Hong Kong has over 1,500 hectares of brownfield sites but over two-thirds were not chosen by the government for development, according to an urban planning research group.

The Liber Research Community said in a new report that the number of brownfield sites – often farmland polluted by industrial activity – has almost doubled since 1993, but the government has undercounted the total area and exaggerated the difficulties of development.

Liber brownfield
Chan Kim-ching, Brian Wong, and Lam Yan of Liber Research Community. Photo: handout.

“The government greatly downplayed the potential for brownfield sites to become sources of land supply. The objective effect is to restrict the public’s options to fulfil the 1,200-hectare land supply shortfall,” said group member Lam Yan on Wednesday.

Comparing satellite maps and aerial photos from 1993, 2003 and 2017, researchers found that Hong Kong had 1,571 hectares of brownfield sites as of 2017.

However, the government-appointed Task Force on Land Supply only counted 1,300 hectares of brownfield sites in its consultation documents.

The task force conducted a public consultation from April to September, and is expected to submit its report to the government by the end of the year.

Task Force on Land Supply
Task Force on Land Supply. Photo: GovHK.

In its public consultation, the Task Force claimed that at least 1,200 hectares of land was needed for housing and commercial needs. It provided 18 options to increase Hong Kong’s land supply and invited the public to express their preferences.

On Wednesday, researchers questioned why a total of 1,023 hectares of brownfields sites were excluded from the “New Development Areas” and the “210 potential sites for housing purposes” identified by the government.

“In the Task Force’s questionnaire, it said that Hong Kong could only use 330 hectares of brownfield sites over the next 30 years, which represents only 30 per cent of the sites we discovered in this report,” said group member Brian Wong.

“This is just to force the public to choose options like the reclamation plan at East Lantau to ‘meet the target.’”

Critics of brownfield development have argued that it is difficult for the Hong Kong government to reach a settlement with private landowners, and that existing businesses at brownfield sites needed to be relocated.

Liber researchers maintained that only 63 hectares of brownfield operations – 4.1 per cent of the 2017 total – were related to heavy equipment. They suggested that the rest of the brownfield operations could be relocated to multi-storey buildings.

The government should prioritise developing brownfield sites, with the long-term goal of amending laws to curb misuse and uncontrolled growth, researchers said.

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.