HONG KONG'S newest and largest harbour tunnel is set to bring new life to Western district, an area largely overlooked by developers. Property analysts and engineers say the $7.5 billion Western Harbour Crossing road link, due to open more than three months early in April, is the key to massive redevelopment of the area. But they also caution the size and number of future development depends on other infrastructure projects, including the Green Island reclamation and extension of the Island MTR line. 'The crossing will improve transport links to the western New Territories, so it's safe to assume companies will move to Western to be close to the link,' said one property expert. 'But long-term growth depends on making the district more accessible. That will only come if other projects get the green light,' he added. The Mass Transit Railway Corp is already looking at extending the Island line from Sheung Wan to Kennedy Town. The rail company is in the process of completing feasibility studies, although it is expected to be some time before the scheme is ready to be considered by the Government. One construction source said the extension only becomes viable if the controversial Green Island reclamation, to provide a further 40 hectares, goes ahead. 'Green Island and Western have been identified in the Territory Development Strategy review as one of the main population growth centres. This obviously has an impact on the expansion of other facilities including schools, drainage and utilities,' he said. The first part of the job, to create a public waste dump, was postponed after a massive outcry by opponents including ferry and shipping companies. A decision is expected next year when additional hydrological and environmental studies are completed. But sensing the opportunities the new harbour crossing will bring, several companies have recently bought office space in the district. Development group Pearl Oriental Holdings announced in May a $1.3 billion deal in a joint venture to buy and convert a 27-storey building in Des Voeux Road West into a four-star 230-room hotel. 'Completion of the Western Harbour Crossing will fuel a more active and rapid commercial development in the Western part of Hong Kong Island,' the company said. Mainland shipping company Cosco (Hong Kong) has paid $3 billion to take 15 floors of a 52-storey tower being jointly developed by the Land Development Corp and New World Development in Sheung Wan. Both Brooke Hillier Parker and First Pacific Davies are confident others will follow, particularly as urban renewal has become part of the Government's future development strategy. The urban renewal consultation document published last month identified sites covering 76,937 sq m (828,00 sq ft) in Kennedy Town, Western and Central suitable for priority redevelopment. These affect 4,085 units and 4,414 households. The Land Development Corp is expected to carry out much of this redevelopment, although it has only three schemes underway in the area. About 103,956 sq m of commercial space and 26 homes will be provided when two projects in High Street and Wing Lok Street are completed this month and next March. The third scheme is at Queen Street, Sheung Wan, where 850 flats and 35,981 sq m of commercial and office space should be completed early in 2000. But there have been problems. A comprehensive development area on a site bound by Kennedy Town New Praya, Catchick Street, Belcher's Street and Davis Street has lain dormant for the past seven years because the Hong Kong Housing Society has been unable to agree compensation with residents. Bowen Leung Po-wing, the secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands, revealed in a written legislative answer the LDC has been asked to put forward proposals to take over the site. An initial scheme was suggested in March and the Government hopes a scheme can be agreed before September 25 when permission for the Housing Society's redevelopment area expires. Development proposals for the Belcher Bay reclamation have also still to be agreed by the Planning Department even though work has largely been completed. 'No definite land use zoning plan has been proposed. It is still at the preliminary stage,' said a spokesman for the department's sub-regional planning section. Meanwhile, the Highways Department and the Western Harbour Tunnel Company, aware road infrastructure could hold the key to the tunnel's success, are improving connections to the tunnel on Hong Kong Island. Additional bridges at Sai Ying Pun will help reduce congestion for traffic travelling from Central, Wan Chai and North Point. New approach roads are under construction, including the Smithfield link at Pokfulam connecting with Belcher Bay in Kennedy Town and continuing into Sai Ying Pun. This is the first part of Route 7, an ambitious highway linking north Hong Kong Island with Aberdeen. The second section is the Central and Wan Chai bypass which starts from near the Macau ferry pier to connect with the Eastern Island Corridor at Causeway Bay. Construction of the first of four packages, an extension to Justice Drive, is due to start in December. The completed road should be open at the start of 2004. But Highways Department admits the 'missing link' from the Macau terminal to the Western tunnel could create even more of a bottleneck in Central, negating the benefit of the new roads. 'Once they come off the Central bypass, traffic will have to use Connaught Road. This is bound to have a detrimental effect,' said one engineer. 'There are plans on the drawing board, but nothing has been decided yet,' a Highways Department spokesman said.