Both the city’s New Agricultural Policy, published in 2014, and the Hong Kong 2030+ Strategic Plan acknowledged rooftop farms as playing a significant part in urban agriculture. This, however, is addressed only at a high level, and with an emphasis on productivity and economic output. Once a project takes place, there are no processes in place to facilitate and legitimise their creation. “Rooftop farming exists in an ambiguous area: farm proponents need to negotiate with building owners or management teams, and they may require checks on structural loading etc. There are no performance criteria which would allow them to be formalised within urban land use policies and building control procedures,” Pryor explains. “Projects face significant regulatory hurdles: to transform an idle rooftop into a farm or set up a garden for a new building, one must secure several approvals from the Buildings Department and other government offices, and there is no clear, predefined approval process“.
At Metroplaza, this wasn’t a problem because the creation of the Sky Garden was part of such a large-scale refurbishment, that Sun Hung Kai Properties were prepared to work through the administrative consent needed. But for smaller projects, especially those initiated by charities, Pryor explains that such administrative burden and the uncertainty associated with it is a significant barrier for wider uptake of rooftop urban farming. Building owners are concerned about committing to opening their facilities to a use that, in lack of formal recognition, could face overnight challenge.
An amendment to green roof policy provisions in Hong Kong could address these issues. “Once you do that, I think everybody here will be taking up rooftop urban farming. Hong Kong could be a good model for citywide farming as a social activity,” says Pryor. All municipalities around the world would greatly benefit from ensuring their policies, development management practices and building regulations better measure and proactively facilitate the social health and engagement benefits of rooftop and other urban greening initiatives.