Avoiding ‘new town blues’ in the Northeast New Territories
A speech delivered at a speaker luncheon of Hong Kong Democratic Foundation on 16 October 2013
K.K. Ling says that by generating employment close to the planned development areas in the Northeast New Territories, Hong Kong can avoid another case of ‘new town blues’.
There have been many controversies about the Northeast New Territories. Some believe we do not need new development if we can control our population growth, which comes mainly from mainland immigration. Others ask why new developments must be put there. Some suggest that the military land and the so-called brownfield sites now occupied by containers should be used first.
There are also nature conservation and ecological concerns. Other controversies are about sustainable communities and how we can plan for new towns that provide us with jobs as well as homes. Should the government resume all private land or should developers be allowed to participate? If yes, what are the terms and conditions?
As a town planner, I would like to focus on the planning aspects: where to accommodate the additional population, what a “new development area” is, and what we can expect from it.
Proposals for developing the Northeast New Territories date back to the 1990s. In 1998, the “Planning and Development Study on Northeast New Territories” identified Kwu Tung North, Fanling North and Ping Che/Ta Kwu Ling as new development areas. An economic downturn in 2003 led to the project being temporarily shelved.
In 2007, the “Hong Kong 2030 Planning Vision and Strategy” was formulated after a comprehensive study and extensive public engagement. The direction taken was to “do more with less”, that is, strive for better quality and higher efficiency. Following this rationale and after evaluating different options, the preferred choice was to complete the undeveloped parts of existing new towns, especially Tseung Kwan O and Tung Chung. And it was suggested that housing developments in the Northeast New Territories and Hung Shui Kiu new development areas could accommodate 350,000 people.
The 2007-2008 policy address included these recommendations as one of 10 major infrastructure projects. These areas are on our railway corridors and there is a good opportunity to make use of the brownfield sites.
Uppermost in our mind is the “Hong Kong-style new town blues”. We try to avoid a jobs mismatch and people having to commute long distances, which costs a lot of time and money.
This is why I have been advocating a land-use concept that generates employment. For the Northeast New Territories new development areas, we have reserved a large piece of land for job-generation purposes.
We also advocate extending a “knowledge belt” running along the East Rail, which links up four universities, the Science and Technology Parks and the Tai Po industrial estate, and extending it to our newly planned business, technology and education parks within the Northeast New Territories new development areas and the Lok Ma Chau Loop. We hope these high-end land use components will generate significant economic benefits for Hong Kong and create more jobs in the Northeast New Territories.
The Kwu Tung North and Fanling North new development areas are to be developed as an extension to the existing Fanling/Sheung Shui new town, which will have a total population of about 460,000 upon full development. That is comparable to other new towns such as Sha Tin and Tuen Mun. The total developable area of the two new development areas is about three square kilometres. The new development areas will accommodate 60,000 homes for 170,000 people, of which 60 per cent will comprise public housing, including subsidised flats. The plot ratio ranges mostly from 3.5 to 6 and building heights from 20 to 35 storeys. It will be a compact and sustainable, good-quality development in a green setting.
The plan embraces the concept of balanced communities and coexistence with the existing new town, providing both homes and jobs, nature-friendly planning, urban-rural integration, high accessibility and the provision of recreational facilities. These are very important considerations. Fanling and Sheung Shui have evolved from market towns into a fully fledged, vibrant community over the past 30 years. The new residents can have immediate access to these facilities, while the existing residents can enjoy new facilities provided in the extension areas. This is socially desirable and cost-effective.
There will be a generous amount of employment opportunities, as well as commercial, community, recreation, leisure and cultural facilities, including a hospital, schools, a district police station, a sports ground, swimming pool complex, and a wide range of social facilities.
The new development areas will provide land to meet our economic development needs. Taking advantage of their proximity to a number of existing and new border control points and Shenzhen, the areas are expected to provide about 40,000 jobs, which will be essential to improve the job-population balance and enhance the social and economic sustainability of the extended new town.
Planning for the new development areas will respect nature, promote agriculture and achieve urban-rural integration. Long Valley, sited at the convergence of the Sheung Yue and Shek Sheung rivers, is the largest freshwater wetland in Hong Kong, and is located right at the middle of the extended town. It poses a challenge as well as an opportunity for planning the extended town.
As a pioneering planning effort, we propose to designate some 37 hectares of land in the core area of Long Valley generally of high ecological value as a nature park, to be implemented as part and parcel of the development project.
Last but not least, we have planned that about 80 per cent of the population will reside within 500 metres of the proposed railway station and public transport interchanges, encouraging the use of public transport.
The technical planning may well prove to be the easier part: support from the community and a large dose of political and consensus-building skills will also be needed to make the Northeast New Territories new development areas vibrant urban clusters that meet 21st-century ideals and expectations.
K K Ling (凌嘉勤)
Director of Planning of HKSAR Government (香港特別行政區政府規劃署署長)
16 October 2013
The above article was published in South China Morning Post’s INSIGHT Page print edition as “Banish the blues” on 24 October 2013.
Reproduction of the article requires written permission from the author.