Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge

Delta master plan calls for more transparency

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 February, 2011, 12:00am

A study put together by the governments of the region titled 'The Action Plan for the Bay Area of the Pearl River Estuary' may not sound like appealing reading, but presumably it is something we should all know about. Within its glossy pages are visions for the future that, if implemented, would impact on all of us. Yet authorities are not excitedly showing off what they have come up with. In Hong Kong, a low-key public consultation of just one month ends today, with the information provided only in Chinese, skimpy on details and not even having been first passed by lawmakers. If one were of a cynical mind, one might conclude that officials are trying to quietly slip it by us so that the vast projects outlined can be started without fuss.

That is a valid concern given how the government has pushed through cross-border infrastructure projects in the past. There was little consultation and insufficient details were given for the bridge linking our city with Zhuhai and Macau and the high-speed rail line to Guangzhou. The hefty price tags were one matter, but it was the lack of debate and transparency that was especially irksome. The protests and mistrust caused by the railway should have taught officials that being open and honest about plans was essential.

Alas, that was not so and the government is on the back foot. The more than 7,000 people who joined a Facebook campaign over the action plan are demanding a fair say. Lawmakers want an explanation from the Planning Department as to why the Legislative Council was not consulted and English-speakers have been excluded. Authorities yesterday promised public briefings and a meeting with legislators later this month.

It is troubling, but there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the sentiments behind the process. The aim is to better integrate Hong Kong, the mainland and Macau. Our city's growth and long-term viability depend on our being able to closely co-ordinate strategies with other Pearl River region governments.

The study, produced by officials from Hong Kong, Dongguan , Guangzhou, Macau, Shenzhen, Zhongshan and Zhuhai, seeks to improve quality of life by building on infrastructure, facilities, transport links and housing. It concludes that the region should expand its financial, transport and service sectors and excel in scientific research and development. A glowing picture of what is possible is painted, although how that is to be achieved is glossed over. Bureaucratic buzzwords abound and details are few.

There are only glimpses of what might be for Hong Kong. Maps show a new town in northern Lantau, cultural villages in Fanling and Tai O and a northern link between the MTR's East Rail and West Rail lines. In a section on green transport, parts of Central, Causeway Bay, Wan Chai and Tsim Sha Tsui are shown as pedestrian-only.

Some people may wonder what business other cities have in determining such features. In theory, there is nothing wrong with big master plans. Specific parts of Hong Kong cannot decide how they want to develop; that is determined by overall planning strategy. With regional integration in mind, that view can be expanded to the Pearl River Delta's cities.

We cannot go our own way. Whatever we think of closer integration with the mainland, there is considerably more to be gained than lost by the region's governments keeping in touch and co-ordinating infrastructure and project plans. In doing so, though, they have to ensure openness and transparency. They have to ask and give citizens what they want.