OnFrontiers Think Tank Insights: Carrie Lam’s plans for Lantau reclamation ignore Hong Kong’s future integration with the mainland

In announcing plans to spend up to HK$500 billion (US$64 billion) on reclaiming 1,700 hectares of land east of Lantau, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has effectively dismissed the views of her task force whose public consultation only closed on September 26. This plan was not included in the task force’s 18 options, which contemplated reclaiming only 1,000 hectares for the East Lantau Metropolis.

An OnFrontiers expert in infrastructure finance, Mr. Andrew Kinloch shares his opinion on this issue. Mr. Andrew Kinloch is the Managing Director at Logie Group Limited in Hong Kong. 

As an expert in infrastructure finance and a long-term resident of Hong Kong, I would like to offer a fresh perspective on the issue of land supply: it is, in fact, two very different issues, depending on the time frame involved.

In the short/immediate term, Hong Kong needs perhaps 150,000 flats to address current inadequate housing. This should be met via developing brownfield and agricultural sites, scrapping the New Territories’ small-house policy, loosening planning restrictions, resuming People’s Liberation Army land, etc, all of which would allow for building to start relatively quickly.

In the longer term, say 20 years, which is how long it takes to reclaim land and then build on it, Hong Kong’s needs are completely different.

The Census and Statistics Department projects that Hong Kong’s population will rise from 7.3 million in 2016 to 8.2 million in 2043. But, with a fertility rate for residents of only 1.13, this increase is due entirely to inward migration, presumably mostly from the mainland, about which there is no debate – as I wrote in my submission to the Lantau Development Advisory Committee in 2016.

Planning for this sort of time frame should recognize that, whether Hong Kong loses its special administration region status in 2047 or sees it somehow amended, we will be integrated much more closely with the mainland than now and thus the urge to migrate to Hong Kong ought to be much less.

Closer integration with the mainland is the focus of the Greater Bay Area project. Customs, legal, tax and currency issues are manifold but greater collaboration across the Pearl River Delta is certainly needed.

Why is Hong Kong building a third runway in the most expensive corner of the Greater Bay Area when there are four other airports in the region with spare capacity? And why is Guangdong province building the Zhongshan-Shenzhen bridge a mere 32km upriver from the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge?

The chief executive is right to be taking the long-term view: her vision for northeast Lantau to take advantage of the existing link to the airport and become an “aerotropolis” has some merit, and she is entitled to say that “it is quite narrow-minded to avoid doing a thing [just] because it is expensive”.

None of which detracts from the fact that, as with any infrastructure project, the need should be articulated before the solution is proposed.

Andrew Kinloch, Managing Director of Logie Group Limited in Hongkong.

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