Chi Kee Sawmill & Timber, Hong Kong’s last operating sawmill, has been processing timber for 75 years, but soon the family-run factory near the territory’s border with mainland China might be forced to shut down as part of a development project
It received notice earlier this year that it had to vacate its current premises, which it has occupied for nearly four decades, to make way for a development project.
Hong Kong residents have been visiting Chi Kee to buy bits of the wood piled high up around the sawmill and collect a small piece of Hong Kong’s heritage.
The South China Morning Post reported that Chi Kee was supposed to have left by June 30, but it has been unable to move because of the tonnes of timber remaining there.
Today, woodworking factories such as Chi Kee have become a sunset industry in Hong Kong, now that mass-produced, imported furniture has become readily available.
Most sawmills have either closed down or moved across the border to China, where manufacturing costs are cheaper.
The factory was set up in 1947, at about the time when Hong Kong’s woodworking industry began and the territory became known for manufacturing furniture.
It first was located on Hong Kong Island, but the factory in the 1980s moved to Kwu Tung, a rural area in the New Territories.
That area is slated for development under Hong Kong’s Northern Metropolis plan.
It is a blueprint for developing land close to the Chinese border into an IT hub that could provide tens of thousands of jobs and homes in the densely populated territorry, the world’s most expensive property market.
The plan is also meant to integrate Hong Kong, a former British colony with its own economy, more closely with neighboring Shenzhen, across the border.
“Back then, we thought that this was a remote area, it won’t be affected, but who knew that it’d become one of the most important areas for development?” Chi Kee director Wong Hung-kuen (王鴻權) said.
“So 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 on a dream of turning the sawmill into a museum.
The Hong Kong Development Bureau said in a statement that Chi Kee was notified it would need to leave in the second half of last year, but that was extended to the end of June, “which should have left sufficient time for the operator to arrange removal and if necessary relocation.”
Chi Kee was offered land compensation, compensation for disruptions caused by the development project and assistance with planning, it said.
Although authorities have offered to help dispose of Chi Kee’s leftover timber, Wong wants to turn it into products such as furniture, which he says would be less wasteful.
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