Pieces of land where phone companies house their increasingly outmoded hardware are the latest targets in Hong Kong’s hunt for sites to build on.
More than 40 such sites could be freed up for housing or other developments, according to a government paper submitted to the land supply task force.
Hong Kong has 81 sites, across a total of 17.4 hectares, which have been reserved for telecoms companies since the 1950s and 1960s for buildings housing their facilities and machines. And the leases for 48 of them are expected to expire before or by 2025, according to a source close to the matter.
The government will ask its Task Force on Land Supply to consider whether that land could be released for further development when they discuss the issue next Tuesday.
Five of those sites are relatively large and close to urban areas, giving them more development potential. The biggest, in Kwai Tsing district in the New Territories, is about 54,000 sq ft – half the size of a soccer pitch.
“These sites might be too small to address the housing demands but we will wait for more details to come,” a task force member said.
The panel, a government-appointed expert committee chaired by Stanley Wong Yuen-fai, is in charge of discussing options to boost land supply.
The telecom companies’ buildings on the sites in question usually house telephone exchange utilities that used to facilitate calls in certain districts. Older systems, normally bulky machines, had to be manually operated to connect calls between people.
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Charles Mok, a lawmaker for the IT sector, said it was possible the government wanted to review the sites as technological advancements mean building space can be used more efficiently.
“The technology more than some 20 years ago meant that [the big buildings were] needed, but as technology improved over the years, a lot of the operations have been digitised, the machines have become smaller, and there really isn’t such a need for a distance-based telephone exchange,” Mok said.
“This could be one of the reasons why the government wants to review whether there is a need for these companies to occupy so much space.”
He said the buildings in the sites usually served a specific district, meaning the sites could have development potential as they are likely to be in urban areas around Hong Kong.
The task force is scheduled to discuss the issue next week along with uses of vacant schools and ways to speed up development processes.