Since the earliest years, Hong Kong has been beset by a lack of suitable building land. The New Territories, largely mountain country, contained limited areas of flat land around the older settlements and their development was largely hindered by the Kowloon foothills and by lack of major public utility services.
In October 1972, the then Governor-in-Council approved a large-scale housing programme with the aim to provide adequate housing for 1.8 million people by the mid-1980s. More than half of this new housing was planned to be provided in the new towns. Sha Tin, Tuen Mun and Tsuen Wan were the first generation new towns designated by the Government. The Government's decision to develop new towns in the New Territories was the first real, planned attempt to breach the physical barrier of the Kowloon foothills.
People have lived and farmed in Sha Tin at least since the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) during which period the village of Tai Wai was founded. The flat ground of the valley was extremely fertile, and according to legend, rice produced there used to be taken to Beijing for the Emperor's table.
Although Sha Tin is situated not far from north of Kowloon, to which it is linked both by road and rail, the area remained largely rural until the 1970s.
The first plan for Sha Tin was prepared by the Town Planning Board in 1961 and was subsequently approved by the then Governor-in-Council. This plan provided for a population of 360,000 with densities of up to 750 persons per hectare. Sha Tin was seen merely as a dormitory suburb of Kowloon at that time although a limited amount of industrial land was proposed.
With a view to alleviating the congestion problems in the urban areas, there was a need to include substantial resettlement estates in Sha Tin. Thus, a review of the 1961 plan to allow higher density residential and industrial developments was necessary. The 1961 plan was then superseded by a draft Outline Zoning Plan
(OZP) prepared as a result of further specific planning and engineering investigations. In 1965, the then Public Works Department prepared a comprehensive development scheme which recommended the development of a new town in Sha Tin with a population of about one million. The draft OZP based on this scheme was eventually approved in June 1967. A revised draft development plan was prepared in the early 1970s to provide for an ultimate population of about 500,000. With the beginning of large scale reclamation in Sha Tin New Town since the early 1970s, the population had built up rapidly.
In 1979, the Government approved the development of Ma On Shan as an extension of the Sha Tin New Town. In 1983, the Ma On Shan Transport Study was endorsed proposing a population threshold of 150,000 in Ma On Shan as part of an overall threshold of 704,000 for Sha Tin and Ma On Shan combined. In 1986, the Ma On Shan Development Review was completed and the recommendation that the population of Sha Tin New Town be limited to 750,000 was endorsed. On 22 March 1991, a separate OZP prepared for Ma On Shan was first
gazetted. Both the Sha Tin and Ma On Shan OZPs have been amended several times to keep abreast with current proposals. Major land-uses such as residential, village type development, commercial, industrial, open space, government, institution or community, green belt and other specified uses as well as transport systems have been included in the above-mentioned