Industrial Buildings for ALL!
約翰百德 (John BATTEN)
at 10:49am on 18th March 2013
1. Industrial areas will dramatically change over the next five years due to government land use policies - this will affect all users of lower-cost industrial spaces - including artists, however some artists will receive government subsidised support - is this fair?
2. The industrial area of Kwun Tong is being rebranded as Kowloon East Business District and will see trading businesses forced out.
3. Taller commercial office blocks are replacing older industrial buildings in Wong Chuk Hang.
(中文翻譯請往下看 Please scroll down to read the Chinese translation.)
Government policies towards Hong Kong’s industrial-use buildings are wrong. These policies began slowly years earlier when some purely industrial areas were re-zoned to allow commercial and mixed-uses. Since announcing relaxed regulations to convert industrial buildings, often unfairly described as “older” and “empty”, into “transitional residential accommodation” entire districts and buildings have been earmarked for changes in their land use – once town planning regulations are amended over the next twelve months.
Some areas, such as Wong Chuk Hang, near Aberdeen, and San Po Kong near the former Kai Tak Airport, have already seen a mixture of commercial office and hotel developments alongside industrial buildings. These districts now have a problematic mixture of tourist buses and heavy container trucks using the same roads and services. This is one issue, but more serious is a distortion in economic outcomes.
There is a squeezing of legitimate businesses requiring lower cost accommodation. These businesses provide vital work and services and, unlike service-based businesses in offices, operate on low profit margins and need low-cost space.
Logistics, engineering, food processing, transport services, printing, building and trades services all require low-cost space to do business. Mundane it may be, but vital storage and warehousing and assembly-work all need room for products waiting to be sold. Where is food kept? Furniture stored? Retail clothing warehoused? A product breaks down or malfunctions – where is it repaired? Where are gas bottles kept? Pharmaceuticals climatically stored? Imported wine safely laid for future drinking? Where are clothes dry-cleaned and industrial laundering done? Where are daily newspapers printed or large technical support and computer servers to send their electronic equivalent safely housed?
There is the rhetorical argument that such businesses can relocate to the mainland. They could, but likewise, do we build on beautiful country parks because it is vacant land? Or, as Hong Kong residents do we ourselves relocate because the mainland is cheaper? Does Hong Kong’s economy only comprise financial services and tourism?
In the Chief Executive’s 2013 policy address, he outlined – with no hint of irony - plans to offer artists subsidized rental in a Wong Chuk Hang industrial building. Artists also need low-cost accommodation for studios in which to work, but should they be government supported, whereas a car repair shop must endure the vicissitudes of higher rents because our stock of suitable low-cost industrial accommodation is decreasing due to shortsighted government land policies?
In the end, everyone will suffer: the public will face cost increases due to higher rents because of a squeezing in supply of appropriate industrial accommodation and reasonably priced spaces to anything dirty, manual, engineering, artistic or process-related will just not be available. For anyone.
A version of this article was published in Perspective architectural magazine, March 2013.