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LCQ5: Agricultural land
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     Following is a question by the Ir Dr Hon Raymond Ho Chung-tai and a reply by the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, in the Legislative Council today (November 30):

Question:

     Shortage of land is one of the reasons for high property prices in Hong Kong.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) given that at present quite a number of pieces of agricultural land have been abandoned or converted to other uses, what strategies the Government has to ensure that precious land resources can be put to more effective use in the face of the fact that some agricultural land has been converted to non-agricultural uses;

(b) of the total area of agricultural land in Hong Kong at present and the percentage of that land area in the total land area of Hong Kong; and

(c) of the total number of applications received by the Town Planning Board in the past five years for converting agricultural land to other land uses; the total area of the agricultural land involved; and regarding those applications which were approved, of the area of agricultural land involved, the approved land uses as well as the total amount of additional land premium payable?

Reply:

President,

     The Special Administrative Region Government is well aware that a sufficient supply of land for housing development could facilitate the healthy development of the property market.  Therefore, we have been stepping up efforts on various fronts to increase residential land supply and vigorously creating a land reserve in accordance with the instruction of the Chief Executive.  In addition to expediting the land supply in the Kai Tak Development Area and taking forward in full swing the planning and engineering studies for the new development areas in northern New Territories and the remaining land for development in the Tung Chung New Town, the Chief Executive has announced six innovative measures in this year's Policy Address for expanding our land resources.  One of those measures exactly addresses the question raised by Ir Dr Hon Raymond Ho Chung-tai today - to explore the possibility of converting into housing land some deserted agricultural land in the New Territories.

     My reply to the three-part question is follows:

(a) Although agricultural production is not a major economic activity in Hong Kong, it supplies a considerable amount of quality fresh food and flowers for local consumption.  Moreover, an increasing number of people have become holiday farmers to experience the fun of farming and cropping.  Therefore, we should not completely scrap agricultural land in the New Territories.  As a matter of fact, the retention or rezoning of the "Agriculture" ("AGR") Zone is a rather controversial issue.  Some consider the retention of the "AGR" Zone a waste of Hong Kong's precious land resources and a hindrance to economic and social developments.  On the other hand, there is a body of opinion that agricultural land not only has high ecological and economic values, but also plays a role in maintaining the rural character of the New Territories.  The Government has all along attached importance to development issues.  It is also concerned about environmental changes.  Under such premises, the Government will conduct timely reviews of land uses in all districts in response to varying circumstances with a view to achieving an optimal use of rural land and striking a balance between environmental conservation and socio-economic development.  To effectively release agricultural land for development purposes, the Governments strategy includes identifying and developing new development areas through undertaking thorough planning and engineering studies. This enables housing and related developments to be systematically located together in appropriate areas taking into account feasibility in environmental, transport and infrastructural terms.  A case in point is the new development areas in the North East New Territories (i.e. Fanling North, Kwu Tung North, and Ping Che/Ta Kwu Ling).  At present, the areas being planned for development include 224 hectares of land currently zoned "AGR".  Another strategy is to make reference to the Review of Rural Land Uses in Northern New Territories completed by the Planning Department (PlanD) in 2001 to systematically preserve high-quality agricultural land for the sustainable development of the local agriculture industry, while rezone some low-quality agricultural land with low ecological value into other land-use zones, such as the "Other Specified Uses" annotated "Rural Use" Zone, to tie in with rural development.  For the agricultural land within such a zone, applications could be made to the Town Planning Board (TPB) for a selected range of rural and recreational uses which could improve the environment of the area concerned, preserve the character of the rural area and achieve an effective use of land resources.

(b) According to a rough estimate of land usage distribution, agricultural land accounts for about 6.1% of the 1,100 square kilometres of total land area in Hong Kong, i.e. about 6,700 hectares.  As at October this year, among the 31,385 hectares of land in the New Territories covered by statutory plans (excluding new towns), about 3,292 hectares are zoned "AGR".

(c) Under the Town Planning Ordinance, statutory plan amendment applications or planning applications may be submitted to TPB for changing land use.  From January 2007 to October this year, TPB received a total of 49 applications for converting land involving "AGR" Zone to other land uses, six of which were approved by TPB, involving about 6.8 hectares of land.  Among those approved applications for change of land use, three cases were for residential development, two cases for institution and community use and one case for resort hotel use.

     During the same period, TPB also processed 716 planning applications involving land zoned "AGR", out of which 368 were approved by TPB (including 255 cases with approval for permanent use and 113 cases with approval for temporary use).  Among the applications for review, eight cases were approved by TPB (including three cases with approval for permanent use and five cases with approval for temporary use).  The majority of the above 258 applications with approval for permanent use were for New Territories exempted houses development, involving about seven hectares of land (Note: Statutory plan amendment applications or planning applications involving land zoned "Agriculture" may possibly cover land of other land-use zone(s) in the vicinity), whereas a few were for uses of warehouse/open storage, public utilities installation and public carpark/vehicle repair workshop.  Information relating to statutory plan amendment applications or planning applications is uploaded to the Statutory Planning Portal of TPB for public inspection.

     After receiving Ir Dr Hon Ho's question and the aforesaid information provided by PlanD, the Lands Department searched its records over the past few days but did not find any information about premium payment relating to the aforesaid 264 approved cases of changing the use of agricultural land.  The main reason is that the vast majority of the cases approved by TPB were for small house development, most of which may involve construction of small houses by indigenous New Territories residents on their own private agricultural land using building licences where premium payment is generally not required.  As for the remaining small number of cases, two cases, one involving lease modification and the other involving land exchange, are currently being processed by the Lands Department but have not yet reached the premium assessment stage. Generally speaking, an applicant with permission granted by TPB for change of land use will not submit lease modification or land exchange application to the Lands Department immediately upon or shortly after approval. This is because the applicant may not be ready to implement the approved new uses, may not have fully met the conditions of approval set out by TPB, or is still carrying out land acquisition/merger or title unification etc.

Ends/Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Issued at HKT 16:23

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