21 July 2019
Kwai Chung container terminal is now operated by five companies. Photo: China Daily
Kwai Chung container terminal is now operated by five companies. Photo: China Daily

Building houses atop container terminals isn’t such a crazy idea

Chow Ming-kuen, former president of the Hong Kong Institute of Engineers, has suggested that Hong Kong should explore residential development on top of the city’s container terminals. This idea has never been tested anywhere in the world, but it might be feasible.

Our Hong Kong Foundation, a non-governmental think tank led by former Hong Kong chief executive Tung Chee-hwa, has released a report entitled “From Large-Scale Reclamation to an Ideal Home”. The report suggests relocating the Kwai Chung container terminal to south of Cheung Chau, and that the original site be used for residential development to build more than 100,000 flats.

However, reclamation and relocation of one of world’s busiest container terminals might take years, if not decades. That will be of little help in solving the pressing housing shortage issue.

Instead, Chow made a bold proposal that the city could build houses on top of the existing container terminals.

Nobody has ever done this but technically, this is possible. In fact, that is what innovation is all about.

Back in the old days, building skyscrapers on top of subway stations was also considered a novel idea. Initiated by New York as the overcrowded city struggled to provide housing for constantly rising population, the development model has now become standard in Hong Kong.

Many of Hong Kong’s housing estates are built on top of complicated railway facilities. There are high-speed trains passing underneath these housing developments almost every minute.

By contrast, a container yard is designed for piling containers, and erecting houses over them should be relatively simple.

Still, two main issues need to be solved. First, the Kwai Chung container terminal operates 24 hours a day. And it would definitely create noise, light and air pollution.

Second, there are nine piers and 24 berths in the container terminal, which has a land area of 279 hectares. It’s now operated by five container terminal operators.

If the plan really goes ahead, how should the economic benefits be shared? That is something that needs to be examined.

That said, creative solutions are worth exploring.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 12

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist

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