Keep politics out of port homes idea

Editorial | Mary Ma 6 Jul 2018

Building homes atop the Kwai Chung container terminals is a novel idea that has never been taken seriously by those in charge of overcoming Hong Kong's housing crisis.

If Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is jumping the gun to favor reclamation as the way to go for her administration, her Land Supply Task Force is sidelining the futuristic topside development proposed by former Institute of Engineers president Joseph Chow Ming-kuen.

Will it be given the chance to show its true colors on the playing field? I wish.

It was in mid-2017 when Chow made his initial pitch. After private think-tank Hong Kong Foundation, led by former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa, suggested relocating the Kwai Chung container terminals elsewhere to turn the huge 279-hectare site into homes for hundreds of thousands of people, Chow took the idea further.

Instead, he suggested building a vast podium on top of a section of the terminals to put up thousands of residential units. The most conservative estimates showed it would be large enough for developments equivalent to two Taikoo Shings.

Pollution - noise, light and air - would be a concern, but not impossible to overcome.

It's admittedly an extremely bold idea and a daydream. But hasn't it been the case that many great achievements today started as pipe dreams many years ago? The internet is a prime example of something none of us can do without nowadays.

Engineering experts tell us it's feasible as far as the science is concerned, with similar technology having been applied extensively in Hong Kong.

Telford Gardens atop MTR Corporation's depot in Kowloon Bay was built on a similar concept, although Kwai Chung "Sky City" would be much bigger in scale.

It's not due to technology that the idea is given the cold shoulder - rather it's probably because of the political taboo that it's wicked to work with private developers to overcome the housing crisis, even if such cooperation is productive.

To strike the balance, can a 50:50 ratio be adopted so there will be enough new residential space for subsidized housing, while sufficient incentives are allowed for the private sector to commit to the development?

It will be a big loss for the SAR if a novel and workable idea is left on the shelf - not because of its engineering practicability but due to political factors.

Multiple ownerships of the container terminals and pollution concerns should never be the reason to prevent Hong Kong from attempting new approaches as it struggles to meet the housing needs of the people.

There's no denying that reclamation is a tried and tested option after having been used extensively in the past. However, this shouldn't stop us from trying something novel that can even set the standard for the future.

If you likened the ongoing land search to the World Cup, I can imagine that reclamation will be crowned the winner at the end, followed by rural land and probably the golf course. The last thing one would wish for, however, is to leave the "Sky City" idea stuck on the bench.

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