield sites), and comprehensive field surveys are being conducted to gather more accurate information, with a view to taking forward the NDA projects and releasing the brownfield sites for developments. Findings of the field surveys showed that the uses of brownfield operations vary from time to time, and as I have explained above, it is not cost-effective, if not impractical, to consider development of individual brownfield sites. Hence, a comprehensive consolidation of information of all brownfield sites within the territory is not only difficult but rather meaningless.  That said, the Government will continue to monitor the overall situation of the brownfield sites scattered across the territory.

(3) The development of brownfield sites is already covered by various medium to long-term NDA projects. Contrary to what the Honourable Gary Fan said, none of the implementation timetables for the three NDAs I mentioned is set later than that for the East Lantau Metropolis (ELM). According to the work report submitted by the Lantau Development Advisory Committee recently, ELM is one of the major sources of land supply in Hong Kong beyond 2030. As large-scale projects take a longer time in planning and development, involving various supporting infrastructural facilities and complex technical assessments, we need to act prudently and cautiously while initiating planning in good time to allow the public to offer views on the relevant ideas as early as possible.

As I have repeatedly emphasised, the Government must continue to implement the various short, medium and long-term land supply measures concurrently under a multi-pronged strategy. Even if the NDA developments involving brownfield sites can be taken forward as scheduled, it is incumbent on us to plan ahead and conduct long-term planning, such as reclamations outside the Victoria Harbour and developing Lantau and the NT North, amongst others, for the sustained development of Hong Kong in the future.

Ends/Wednesday, February 3, 2016
Issued at HKT 16:54

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