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Greater Bay Area

Could leasing Zhuhai’s Guishan Island help Hong Kong ease its land shortage?

Moving Kwai Tsing container terminal to area off Lantau Island known for idyllic hikes and seafood could free up 300 prime hectares for homes, local task force member says

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 May, 2018, 8:37pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 May, 2018, 10:56pm

On a clear, cloudless day, one can peer out from the edge of Fan Lau on the southwesternmost tip of Hong Kong’s Lantau Island, and catch a glimpse of Guishan Island on the horizon.

For years, experts and policymakers have discussed the feasibility of reclaiming land around the Wanshan archipelago to meet local development needs.

However, Guishan falls under the jurisdiction of the mainland Chinese city of Zhuhai.

As space-starved Hong Kong searches for land to build more homes, the idea of using Guishan has been quietly revived – this time in the form of leasing it to relocate the city’s container terminal.

The idea was one of 16 options proposed on Saturday by a group of professionals calling itself the Citizens Task Force on Land Resources.

It was the first large-scale community discussion since the government’s own task force last week launched a five-month public consultation on 18 options to boost land supply. None of those options mentioned sourcing land from outside the city.

Engineer Albert Lai Kwong-tak, the Citizens Task Force member who suggested the idea, said leasing the land and relocating Kwai Tsing’s port facilities would free up about 300 hectares of prime land for housing, while helping facilitate regional cooperation under the “Greater Bay Area” scheme.

The scheme seeks to forge an economic powerhouse across Hong Kong, Macau and nine cities in Guangdong province to rival Silicon Valley in the US.

The strategic location of Guishan – formerly home to a Chinese naval facility – and its proximity to the Pearl River Delta would render it a “short cut”, especially for transshipments and the river trade, thus lowering time and logistics costs, Lai said. 

About 40 per cent of Hong Kong’s port transshipment cargo goes to the mainland, and more than 70 per cent of it passes through the Pearl River Delta, according to government statistics.

“Hong Kong never wanted it because no chief executive in the past was ever that committed to long-term, interregional planning,” Lai said of the idea. “The Greater Bay Area is a good opportunity to revive it.”

The move would have to be authorised by a decree from the State Council – Beijing’s cabinet – and adopted into Hong Kong law. But Lai believed it would not prove as politically sensitive as the high-speed rail terminus in West Kowloon, which involves Hong Kong leasing land to the mainland and placing it under national laws.

The Lok Ma Chau Loop on the border operates under a similar directive, and the Shenzhen Bay Control Point, which is leased to the city, is covered by Hong Kong law.

“I don’t think people would oppose expanding Hong Kong’s footprint,” Lai added. 

I don’t think people would oppose expanding Hong Kong’s footprint
Albert Lai, Citizens Task Force on Land Resources

As early as 2003, the Zhuhai government singled out Wanshan port in Guishan, surrounded by water 10 to 30 metres deep, as an ideal place in the Pearl River Delta to develop a container port to supplement Kwai Tsing.

Last year, the think tank Doctoral Exchange proposed leasing and reclaiming land around Wanshan’s islands for the city’s future development.

Liberal Party lawmaker Frankie Yick Chi-ming, who represents the transport sector, said the idea was worth studying. But he said the advantage of the port staying in Hong Kong was it provided different modes of transport services. He also noted relocating such infrastructure would raise feasibility questions.

“I don’t foresee much of a political issue, but I think it would involve more technical and financial challenges,” Yick said.

“Where would shipments from China go? Would there be enough space for handling transshipments to Hong Kong?”

Military and mainland sites suggested by citizens task force as alternative land sources for Hong Kong

For now, Guishan remains a popular weekend island getaway for local tourists looking to hike amid picturesque scenery or indulge in a seafood meal. The town has a population of about 2,000 and offers many scenic views of scattered islands in the distance and fishing boats along its shoreline. 

Its appeal was said to have extended further. Rumour has it that during the 1990s speedboats from Hong Kong would ferry people across the border to the islands at night to hire prostitutes.

Additional reporting by Naomi Ng