Editorial : Too many myths about brownfield development

【明報專訊】OF the eight prioritised options shortlisted by the Task Force on Land Supply to resolve the land shortage problem, brownfield development is endorsed by 83% of Hong Kong people. The brownfield problem is a consequence of the government's thoughtless planning of land development. For the sake of proper utilisation of land and improving the rural environment, the government must grasp the nettle to overcome the myriad of irregularities. That said, brownfield sites are certainly not a panacea for land shortage. There is no painless option for increasing land supply. Many people understand that the land problem is imminent. But due to ideological reasons or self-interest, they have rejected land reclamation and other options. As a result, brownfield development has become the "highest common factor" — the option backed by the most people, but the bunch of operational problems and effects in real practice is largely ignored. There are too many myths in the current social perception of the brownfield issue. Overestimating the "curing effect" of brownfield development is unfavourable for finding the right antidote, which is a curse rather than a blessing to overcoming the land crisis.

In the New Territories, brownfield sites are more than a thousand hectares in area in total. According to the large-scale telephone survey commissioned by the Task Force on Land Supply, the most people supported the choice of brownfield development. The panel's report also affirms that brownfield development should be one of the major options to be implemented by the government. However, as pointed out by the task force, the strong popular mandate does not mean that brownfield sites can be "put to use at once". After all, with the large amount of economic activities on the sites, brownfield sites are not simply idle areas. Issues of relocation and compensation will be very complicated. There are many uncertain factors in brownfield development. Overestimating its effect on solving land scarcity and preaching impractically "brownfield first, blue and green later" may have a far-reaching impact on the problem.

There are many myths and misconceptions carried by some members of society about brownfield sites. For example, they think that brownfield sites are either deserted wasteland or used as scrap yards, container yards or recycling yards. In their conception, brownfield sites are murky places and a waste of land resources, and the government is unwilling to deal with the problem for fear of pressure from rural communities and so forth. Many people see brownfield sites as if they are eyesores and "public hazards", and think that brownfield development is a "painless" option that has "nothing to do" with them. However, the reality is in no way as simple as that.

To a certain extent, the brownfield problem is a consequence of the government's longstanding neglect in the planning of logistics land. The government's failure to make planning for supporting facilities has led brownfield operators to go about their business and occupy the sites wherever there is room, leading to the current myriad of irregularities. It is true that some brownfield sites involve illegal operation and even unauthorised occupation of government land. However, many brownfield operations like those of food logistics centres, electronic commerce warehouses and rebarring yards are closely related to people's daily life. From online shopping to food supply, people's daily lives have become dependent on services from these sites. On some brownfield sites hundreds of local workers are employed. According to government estimates, more than 3,000 people work on the 190 hectares of brownfield sites in the Hung Shui Kiu New Development Area alone. If economic activities on these brownfield sites suddenly stop, not only will the workers' livelihood be affected, but people's daily life will also be impacted. Perhaps many may think some brownfield sites only involve "low-end operations". But such "low-end operations" are necessary to maintain the normal operation of society.

Brownfield development involves many problems with the requisition of land. The option is easier said than done, and the progress will be slow. This reality must be faced by the various sectors of society squarely.

明報社評2019.01.02:發展棕地迷思太多 認清真貌迎難而上







grasp the nettle : to deal with a difficult situation firmly and without hesitating

myriad : an extremely large number of sth

go about sth : to continue to do sth

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