Local students in their secondary-school years should have come across the subjects of geography and economics on the development of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, which invariably mention that the city is handicapped in its growth by the largely insolvable lack of usable land in a mountainous landscape, especially on the island side and parts of the New Territories.
For this reason, territorial scale development was not considered viable in the colonial days, and more often than not, “muddling-through tactics” became the only way that could be used to improve the life of the citizenry, especially for the underprivileged community.
Such a phenomenon of feeling the way as the government went along was conspicuous in the sphere of infrastructural expansion, in which the acute shortage of land had restricted large-scale building construction and complex infrastructural projects. That severely hampered the effectiveness in resolving inadequate land supply for residential, industrial and commercial uses.
Plagued continually by the foregoing circumstances that had dampened any strong and comprehensive development initiatives, Hong Kong could break the deadlock only by venturing on breakthroughs in mindsets and the development front.
Only with a revolutionary change in construction policy can the territory see the light at the end of the tunnel, heralding effective solutions to major developmental blockages
The recent Policy Address by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has set the vital pathway for momentous changes ahead. By proposing to construct the Northern Metropolis in the New Territories, the policy framework expounded on the chief executive’s perspectives on the future of the HKSAR with respect to a major construction program that is set to transcend territorial boundaries and administrative domains. The construction projects are thus inextricably tied to the national 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25), which, as it starts to take shape on the Chinese mainland, spells out precisely the eight strategic centers of Hong Kong under the plan.
As Hong Kong is to be integrated with the special economic zone in Qianhai, the wide and open rural area of the New Territories North logically will merge with the vast expanses of land on the opposite side of the Shenzhen River, thereby creating a stronghold in the HKSAR’s favor. It will speed up the transformation of Hong Kong into a big melting pot for advanced developments in trade, finance and technology. This is the essence of the plan for the Qianhai Shenzhen-Hong Kong Modern Service Industry Cooperation Zone, which, with the additional blessing of being a test hub for the convergence of global legal systems and cross-border regulations, will boost the implementation of the “one country, two systems” ruling principle for the HKSAR. Hong Kong will therefore be backed by a far bigger platform for extensive economic growth and alleviation of its housing burden.
Only with a revolutionary change in construction policy can the territory see the light at the end of the tunnel, heralding effective solutions to major developmental blockages. The Northern Metropolis proposal, bolstered by a massive plan for five railway projects connecting the strategic areas in the northwest and northeast New Territories with the key zones in Shenzhen, will accommodate Hong Kong people in greatly improved housing environments along with abundant employment opportunities in the northern New Territories.
Such social and economic benefits will require a swift response to the call for application of smart technology to accelerate the building of housing estates. That will in turn drive up private investments in the private housing market and the strength of public services in the big region, creating a positive spillover effect across the whole city.
The author is a member of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
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