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Short to Medium Term Option
Developing Brownfield Sites

What is a "brownfield" site?

The term "Brownfield" is defined differently in different places. For example, in the United Kingdom and the United States, brownfield usually refers to former industrial land which has been left idle and contaminated. In Hong Kong, the term generally refers to former agricultural land in the New Territories (NT) which has been converted to other uses due to the decline of agriculture.

Brownfield sites are not idle and are commonly used for open storage, port back-up facilities (including container lorry parks and container yards), logistics operations, vehicle parking, vehicle repair workshops, recycling yards, rural workshops and storage areas for construction machinery and materials. Many of these operations are essential to our city and can hardly find suitable space in urban areas.

Besides, brownfield sites in Hong Kong are scattered in different areas, vary in size and are of irregular shape. They often intermingle with villages, squatters, active or fallow farmland and fish ponds; they lack infrastructure facilities needed to support high-density development such as roads and sewerage.

Current Size and Distribution of Brownfield Sites

  • It is estimated that about 1,300 ha of land in the NT may be regarded as "brownfield sites", accounting for about 1% of Hong Kong's total land area. The data is subject to confirmation by the Study on the Existing Profile and Operations of Brownfield Sites in the NT being conducted by PlanD.
  • Around 540 ha of brownfield sites have been covered by the large-scale development projects in the pipeline, including the Kwu Tung North / Fanling North NDA, Hung Shui Kiu NDA, Yuen Long South and NT North.
Large-scale development project Estimated development area Estimated area of affected brownfield sites Estimated flat production / population for the whole project Estimated year of population intake
Kwu Tung North / Fanling North NDA 320 ha 50 ha 60,000 units 2023 - 2031
Hung Shui Kiu NDA 441 ha 190 ha 61,000 units 2024 - 2038
Yuen Long South development 185 ha 100 ha 28,500 units 2027 - 2038
Potential development areas in NT North 720 ha 200 ha Population: around 255,000 / 350,000 Beyond 2030
Total Around 1,666 ha Around 540 ha Around 150,000 housing units and around 255,000/350,000 population in NT North
  • The remaining 760 ha of brownfield sites are scattered in different parts of the rural NT, such as Ping Shan, Wang Chau, Kam Tin, Pat Heung, Shek Kong, Ngau Tam Mei, San Tin and Lung Kwu Tan, etc. The Government will explore the appropriate ways to handle these sites, taking into account the findings of the brownfield study being conducted by PlanD.

Distribution of Brownfield Sites

Benefits of Development

Developing brownfield sites rationalises rural land uses, improves the rural environment in the NT and brings environmental benefits.

Developing brownfield sites would have less conservation concerns. It is often inevitable to develop brownfield sites together with the adjoining farmland, squatters, fishpond etc; but, overall, it provides an easier option to create developable land without encroaching on ecologically sensitive areas.

Certain industries commonly found on brownfield sites, such as construction, logistics, vehicle repair and recycling, still require land for their operations.

While developing brownfield sites, the Government has to reserve additional land for accommodating these operations in a more land-efficient manner (e.g. specially designed multi-storey industrial buildings). Some operations (such as the storage of large-scale construction equipment) may even need to continue their open-air operation.

After resuming brownfield sites for housing development, alternative land has to be identified for the operations of these businesses, hence the net gain in land would be decreased. Take Hung Shui Kiu NDA as an example; around 190 ha of brownfield sites would be resumed, of which around 61 ha of land needs to be reserved within the NDA for port back-up, storage, workshops and modern logistics uses.

Costs of Development

As brownfield sites are mostly privately owned, the development of brownfield sites involves land resumption and compensation. Some of the brownfield sites may be contaminated and require decontamination.

Most of the brownfield sites lack proper infrastructure to support high-density development. Substantial investment in upgrading the relevant infrastructural facilities is required, such as road networks, drainage systems and flood control measures.

Some industries such as construction, logistics, recycling and vehicle repair have been relying heavily on the cheap rents of the open-air brownfield sites, at around several dollars per square feet per month on average. These industries in brownfield sites also provide employment opportunities to the population in the local districts. Developing brownfield sites would inevitably displace some of the existing operators. Some may close their business, while others may move and continue their business in multi-storey industrial buildings in other areas with higher operating costs. Some smaller-scale or less profitable operators may be phased out, increasing the overall business cost of the whole industrial chain. Certain types of jobs will be lost. These economic and social costs would eventually be borne by the society as a whole.

Challenges and Uncertainties

Not every brownfield site has the potential for high-density development. Apart from the large-scale brownfield sites that have already been covered by various NDA projects, the remaining smaller-scale and irregularly shaped brownfield sites are scattered in the rural NT and intermingled with agricultural land, village houses and squatters. It will be difficult to achieve economies of scale in their development.

To unleash the development potential of brownfield sites to the fullest extent, there is a need to pursue large-scale comprehensive planning, which involves detailed engineering and environmental studies; various stages of community engagement exercises; statutory procedures such as environmental impact assessment, planning, building of roads and sewage infrastructure; funding applications to LegCo and the resumption of private land before construction can start. In total, this will require more than 10 years.

Most brownfield sites are privately owned, including those under collective ownership of Tso/Tong. The Government needs to follow relevant procedures when exercising its authority under the Land Resumption Ordinance (Cap. 124) and other laws to resume private land for public development. The process is bound to be lengthy and challenging.

It is never easy to identify alternative sites to accommodate brownfield operations and gain support from local residents. In addition, there are different views on whether the Government should subsidise the construction and operation of the proposed multi-storey industrial buildings. The society needs to reach a consensus on how to strike a balance between the trade-offs of releasing land for development, reserving industrial operating space, taking care of the business of individual operators and prudent use of public money.

Key Points

  1. Brownfield sites are not idle. They are mostly used for industrial activities essential to Hong Kong which have difficulties in finding suitable space in the urban areas. As such, there is a need to consider how to accommodate those operators who want to continue their business if their sites are being resumed.
  2. Around 540 ha of brownfield sites have been covered by the medium-to-long term large-scale development projects in the pipeline, including Kwu Tung North / Fanling North NDA, Hung Shui Kiu NDA, Yuen Long South and NT North, forming one of the major sources of land supply.
  3. As for the remaining 760 ha of brownfield sites, whether they have potential for housing development is not just about the size of the land. A number of other factors have to be considered, namely the capacity of transport and other infrastructural facilities; the compatibility of housing development and the surrounding environment; whether the site can accommodate other community facilities to support the daily needs of residents; and how to relocate existing brownfield operators. The Government will consider the potential for development of those sites based on PlanD's findings of the brownfield study.
| Last Revision Date: 5 December 2018