More questions than answers in Hong Kong’s 2030 Plus plan for East Lantau

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 December, 2016, 5:37pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 December, 2016, 10:19pm

The government’s two-year effort to produce a long-term plan for Hong Kong has generated a plethora of glossy brochures, PowerPoint presentations and buzzwords galore in 14 reports under the snappy rubric, “Towards a Planning Vision and Strategy Transcending 2030” (abbreviated to “2030 Plus”).

The plan envisions finding more land and cramming it with more people, without saying where these people will come from.

That much was clear from the first public forum on 2030 Plus (“Government’s ambitious 2030 land reclamation plan to cost HK$400 billion, group says”, November 4).

At the forum, Undersecretary of Development Eric Ma Siu-cheung could not offer a single explanation, other than “contingency”, for why Hong Kong plans for a capacity of 9 million people when the population will peak at 8.22 million in 2043, and will shrink from that point to 7.8 million in 2064, as forecast by the Census and Statistics Department.

Indeed, many forecasts in the past 15 years have predicted future population decline.

Proceeding from this flawed logic, Ma argued that a land bank is needed, not only to house the mystery population, but to create space for innovative industries.

What kind of innovative industries? Another mystery. No evidence of input from the new Innovation and Technology Bureau on the industries targeted to take root on the newly created land.

Ma sounded more like a real-estate salesman in search of land than a senior official strategising Hong Kong’s future.

Ma cited Singapore’s ample supply of land that it has created over 30 years, leading to its prosperity today.

He seemed not to realise that Singapore crafted a longstanding industrial policy that has resulted in 2 per cent of its GDP being now devoted to research and development, and 20 per cent of its GDP being generated from knowledge-based industrial and manufacturing activities. The comparable figures for Hong Kong are 0.7 per cent and 1.4 per cent, respectively.

Creating land alone does not lead to prosperity. On the contrary, it’s likely to lead to the impoverishment of Hong Kong taxpayers. To house 9 million people and a new business district, the government proposes to create the East Lantau Metropolis, comprising 1,000 hectares of reclaimed land around two islands east of Lantau, connected to Mui Wo in south Lantau.

It will cost upwards of HK$400 billion, which approaches half of Hong Kong’s current fiscal reserves.

Is the government preparing for massive immigration from the mainland? That’s the only way the plan to create capacity for 9 million makes sense.

Tom Yam, Mui Wo