Lok Ma Chau mega mall plan gets lukewarm response from officials

Idea to divert mainland visitors to Lok Ma Chau is met with indifference from officials, while others say shopping centre won't solve the problem

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 March, 2014, 1:52pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 March, 2014, 4:22am

A proposal to build a shopping centre near the Lok Ma Chau border checkpoint that will be half the size of Tsim Sha Tsui's Harbour City has received a lukewarm response from the government, a lawmaker says.

The idea was floated in an attempt to relieve downtown areas of the pressure brought by mainland shoppers, but the Tourism Board preferred to leave it to private developers, said Leung Che-cheung of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.

The DAB has said sites in San Tin, a five- to 10-minute walk from the checkpoint, have the potential to host a 1 million square foot mall.

"The tourism commissioner told us he welcomed the proposal, but that there were few public sites in the area," Leung said yesterday. "The government would take a long time to acquire land for development."

Left to the private sector, however, the project had little hope of being realised as the more than 100 land owners in the area would make co-ordination a formidable task, he said.

"I don't know all the people there. Some of them are already running businesses renting out village houses and parking lots."

The city expects an influx of visitors in the years ahead that will likely overwhelm its infrastructure. Suggestions have been made by various quarters to build a mega mall near the border that will serve the interests of mainland tourists, whose primary aim, they reason, is to shop for daily necessities.

The theory, however, does not convince Professor Lui Tai-lok, of the University of Hong Kong's sociology department.

Lui believed visitors would not be satisfied with a single shopping centre.

"They would not visit the mall unless it offered everything they needed," he said. "Imagine a mall in Fanling. Louis Vuitton won't set up a flagship store there as it would not match its brand positioning. In New York, their shop is on Fifth Avenue."

Nevertheless, tourism was a pillar industry essential for employment and economic development, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying reiterated in Beijing.

He was responding to a call on Thursday by Zhang Dejiang , who heads the Communist Party's group on Hong Kong affairs. Zhang urged the State Council's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office and the National Tourism Administration to work with Hong Kong authorities to assess the city's tourism capacity.

Leung said his government had completed a capacity assessment report and would implement its recommendations.

The city welcomed about 54.3 million visitors last year, 70 per cent of whom were from the mainland. Arrivals are expected to reach 70 million in 2017.

Locals staged protests against mainland shoppers last month. The ensuing stern official condemnation notwithstanding, they found support among fellow Hongkongers who believed their grievances were legitimate but not being addressed.

A caller to RTHK said: "Hongkongers are living very unhappy lives. The trade sectors must welcome more tourists because that means profits. And deputies to the National People's Congress speak only of business interests."

In the latest protest against mainlanders, 10 NeoDemocrats used cardboard cut-outs of tinned sardines at Admiralty MTR station to imply overcrowding. The group rejected an idea to remove seats from carriages to make space for more passengers.

It called for a quota on the Individual Visit Scheme, which allows mainlanders from 49 cities to visit Hong Kong without having to join tours.