Hong Kong’s last sawmill faces closure amid development plan

HONG KONG (AP) – Chi Kee Sawmill & Timber, Hong Kong’s last operating sawmill, has been processing wood in the city for 75 years.

Soon the family-run factory near the region’s border with mainland China may be forced to close as part of a development project: it received notice earlier this year asking it to vacate its current premises. which it has occupied for nearly four decades, to make way for a development project.

Hong Kong residents are visiting Chi Ki to buy pieces of wood piled high around the sawmill and to collect a small piece of Hong Kong heritage.

According to the local newspaper South China Morning Post, Chi Kee should have been abandoned by June 30, but is unable to move due to tons of wood remaining there.

Today, woodworking factories like Chi Kee have become a sunset industry in Hong Kong, with mass-produced, imported furniture now readily available. Most sawmills have either closed or moved across the border to China, where manufacturing costs are cheaper.

The factory was established in 1947, around the time that Hong Kong’s woodworking industry began and the city became known for furniture manufacturing. It was previously located on Hong Kong Island, but in the 1980s it moved to the New Territories rural area of ​​Kwa Tung.

The area is set for development under Hong Kong’s Northern Metropolitan Plan.

It is a blueprint for developing the land near the China border into an IT hub that could provide thousands of jobs and homes in the densely populated city, the world’s most expensive property market.

The plan is also to integrate Hong Kong, a former British colony, with its economy, more closely with neighboring Shenzhen across the border.

“At the time, we thought it was a remote area, it would not be affected, but who knew it would become one of the most important areas for development?” said Wong Hung-kuen, director of Chi’s Sawmill and Timber.

“That’s why we need to hand it over to our country because the land belongs to the country. We just hope to get some assistance and sympathy from the government,” said Wong, who gave up the dream of turning the sawmill into a museum.

Hong Kong’s Development Bureau, which is in charge of the city’s urban planning, said in a statement that Chi’s Sawmill & Timber was informed that it would have to be abandoned in the second half of 2021, but it was extended to the end of June 2022. “Which should have given the operator sufficient time to make arrangements for removal and relocation if necessary.”

Chi Kee was offered land compensation, compensation for disruptions caused by the development project, and planning assistance.

Although officials have offered to help dispose of Chi Kee’s leftover wood, Wong wants to turn it into products such as furniture, which he says will be less wasteful.

For now, it’s unclear when Chi Ki will be shut down.

Local conservationists such as Yu Ka-Sing, assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong, say that while the sawmill is appreciated by the public, it is difficult to preserve because it has no historical or architectural significance.

Nevertheless, those who have come to Chi Ki after hearing of its days count that it represents a part of Hong Kong’s heritage. Even a small piece of wood has become something to hold in a rapidly changing city.

Jones Kwang was among those visitors.

“I think it is a pity. It is the only one left in this traditional industry, and it will be dismantled soon,” Kwang said.

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