Terminal homes idea not all at sea

Editorial | 7 Jul 2017

Land shortage is often blamed for the SAR's housing woes.

Joseph Chow Ming-kuen, former president of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers, recently put forward the idea of building thousands of new homes on an elevated platform erected above a large part of Kwai Chung Container Terminals.

That's a bold initiative - probably too daring for some - but it would be imprudent to dismiss it out of hand without even studying its feasibility.

Chow isn't the first person to suggest tapping space at our container terminals for housing. In April, Our Hong Kong Foundation, a think tank established by former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa - proposed reclaiming an island off Cheung Chau to relocate the terminals, so that the Kwai Chung site can be vacated for housing.

Now Chow is taking the idea further.

Development of our container terminals started in 1970. Once the world's busiest container port, we now rank fifth - behind leader Shanghai, Singapore, Shenzhen and Ningbo- Zhoushan - while Qingdao and Guangzhou are gaining fast.

Given its readily accessible location, the Kwai Chung terminals are undoubtedly suitable for housing development, as the container port can be moved farther afield.

But the idea advanced by Tung's think tank would be time-consuming, and involve reclamation on such a scale that it is bound to be challenged by environmentalists. It will also cost humongous sums to relocate the facilities from Kwai Chung to the artificial island.

Chow's idea is aimed at making the exercise far simpler. Rather than relocating the terminal facilities, an elevated platform would to be constructed above areas 60 to 80 meters from the crane-studded waterfront, so that the space underneath can be used as container storage, while high-rises are built on the platform.

However, Chow's proposal isn't simple at all, despite claims that it is. Clearly, he should explain the science further, although such construction isn't unprecedented in the SAR. For example, there are already numerous residential and commercial developments built atop MTR stations. The railway operator is also planning a major residential and commercial development above its Siu Ho Wan Depot on Lantau.

Chow's suggestion is based on a similar idea, albeit much larger in scope.

If proven feasible, the project could provide more than 170,000 flats of 500 square feet each. Assuming an average household size of three people, this would house more than half a million residents - about the size of a new town.

Notwithstanding, there are bound to be obstacles.

One, will terminal operators - such as Cheung Kong's Li Ka-shing and Wharf senior counsel Peter Woo Kwong- ching oppose the plan, and two, what will the community think? Stakeholders must be consulted with a view to winning their support.

That said, the local community would be unlikely to oppose any plan that promises more housing. At the same time, terminal operators may even be interested in participating in the project - since a number of them also happen to be developers.

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