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Published: 01:58, October 07, 2021 | Updated: 09:44, October 07, 2021
HKSAR turns new page on socioeconomic development
By Ho Lok-sang
Published:01:58, October 07, 2021 Updated:09:44, October 07, 2021 By Ho Lok-sang

The chief executive gave the last Policy Address of her five-year term of office on Wednesday. As expected, much focus was on economic and new town development. 

Economic development is the basis on which all government and social services can be effectively funded and delivered and on which people can make a living and thrive. New town development is the basis on which we can hope to better house the hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong people who are struggling to pay their rents or are living perilous lives. While emphasizing these two areas that are of top priority, Mrs Lam is also giving much attention to sustainable development and enhancing Hong Kong as a leading livable city in the world.

The proposed Northern Metropolis is really the focal point in the economic development agenda. The Northern Metropolis, of course, is not to be built from scratch. It encompasses existing towns like Tin Shui Wai, Yuen Long and Fanling/Sheung Shui, but will incorporate all their neighboring rural areas as well as new development areas and nodes. The idea of developing this whole area as the Northern Metropolis is to offer a perspective that this whole area has a strategic positioning. It is, first and foremost, adjacent to Shenzhen, which is about twice the size of Hong Kong, with a population of 12.6 million. The leading theme is the development of the Shenzhen-Hong Kong Innovation and Technology Cooperation Zone. It is envisaged that the Hong Kong-Shenzhen Innovation and Technology Park and the areas around Lok Ma Chau/San Tin will be consolidated to form the San Tin Technopole, offering about 240 hectares for information and technology uses. To see this in perspective, consider that the Hong Kong Science Park has an area of 22 hectares, which is less than a quarter of a square kilometer. The combined area of Hong Kong’s three industrial estates in Tai Po, Yuen Long, and Tseung Kwan O is 117 hectares, which is less than 1.2 square kilometers. The new metropolis has all the conditions to develop into “an international I&T hub with a unique metropolitan landscape”. It will offer, for the first time, land that will make Hong Kong’s reindustrialization possible. When developed, it will definitely offer enticing career development opportunities for Hong Kong’s young people. The proposed development will, naturally, offer much land for housing, greatly alleviating the housing shortage. The government predicts that about 350,000 additional residential units will be developed.

Apart from the Northern Metropolis, Mrs Lam has an ambitious plan for a Harbour Metropolis that will incorporate Central and the reclaimed land of the Kau Yi Chau Artificial Islands under the Lantau Tomorrow Vision. As a matter of fact, the proposed reclamation around Kau Yi Chau offers a highly desired location both from business and from residential points of view. The proposed reclamation is, of course, highly controversial, as conservationists oppose the plan, saying that once sea is converted into land, it is irreversible. I was one of the economists who signed in support of the Lantau Tomorrow Vision, but at this point, given that Hong Kong’s population declined last year and given the high vacancy rate for offices and significant increases in the number of offices, it may be prudent to study the subject more carefully before committing to it.

CBRE reported that “Occupancy in Greater Central came under the strongest pressure, with vacancy in Central, Admiralty and Sheung Wan combined more than doubling over the year to 1.6 million square feet (7.3 percent), the highest since Q3 2004. The submarket saw negative net absorption of -840,100 square feet, the weakest of any submarket.”

I welcome the proposed government restructuring. In particular, the Transport and Housing Bureau clearly has to tackle far too many complicated policy matters. Just transport alone, land, sea and air transport are all included, and both domestic and international transport are included, and both passenger and cargo traffic are included. Although transport and housing are related, international transport is certainly not related.

I also welcome the creation of a Culture, Sports and Tourism Bureau. Setting up a culture bureau was an idea former chief executive Leung Chun-ying had proposed. That was an idea I fervently supported because I think culture is very important: not only as an industry, but even more important, to uplift people’s minds and spirit. Bringing sports and tourism under one roof along with culture is also smart. We have all witnessed how the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympic Games have drawn the minds of Hong Kong people together.

I also applaud the government’s effort to build Hong Kong into a more livable city. As a matter of fact, Hong Kong has not done well as a livable city. Although Hong Kong is safe, many people’s living conditions are poor or even abject. Hong Kong cannot rightfully get a place among the world’s livable cities without ensuring basic living conditions for the masses. I prefer, however, to help first those living in perilous and unhealthy conditions than uplifting those who have already met basic needs. This sense of urgency in helping those living in terrible conditions is dictated by the scarce resources that are under our command.

The author is director of the Pan Sutong Shanghai-Hong Kong Economic Policy Research Institute, Lingnan University.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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