Missing Option: Research on Temporary Use and Vacant Government Land in Hong Kong
● Research background:
The government has claimed that due to scatteredness, odd shapes, long-term development programmes or traffic constraints, most of temporary use government land (namely, Short-term tenancy sites and Temporary Government Land Allocation) and vacant government land cannot be considered as valid land supply options in the current land supply consultation, a.k.a. The “big land debate”. However, such claim has yet to be substantiated by rigorous research and information disclosure. Hence, the current research aims to compile a database on the abovementioned “under-utilized government land”, and thereby examining their conditions and exploring the possibilities of development.
● Research method:
Through various map tools, a list of under-utilized government land parcels is compiled, which is then verified by satellite images, site visits and official papers. It is found that in March 2018, 493 government land parcels (with a total area of 264 hectares) were not included in any development programmes. While there are development programmes planned for 39 government land parcels (with a total area of 37 hectares), none of them has definite implementation timetable, and so they could be put to temporary uses in the meantime. These under-utilized government land parcels, totalling at 301 hectares, is tantamount to the size of 1.7 Fanling Golf Course.
● Four potential alternative uses: The Research Team proposes the following alternative uses for the 532 under-utilized government land parcels:
Interim housing such as container homes: According to the Hong Kong Council of Social Service, 90 container home units can be provided on a land parcel with a size of 0.1 hectare. Under this development density, 90,000 container home units can be built in a relatively short period of time by only reserving one-third of the under- utilized government land parcels (100 hectares), servicing the majority of 92,700 households currently living in sub-divided flats.
Community facilities: reserving 50 hectares of the vacant or under-utilized government land parcels zoned as “Government, Institution or Community” uses could provide up to 120,000 quotas for Community Care Service and Residential Care Services for the elderly and those in need. These will be enough to fulfill the need in the coming 30 years as stipulated in the Elderly Services Programme Plan. In respect of the shortage of community facilities in rural villages, this can be met by utilizing the 30 hectares of government land currently zoned as “Village-type Development”.
Recreation and sports facilities: its persistent shortage is not unknown issue, and this can be suitably fulfilled by the under-utilized government land parcels in the neighbourhoods. According to the Hong Kong Planning Standards and Guidelines, to tackle the issue it is required to reserve 30 hectares of underutilized government land parcels for building 43 Sports Complexes.
“Single site, multiple use”: adopt multi-storey development approach in redeveloping under-utilized government land parcels by assembling current uses into multi-storey buildings built on those land parcels so as to vacate land for other more effective uses.
● Tackle medium-to-short term land demand: The Research Team found a sizeable number of under-utilized government land parcels are zoned as “Government, Institution or Community” and “Open Space” uses, and they are conveniently located in the urban centres or are easily accessible by roads. They can be suitably developed into community and sports facilities without having to go through rezoning procedures, or they can be developed as interim housing to meet the acute need of people living in substandard conditions.
● Case studies and observations: The Research Team identified the following issues through case studies-
Land parcels locked up by red tape: no single government is well-informed of the condition of the all the land parcels, let alone having the authority to coordinate the assessment and reuse of the under-utilized government land parcels. As a result, many community and sports facilities are not realized despite years of planning: there are up to 128 hectares of land parcels zoned as “Open Space” or “Government, Institution or Community” uses either left vacant or under-utilized, making up to more than 40% of the total stock found by the Research Team.
Temporary uses made long-term: it is commonplace to lease or allocate government land for short-term uses, but in real practice they have been turned into some form of “land tenure”. Take the example of car parks leased out by short-term tenancy, many of them have been renewed for a number of times and literally the temporary uses have become permanent: up to 87% of the car parks occupying 68 hectares of precious land on short-term tenancy, have been there for more than 5 years, practically shelving long-term planning, if there are any.
The neglected logistics land: the Research Team has identified 5 land parcels with a total size of 18.5 hectares near Kwai Tsing Container Terminus zoned as “Other Specified Uses (Container Terminal)” that have been left vacant. One of the land parcels have even been left idle for 25 years. They should be suitably used as port back-up uses or even to resite brownfield operations affected by development projects in the New Territories.
“Land grabbing” in the name of temporary uses: the Research Team found out that a small portion of government land has been grabbed by private entities for private use by short-term tenancy. It does not only raise the issue of fair use of public land, but also exacerbates the shortfall of “Open Space” and “Government/Institution or Community” land.
● Policy Recommendation
Relisting under-utilized government land parcels as an option for medium-to- long term land supply: these 301 hectares of land resources are sizeable and accessible by roads, and therefore should be relisted as one of the land supply options. There is no valid reason for the government to discredit its development potential without rigorous research or disclosure of related information.
Disclose spatial data of under-utilized government land parcels: in order to better manage the information, increase transparency and accountability, and also to assess and evaluate usage of government land on a continual basis, the government should first stocktake the land resources and set up a comprehensive database on their actual status, locations, number of leases, lease conditions and tenure, etc. The database should be disclosed in entirety and no information should be withheld.
Thoroughly review all existing land resources: apart from under-utilized government land parcels, there are also land resources of which their usage are in urgent need of review, for instance, Temporary Government Land Allocations used as work sites, brownfield sites that are excluded from existing development projects, all sites under Private Recreational Leases and military land (excluding Castle Peak Firing Range). Reviewing the development potential of these land resources totalled at around 2,800 hectares could considerably ease the pressure to adopt destructive land supply options such as reclamations.
Develop interim housing or community facilities: it is recommended to reserve 100 hectares of under-utilized government land parcels for development of 90,000 container home units to tackle the imminent housing crisis. The government should also re-initiate planned development programmes of community facilities that were shelved for bureaucratic reasons by high-level coordination.
Adopt compact/vertical development model: while reusing under-utilized government land parcels, the government is recommended to adopt compact development model wherever possible so as to increase the land use efficiency and vacate land for other uses.
Adopting the principle of “putting public land into public use”: the government should reuse the under-utilized government land parcels according to the principle of “putting public land into public use”, and disclose all related decision-making process for public inspection.