NDAs have nothing to do with population growth

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 May, 2008, 12:00am

'To ease pressure on developed areas and to meet the demand for land arising from population growth, we need to plan for NDAs [New Development Areas] without delay.'

2007-08 Policy Address,

Donald Tsang Yam-kuen

'The [Heung Yee] Kuk proposed forming the long-awaited university hub at Heung Shui Kiu instead of Kwu Tung North ...

Large container yards are proposed in Ta Kwu Ling and Ping Che, currently used for open storage ...'

SCMP, May 5

So let's have it again, Donald, how development of these four NDAs is about relieving the pressure on urban areas of our booming population. It seems the Kuk has a different agenda. Cross your heart now and swear you were not hiding a Kuk script.

I mean we already have eight universities, or was it nine, all of them included in Hong Kong's top 10 and the Pearl River Delta's top 30 institutes of tertiary learning. Some of them even have students who can read and most have graduates who qualify for jobs as flight attendants, no less.

It was my understanding that the big idea behind 'university hub' was to build on this record by making Hong Kong a new Oxford or Harvard, attracting students from around the world, even pulling them back home again from the University of British Columbia.

Laudable as this may be, however, I do not quite follow the steps of logic that would make it part of an effort to ease population pressures. I must be missing something here because it strikes me that 'university hub' would do more to worsen than to ease these pressures.

Of course, I may have misunderstood the word 'population'.

Perhaps what was meant here was our population of container boxes, stacked higgledy-piggledy in rusting heaps everywhere in the New Territories. It may indeed be worthwhile to designate official refuse tips for these eyesores.

Then again, we may not have to suffer from this affliction much longer. Ports across the border are rapidly supplanting our own Kwai Chung container port as the premier shipping outlet for mainland-made goods. If this trend keeps up we will no longer need large container yards and at least two of these NDAs might thus be best kept as country park.

The simple fact is that one cannot be sure any longer whether the word 'population' can even be associated with the word 'growth' except in the fantasies of government planners.

The chart demonstrates what I mean. That red line on top represents the high-growth scenario of the Third Comprehensive Transport Study (CTS3), a 1997 study that still constitutes the basic justification for most infrastructure projects now under way.

It envisaged a population of about 8.4 million at the end of 2007. The actual figure was 6.96 million (the blue line at the bottom). For demographics this error is so huge as to be off the scale. Even the lowest growth scenario in CTS3 (the green line) yields a much greater population at present than we actually have.

And it obviously leads to the question of why the government is pushing these four NDAs at all.

I think the answer has mostly to do with the fact that contracts are contracts and they yield money with poured concrete as a by-product, which keeps functional constituencies happy in the Legislative Council.

But one constituency in particular here concerns me - the Kuk. I think its big boys are not entirely happy with all the attention given the development of the Lok Ma Chau Loop on the Shenzhen River. This big plot of land is owned by cross-border interests rather than by Kuk members.

We are apparently obligated to allow development of the Lok Ma Chau Loop. Our official policy of craven acquiescence to the whims of provincial and municipal authorities across the border requires it. But the Kuk is annoyed being left out. It wants its share of the loot too rather than have all the money go across the border. In compensation we have thus agreed to let it have its way with four big pieces of land - those four NDAs.

I understand this and I understand the reasons for it. But I also thought the Kuk would have been more tactful about this and not rubbed our faces in it by publicly dictating development plans. Apparently I was wrong.