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LCQ16: Allocation of land and vacant school premises for education purposes

     Following is a question by Dr Hon Kenneth Chan and a written reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Eddie Ng Hak-kim, in the Legislative Council today (December 11):


     It is learnt that, at present, quite a number of school sponsoring bodies and tertiary institutions hope that the Government will grant land for them to build schools or teaching facilities. Regarding the planning of land for education purposes and the arrangements for vacant school premises, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the details of the idle government sites which have currently been planned for education purposes, including their locations, areas, the duration for which they have been left idle, the types of educational institutions by which such sites have been planned to be used and the specific uses planned, as well as their current uses;

(b) of the details of the various vacant school premises which have currently been returned to the Government, including their addresses, floor areas, the types of educational institutions to which the original users belonged, the numbers of classrooms and facilities available therein, the duration for which they have been left vacant, their current situations, as well as the finalised uses of the school premises or the sites on which such school premises are located;

(c) in respect of all idle government sites which have currently been planned for education purposes and the government sites on which vacant school premises are located, whether the Government has drawn up specific development plans and implementation timetables for such plans; if it has, of the details; if not, whether the Government will expeditiously draw up such plans and timetables; if it will draw up such plans, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(d) whether the Education Bureau had received in the past three years any proposals put forward by other policy bureaux for rezoning certain idle government sites originally planned for education purposes to other uses; if it had, of the details of the locations, areas, proposed new uses and development plans of such sites; and

(e) whether the Education Bureau has plans to discuss with other policy bureaux to strive for rezoning more idle government sites for education purposes, thereby providing school sponsoring bodies and tertiary institutions with the land needed; if it has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     Regarding the arrangement for allocation of land and vacant school premises for educational purposes, my reply is as follows:

(a) and (c) As at December 2013, there are a total of 17 reserved school sites (including primary, secondary and special school use) in the territory with concrete School Building Programmes and the timeframe of the development would be subject to, among others, views of the District Councils, progress of technical works and funding approval. Project planning and preparation works for these school building projects, such as technical feasibility study and school design, are being carried out in accordance with the prevailing procedures. A breakdown of the 17 reserved school sites by districts with their location, site area and planned use is set out at Annex 1. Among them, funding approval for two has been obtained from the Finance Committee of the Legislative Council in the 2012-13 Legislative Council Session with the school building works already underway, while that for another three would be sought in the current Legislative Council Session with the school building works expected to commence in late 2014. For the remaining ones, site swap for two is being explored with the Development Bureau, two fall within a private development project, and the remaining eight are either being deployed for temporary use or with detailed design being undertaken for the school building programme thereon.

(b) As regards vacant school premises, a total of 87 public sector primary schools ceased operation in the school years from 2003/04 to 2012/13 for not meeting the minimum threshold number of Primary One students under the policy on "Consolidation of Under-utilised Primary Schools". During the same period, 17 secondary schools ceased operation due to various reasons and two secondary schools merged with other schools. As at end August 2013, among these 106 school premises that have become vacant, 45 of them have already been deployed or re-allocated for further educational uses (please refer to Table (1) of Annex 2 for details). As for the other 61 premises, 11 of them have been earmarked for further educational uses (please refer to Table (2) of Annex 2 for details) and action is underway to put these premises into operation in accordance with the earmarked uses. The remaining 50 premises have been found not suitable for educational purpose (please refer to Table (3) of Annex 2 for details) mainly due to their limited size and remote locations. The Education Bureau (EDB) has informed the Planning Department (PlanD) and returned these 50 premises to the relevant departments for consideration of alternative uses in accordance with the prevailing established arrangement.

     EDB has an established mechanism for handling vacant school premises. Once a vacant / to-be-vacant school premises is identified, we will consider if the size, location and physical conditions of the premises would render it suitable for re-allocation for school or other educational uses. Since the vacant school premises are purpose-built buildings for school operation, in determining whether and how the vacant school premises suitable for school or other educational uses should be earmarked, when necessary, we would in general accord higher priority to school use, e.g. primary schools, secondary schools, special schools and international schools, before considering other educational uses. Should EDB wish to deploy the vacant school premises for other educational uses, these proposed uses would need to compete with other departments' proposed uses.

     In addition, we would take into account the conditions and location of the school premises, demand for public sector school places in the district, reprovisioning needs of schools in the district and the need to provide diversity in the school system, with a view to meeting various educational needs in the territory and be in support of relevant policy initiatives. Besides, in view of the precious land resources involved and the various requests made by members of the community for early identification and disposal of vacant school premises to meet educational and other community needs, we have strengthened our existing mechanism by enhancing our liaison with various policy bureaux and departments concerned so as to facilitate early planning on the long term use of the vacant/ to-be-vacated school premises, thus enabling early deployment of the premises upon cessation of operation of the schools concerned.

     Regarding the vacant school premises which have been earmarked for long-term use but would be available for interim short-term use, for the purpose of proper use of resources, EDB will follow the existing practice to regularly inform relevant government departments and invite them to consider the premises for short-term uses.

     As regards the premises that are not suitable for further school or other educational uses, we would inform the PlanD and return these school premises to relevant departments (such as Lands Department) for their consideration on alternative uses in accordance with the prevailing established arrangement.

(d) and (e) Under the established mechanism, PlanD will reserve sites for school development when preparing town plans and planning large-scale residential developments having regard to the planned population intake and on the basis of the needs for community services in accordance with the guidelines set out in the Hong Kong Planning Standards and Guidelines. In the process, EDB will be consulted on whether school sites should be reserved. As far as long-term planning in primary and secondary education is concerned, EDB will make reference to the school-age population projections, which are compiled based on the population projections updated regularly by the Census and Statistics Department (Note 1), and take into account the actual number of existing students at various levels and cross-boundary students (Note 2) as well as the latest demographic changes, including the number of newly-arrived children from the Mainland, in estimating the future demand for school places and relevant resources. When planning the School Building Programme for reserved school sites, EDB will consider the latest projections, the prevailing educational initiatives, other factors that may affect the demand for school places in certain districts and different options to increase the supply of places (e.g. utilising vacant classrooms in existing schools) in particular districts. We will consider if there is a long-term need to identify reserved school sites to meet the projected demand (Note 3) and relevant educational initiatives, and liaise with PlanD accordingly when such need arises. We will also consider the projected demand for school places in the district in the medium and the longer term, the technical feasibility of developing the site and the likelihood of acquiring alternative school sites in the district, etc., before we decide to retain or release a particular reserved school site so as to facilitate better utilisation of valuable land resources. For example, the ex-reserved secondary school site at Choi Hing Road, Kwun Tong has been released to PlanD for alternative use following the earlier review of the School Building Programme in 2011. PlanD has already identified a replacement site for school development for meeting future educational needs.

     The Administration and the University Grants Committee (UGC) are committed to supporting the development of publicly-funded teaching facilities and student hostels by UGC-funded institutions in accordance with the established policies and calculation criteria. To ensure optimal use of limited land resources, the Administration and the UGC encourage the UGC-funded funded institutions to identify suitable sites within campus to develop the needed teaching facilities and student hostels, or consider the conversion or expansion of existing campus structures so as to make the best use of campus land.

     Where necessary, we will also identify suitable government land outside the campus for the UGC-funded institutions to meet their development needs under the prevailing policies and calculation criteria. As a matter of fact, we are now having discussions with some of the UGC-funded institutions facing a shortfall in student hostels and teaching facilities to study the feasibility of developing student hostels or teaching facilities on different sites. Regarding site selection, we take a range of relevant factors into consideration. These include whether there are any additional requirements for space by the UGC-funded institutions under the prevailing policies, whether the campuses of the UGC-funded institutions are already fully utilised and whether there is potential for redevelopment and expansion, as well as the locations of existing campuses and the supply of land reserved for higher education purposes. Whether it is land within the campus of the UGC-funded institutions or new Government land identified for the UGC-funded institutions, the resources should first and foremost be used to meet the requirements of UGC-funded institutions for publicly-funded facilities under the existing policies and calculation criteria. In principle, the UGC takes interest in all building development projects of funded institutions (including self-financed projects) to ensure that these proposed projects are in line with the master development plan of the respective campus and consistent with the roles and missions of the funded institutions as agreed with the UGC.  Furthermore, it is necessary to ensure that the building development projects will not become a burden to the UGC-funded institutions and eventually to the UGC and the Government. Institutions are therefore required to inform the UGC of any wholly privately-funded projects before their commencement.

     The Government has been actively identifying suitable land sites and vacant school premises for the self-financing post-secondary sector to facilitate the operation of quality self-financing full-time locally accredited post-secondary programmes by non-profit-making institutions. Up till now, the government has granted 11 land sites and 6 vacant school premises under the Land Grant Scheme for self-financing higher education use, including the ex-Victoria Road Detention Centre site rolled out this year and a vacant school premises in Ma On Shan. At present, we have reserved a proposed building within a proposed development project in Tai Wai for self-financing higher education use. To further facilitate the steady development of the self-financing higher education sector, the government has recently revised the Land Grant Scheme. Under the revised Land Grant Scheme, apart from sites and vacant school premises, suitable vacant government properties could also be allocated to non-profit-making institutions.

Note 1: The latest set of population projections (i.e. 2011-based Population Projections) was released in July 2012, which had adopted the results of the 2011 Population Census and latest assumptions on fertility of local women, time and rate of return of over 180 000 babies born to Mainland women in Hong Kong whose fathers are non-permanent residents of Hong Kong (i.e. Type II babies) during 2006 to 2012, and children admitted under One-way Permits. It is worth noting that the actual number of Type II babies who would settle in Hong Kong and if so, when, is subject to high uncertainty and that should they settle and live in Hong Kong, their demand on school places in individual districts is even more difficult to predict.

Note 2: Cross-boundary students are not counted as part of Hong Kong resident population. Their numbers as well as the boundary control points which they use to access Hong Kong are subject to year-on-year changes depending on family factors, distribution of their places of residence, and adjustment of relevant policies, etc. Therefore, it is difficult to make an accurate projection.

Note 3: If it is established that there is a need for more public sector school places in individual district, we will, as a general rule, first consider providing additional classrooms within the existing school premises, e.g. recycling suitable vacant school premises for school use, etc., to increase the supply of school places. We will implement school building projects to increase the supply when the above measures are unable to meet the expected demand. More flexible measures such as converting other rooms into classrooms or borrowing school places from other school nets will be adopted if the demand is believed to be temporary in nature.

Ends/Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Issued at HKT 17:31


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