Deconstructing construction

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 March, 2012, 12:00am


It has been four years since Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang outlined plans for 10 major infrastructure projects in the city. As expected, the proposed public works - mostly scheduled for completion by around 2020 - have spurred jobs in related industries, particularly in property and construction.

Tsang's objectives were to enhance the city's transportation network and improve links with the neighbouring regions of Shenzhen and the Pearl River Delta. But more importantly, the projects - unveiled at the height of the global financial crisis - were aimed at boosting the economy.

'Both employment opportunities and wages will increase during the construction stage, and, upon completion, the infrastructure projects will boost economic activities and improve the living environment,' Tsang said in his 2007-08 policy address.

The projects were expected to generate 250,000 jobs. These positions will go beyond the usual construction jobs and will demand expertise needed to meet specialised requirements, such as those for the West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD).

'The core art and cultural facilities that we are building is something that Hong Kong has never built for more than 20 years. We have to make sure that we can build them properly,' Chan Man-wai, executive director for project delivery at the WKCD Authority, said at the 2012 Sustainable Urban Infrastructure Conference held in Hong Kong on March 2.

Chan added that some of the buildings at the WKCD may not be big but they are very specialised. So the authority is considering different arrangements to involve consultants in theatre and lighting, acoustics, project management, art and culture development, infrastructure architects, engineers and landscape architects.

'We are still at the Town Planning approval stage of our development plan. Then we will carry out public engagement exercises that will last until the fourth quarter of 2012,' he said.

Another huge project is the Kai Tak Development, which sprawls across 320 hectares, with the largest available land fronting Victoria Harbour. Much of the groundwork for the key projects have started. The first batch - due for completion in 2013 - includes the cruise terminal building, the public housing development and the support infrastructure.

According to Sorais Lee, head of the Kai Tak Development unit at the Civil Engineering and Development Department, an environmentally friendly linkage system (EFLS) will run all the way through the project and deep into the neighbouring Kwun Tong and Kowloon Bay, connecting new and old districts, providing access and linking with major transport networks, including the MTR Kwun Tong Line and the planned Sha Tin to Central Link.

'Such proposed EFLS is an elevated monorail system running for about 9 kilometres with 12 stations. The anticipated completion date is 2023,' says Lee, adding that the proposal is now under public consultation.

With more than HK$60 billion invested in public works each year, the Hong Kong government is demonstrating how it can put together integrated infrastructure - bringing the new to the old, public to private. As Permanent Secretary for Development (Works) Wai Chi-sing puts it, the schemes are a multi-disciplinary joint effort, involving engineers, architects, planners, surveyors, environmental scientists, landscape architects, arborists and conservation experts.

On top of this co-ordination requirement, being sustainable is another key challenge facing developers in Hong Kong today.

Fiona Waters, principal economist at PwC, told the March 2 infrastructure conference that very few questions tend to be asked about the operational side of a development.

'People like to see big projects being built, but what is really important is the delivery, the outcome and the benefits for the people. It is this joined-up thinking in terms of building projects that is sometimes just fundamentally missing,' she said at one of the conference panels.

Another panellist, Dr Sujata Govada, managing director of UPI International, said that developers should think beyond their borders.

'A lot of people, when they are building, they are only thinking about the site boundary and the building itself and not beyond,' Govada said. 'If we understand that the type of projects we are putting in place will dictate the developments that will come about within the area, we will come up with much more sensitive and more integrated development projects.'

Ten major infrastructure projects

Cross-boundary projects

1. The Guangzhou-Shenzhen Hong Kong Express Railway Link

2. Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge

3. Hong Kong-Shenzhen Western Express Line

4. Lok Ma Chau Loop

Transportation projects

5. South Island Line

6. Sha Tin to Central Link

7. Tuen Mun-Chek Lap Kok Link and Tuen Mun Western Bypass

Area development projects

8. West Kowloon Cultural District

9. Kai Tak Development

10. New Development Areas