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LCQ22: Statistics on government lands
     Following is a question by the Hon Chu Hoi-dick and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Paul Chan, in the Legislative Council today (November 16):
     Some community groups have indicated that owing to the lack of detailed and complete information on government lands for conducting researches, it is difficult for them to make feasible proposals to the Government on increasing land supply.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) in respect of each piece of idle government lands in urban areas at present, of the district in which it is located and the area, with its location marked on a map; and
(2) in respect of each piece of government lands in urban areas rented out on short-term tenancy at present, of the district in which it is located, the area and existing use, with its location marked on a map?


     Land is a valuable resource.  The Government has all along endeavoured to make optimal use of land resources through continuous land use planning, allocation and management.  As the background of my reply, I would first like to give an account of the Government's existing general mechanisms for planning, allocation and management of land, as well as the existing practice of disclosing to the public the land information as mentioned in the question.
Land Use Planning, Allocation and Management Mechanisms
     Hong Kong has a land area of about 1 110 sq.km (Note 1), but not all the land is developable.  Generally speaking, apart from sites that are reserved for specific uses under individual policies and laws, such as country parks and special areas, reservoirs and water gathering grounds, etc., other sites with development potential in general have to undergo studies and reviews (e.g. planning studies, engineering feasibility studies, land use reviews, etc.), during which planning and technical considerations, including land area, suitable uses, environmental impact, traffic impact, technical conditions, supporting infrastructure, etc., are considered and assessed, before they are confirmed to be developable (i.e. developable land) and subsequently zoned for particular land uses with specific boundaries and development parameters.  It takes time and resources to go through the various assessments and applicable statutory procedures, as well as the various associated works (such as site formation, road construction, infrastructure development, etc.).  The land uses, site boundaries and development parameters of such developable land will normally be reflected on the statutory town plans in accordance with statutory planning procedures.
     Under the existing mechanism, in accordance with various requirements, including the guidelines on the provision of various types of land uses and facilities as set out in the Hong Kong Planning Standards and Guidelines, and the requests raised by the relevant policy bureaux and departments (B/Ds), the Planning Department (PlanD) will identify or reserve suitable sites, which have been examined and confirmed to be developable, for long-term development uses in order to meet the various needs of society, including public housing, residential, industrial and commercial developments, road infrastructure and open space; to support the facilities of policy bureaux for specific industries; and to develop "Government, Institution or Community" (G/IC) facilities, such as schools, hospitals, sports centres and government facilities, etc.  The PlanD will at the same time retain a certain amount of sites, mainly G/IC sites, to cater for the unforeseen needs for facilities which may arise in future.  The PlanD will, in accordance with the mechanism, review from time to time the list of sites reserved for various uses to ensure optimal use of scarce land resources, on the premise that suitable sites and spaces are provided to meet the needs of the society.
     When long-term development projects are being taken forward, the Lands Department (LandsD) will be responsible for leasing and allocating the relevant developable sites.  These sites may be put to the market through the Government's Land Sale Programme, allocated to individual B/Ds for specific uses, or leased to non-government organisations for development with the support of relevant bureau(x).  It should be noted that the different land use zonings delineated on the town plans, which are broad-brush in nature, may not necessarily tally entirely with the boundaries of the sites eventually allocated for development.  When drawing up the boundaries of the sites leased or allocated for different uses, it is necessary to take into account the actual circumstances of individual sites and their surroundings.  Nevertheless, the development uses and bulk of the sites must conform to the land uses and development parameters stipulated on the town plans concerned.
     As regards developable land not yet leased or allocated for long-term development uses and other government land which has yet to be planned for long-term development uses, they are in general under the management of the LandsD.  To optimise the utilisation of land resources, the LandsD will, where practicable and appropriate, allocate these sites to individual B/Ds for temporary uses, lease them for various commercial purposes through tender (e.g. fee-paying public carpark), or lease them directly to particular organisations or bodies for temporary uses that support specific policy objectives.  If an individual piece of government land is adjacent to private land and fulfills the criteria for direct grant (including the criteria that the land cannot be leased on its own to persons other than the applicant and has no general commercial value in the open market due to its location, topography, area, etc.), the LandsD may also consider granting the relevant site directly to the applicant.  The above arrangements aim at making optimal use of the developable land before the long-term development uses are implemented. 
Information on Land Use Planning and Administration
     Regarding land use planning information, statutory plans made under the Town Planning Ordinance, planning applications, and the papers and records of the Town Planning Board (TPB), are all available for public inspection at the PlanD.  Where practicable, the relevant information will also be uploaded onto the information website of the TPB (www.info.gov.hk/tpb/index.html) and the Statutory Planning Portal 2 (re-designed in 2014 and geographic information system-based: www2.ozp.tpb.gov.hk/) for public reference. Moreover, members of the public can visit the Planning Enquiry Counters of the PlanD to inspect the adopted departmental plans of individual areas and other miscellaneous plans, including Outline Development Plans and Layout Plans.  Members of the public can ask the Planning Enquiry Counters of the PlanD for information of these plans, and also purchase the statutory plans, adopted departmental plans and other miscellaneous plans at the LandsD's Map Publications Centres, or make enquires about these plans at the PlanD.
     As explained in our replies to Question 18 on November 2 and Question 17 on November 9 this year in this Council, the Government will work out the public consultation arrangements for collecting public views in the light of the individual situation of the projects, and taking into account factors such as the planning objectives, study area, land uses, scale and implementation programme of the projects, when preparing for development/planning studies and land use reviews.  Taking into account the circumstances of individual planning study or land use review, public consultation can be carried out in different forms and channels, including public forums, community workshops, briefing sessions and collection of written submissions.  We will also consult representative and consultative bodies at appropriate levels, such as the Legislative Council, District Councils, Heung Yee Kuk, Rural Committees, etc.  Relevant information on land use planning will also be disclosed to the public during the process.
     On the other hand, information relating to the leasing or allocation of land by the LandsD is also open information.  Lot index plans providing relevant land information are available for sale to the public at the LandsD's Map Publications Centres.  The related land boundary maps and geo-reference database are also available in digital form for sale to the public.  Moreover, the LandsD also provides information of sites that may be applied by non-governmental organisations for temporary greening or other community purposes in the respective districts in the relevant District Councils, District Offices and District Social Welfare Offices.  The information is also made available in the subject District Lands Offices for public inspection.
     Generally speaking, while the availability of certain information relating to land use planning and the leasing or allocation of land may require separate payment or some collating work, the public can nevertheless obtain such information through various channels at present. 
Land Use Reviews for Increasing Land Supply
     The Government has been carrying out land use reviews to identify more developable land for housing and other uses in the short to medium term with a view to making optimal use of land resources.  Under the Government's multi-pronged strategy to increase land supply, such land use reviews conducted by the PlanD already covered government land currently unleased or unallocated, under short term tenancy (STT) or in different short-term or government uses.  Such government land with development potential include those situated at the fringe of the built-up areas in existing urban areas and new towns, adjacent to existing roads and other infrastructures and having relatively low conservation value and buffering effect.  If developable land is identified, it will be allocated for long-term development or other temporary/short-term uses in accordance with the above mechanism.  There are many past examples of sites within or at the fringe of urban areas converted to housing use, hence showcasing the Government's determination to make optimal use of land resources through land use reviews. 
     It should be noted that given the limited resources, the Government must set a priority for land use planning and development in accordance with the established mechanism.  Generally speaking, if fragmented sites far away from built-up areas or infrastructures are to be reviewed and developed separately, it will not only involve enormous planning and technical difficulties, the development time may not necessarily be shorter because all the necessary assessments and procedures will still have to be followed and the infrastructures will have to be upgraded to connect to the existing systems.  Furthermore, the economy of scale will be inferior to that of the land supply projects currently taken forward by the Government, thus resulting in a slower overall land supply.  In short, despite the limited resources, the series of land use reviews and planning and engineering feasibility studies conducted by the Government have as far as possible examined and made appropriate planning for the developable land. 
     Having consulted the PlanD and the LandsD, my reply to the two-part question is as follows:
(1) The Government has not made any definition of or compiled any statistics on the so-called "idle land".  As mentioned above, the Government has established mechanisms for the planning, allocation and management of land.  Land use reviews or other planning and engineering studies, assessments and planning of developable land, and completion of necessary procedures and works for the sites, are a series of lengthy processes.  Different stages have to be gone through for the "potential sites" to become "disposable sites" (i.e. developable land), and allocation of sites for various long-term or short-term uses in a timely manner is subject to changes in response to the actual situations and demands.  At present, we do not have any plans to consolidate and disseminate data on developable land at different stages.
     We will continue to review and assess land with development potential through various land use reviews or planning and engineering studies.  Upon completion of the reviews and studies, the Government will arrange public consultation as appropriate on the development programme and promulgate the relevant information in accordance with the established and statutory procedures.  Nevertheless, if resumption and clearance of land are involved, or the land is intended to be made available to the market through land sale, the Government must exercise great prudence and give careful consideration to the announcement of any information as the hasty announcement of information in the absence of any concrete plan may give rise to unnecessary worries, speculations and even speculative activities. 
     I have to point out that in response to questions raised by Legislative Council Members about "vacant government land" in July and October 2012, the Development Bureau (DEVB) has compiled statistics on a one-off basis on the unleased or unallocated government land within individual land use zonings (Note 2) at the time.  The Government has clearly stated that the figures of unleased or unallocated government land at that time meant neither that they were the areas of developable land nor "idle land".  A considerable portion of such land was not suitable for development.  For instance, many land parcels were natural slopes or sites in irregular shape (e.g. empty space between buildings, back lanes and narrow strips of land alongside existing developments, highways or other amenities).  Individual unleased or unallocated government sites may only reflect that they are not let out under STT or for other temporary uses for the time being.  These sites should not be considered as "idle" as they may have been planned or under planning for long-term uses, or under an on-going land use review and technical assessment, or under various necessary procedures or works for long-term development or temporary use.
     The statistics and distribution map of the above unleased and unallocated government land were uploaded to the website of the DEVB in October 2012 for public inspection.  Apart from the significant resources required for the compilation, we consider such information of little reference value as the unleased and unallocated government land only reflects the grant status of land at a given point of time, which may change from time to time subject to the planning of land use, and by no means shows whether the site has been engaged for long-term planning use or whether it is suitable for development.  Besides, the statistics do not reflect the area of developable land nor represent any "idle land" as explained above.  Therefore, we have not updated these one-off statistics on unleased or unallocated government land. 
     As the DEVB has promulgated the information on the unleased and unallocated government land on the internet, the public should have been able to understand why most of such government land in certain land use zonings is not developable.  For example, many of the land parcels are actually passageways, back lanes, slopes, etc. situated between buildings; and some are the residue government land lying among sites that have been leased or allocated for development.  Even if individual land parcels may possess development potential, they are still subject to the aforementioned planning and assessment mechanism based on a series of considerations, such as the adequacy of related infrastructural facilities, compatibility with neighbouring land uses (e.g. whether the site is too close to existing or planned buildings), etc., in order to determine their suitability for development.  It is believed that as a result of the Government's efforts over the past few years to rezone land within or at the fringe of urban areas for housing use, and our explanation about the land supply-demand imbalance and the future land demand, the public should understand that the notion of there being a lot of "idle land" in the urban areas is not true.  That said, the Government will definitely and seriously consider any suggestions by the public and the local community regarding how to make good use of individual sites to ensure optimal utilisation.
(2)  As at October 31, 2016, there are over 5 000 STTs granted by the LandsD.  A breakdown of the area of land covered by STTs by district is set out below:
  Approximate area of land covered by STTs (hectares)
Hong Kong East 15
Hong Kong West and South 50
Kowloon East 50
Kowloon West 60
Islands 1 720*
North 40
Sai Kung 50
Sha Tin 55
Tuen Mun 45
Tai Po 35
Tsuen Wan and Kwai Tsing 140
Yuen Long 120
Sites for railway development projects 60
* Including an STT covering about 1 600 hectares of land used as a works area for airport-related construction.
     A breakdown of the land uses of STTs and the area of land covered is tabulated below:
  Land uses of STTs Approximate area of land covered by STTs
(hectares) (percentage)
(1) Works areas or works sites required for public rental housing, Home Ownership Scheme, subsidised housing development, railway development and airport infrastructure projects 1 770 (72%)
(2) Religious, community, education, sports and other non-profit-making uses 210 (9%)
(3) Public utilities uses (e.g. electric substations, gas offtake stations, television signal transposers, telecommunications facilities, bus stop facilities and others) 40 (2%)
(4) Fee-paying carparks, open or covered storage, workshops for recycling, plant nurseries, shops 270 (11%)
(5) Other uses such as gardens, guard rooms, pump houses, laying of seawater intake and outfall pipes, access roads, seating areas ancillary to restaurants, livestock keeping, erection of temporary hoardings at construction sites and others 150 (6%)
     As indicated in the information above, most of the STT sites have been granted for works areas/works sites for long-term development uses.  Upon completion of the construction works, a land lease for the long-term development use will be granted by the LandsD, and sites for railway and infrastructure uses will then be handed over to the responsible organisation or department for management and operation of the relevant facilities.  Hence, these STTs were in fact issued as a transitional arrangement so that works can commence to implement the long-term development uses of the sites.  Moreover, the Government also grants land based on policy considerations for public utilities, religious, community, education, sports and other non-profit-making uses through STTs.  In general, if STT sites are required for long-term development, the LandsD will terminate the STTs in accordance with the tenancy conditions at an appropriate time to tie in with the timetable for long-term development.  For instance, in respect of the Land Sale Programme from 2014-15 up to the third quarter of this year, the LandsD has terminated a total of 15 STTs so as to make the sites available for uses such as residential or commercial development through the Land Sale Programme.
Note 1: Including about four sq.km of mangrove and swamp below the High Water Mark.

Note 2: These include "Residential", "Commercial/Residential", "Village Type Development", "Commercial", "Industrial", "G/IC" and "Open Space".
Ends/Wednesday, November 16, 2016
Issued at HKT 15:32
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