A powerful rural body has expressed concern over the fate of seven villages located within an area the government has earmarked for the development of a new tech hub near the city’s border with Shenzhen.

On Thursday, the Heung Yee Kuk hosted a forum to discuss San Tin Technopole – a government plan to build a massive Innovation and Technology (I&T) hub in the northern part of Hong Kong. The project aims to attract companies and talent, but remains controversial owing to the potential impact on wetland conservation and local villagers.

San Tin Technopole mock-up
A mock-up of San Tin Technopole. File Photo: Civil Engineering and Development Department, Planning Department.

Aside from representatives of the rural body, Secretary for Development Bernadette Linn and Secretary for Innovation, Technology and Industry Sun Dong attended the forum to introduce the development plans.

Pro-establishment lawmaker Regina Ip, who recently faced public scrutiny over a property purchase, attended the forum for a group photo but left before giving any speeches.

Development chief Linn said the hub, which will cover a total of 627 hectares, will see an I&T zone of some 300 hectares, 50,000 units of public and private housing, as well as 6,400 units to accommodate fresh talent.

Heung Yee Kuk chairman Kenneth Lau
Heung Yee Kuk Chairman Kenneth Lau. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

The seven existing villages located at the heart of the hub will not see any development by the government, Linn told the forum.

The rural body chair, Lau, who is also a lawmaker and a member of the Executive Council, told HKFP that people from the seven villages were concerned about whether they would be integrated into the future development project. He added that the Kuk has been trying to negotiate with the government some redevelopment assistance for the villages.

Sun, the innovation chief, said at the forum that the development chief has exchanged views with Lau on the hub several times recently, and “suffered a lot of pressure” from Lau.

Secretary for Development Bernadette Linn
Secretary for Development Bernadette Linn at the forum hosted by the Heung Yee Kuk on Thursday. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Lau met the city’s leader John Lee on Wednesday to submit the rural body’s proposal for the coming policy address, which included many suggestions relating to the tech hub.

“The rural [village] areas will be surrounded by seven million square meters of buildings designated for [I&T] purposes, as well as housing, resulting in a highly incongruent planning approach, ” the body’s proposal read in Chinese. It urged the government to integrate the development of villages into the plans.

San Tin forum
A speaker showing that the seven villages are located at the heart of the San Tin Technopole development. Photo: Irene Chan/HKFP.

Lau said the body is also concerned about the protection of wetland and fishponds, as well as how the government will acquire ancestral land in the rural area, adding that the government will start to acquire land in the latter half year of 2024.

Two months of public consultation relating to the hub was completed earlier this month. The development chief said that work on the first batch of land for I&T purposes will begin in the final quarter of next year, after an environmental impact assessment is submitted to the Environmental Protection Department.

Wetland conservation

The Technopole development has also come under fire from environmentalists over potential damage to 248 hectares of wetland conservation areas and buffer zones.

Black-faced Spoonbills in San Tin fish ponds
Black-faced Spoonbills in San Tin fish ponds. Photo: Hong Kong Bird Watching Society.

Linn did not mention the protection of the wetlands located within the Technopole during the forum. But she said that the government will protect another area of wetland – Sam Po Shue Wetland, near Technopole.

Urban planning NGO Liber Research Community said in an article published in May that the government has decreased the size of the Sam Po Shue reserve from 520 hectares – as mentioned in the 2021 Northern Metropolis Development Strategy – to the around 300 hectares in its updated plan.

Direct land allocation

The innovation chief said Technopole will see two approaches to land leases in the future.

“One is based on the highest bid, while the other is based on the quality of tenders, which is a direct land allocation model. I like the latter, but it is still going through process of study, ” Sun said in Mandarin.

Bernadette Linn, Regina Ip, Sun Dong and Kenneth Lau
The Heung Yee Kuk hosted a forum on the planning of the Technopole technology hub on Thursday. (From left to right) The development chief Bernadette Linn, the rural body’s chairman Kenneth Lau, lawmaker Regina Ip and the innovation chief. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

He added that, by defining quality, the government will check whether the tender is a leading company in I&T sections, its economic values, how many jobs it could provide and its impact on the environment.

Some entrepreneurs travelled from the mainland to join Thursday’s forum in Hong Kong. Four I&T entrepreneurs were invited to give presentations about their companies and expressed their wish to establish businesses at Technopole.

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Irene Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press and has an interest in covering political and social change. She previously worked at Initium Media as chief editor for Hong Kong news and was a community organiser at the Society for Community Organisation serving the underprivileged. She has a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Fudan University and a master’s degree in social work from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Irene is the recipient of two Society of Publishers in Asia (SOPA) awards and three honourable mentions for her investigative, feature and video reporting. She also received a Human Rights Press Award for multimedia reporting and an honourable mention for feature writing.