How Tuen Mun shakes off underdog status to become future apex of a new golden triangle
The district’s turning point was between 2007 and 2010, when it was touted a gateway to mainland China via opening of the Shenzhen Western Corridor
Tuen Mun is currently undergoing a transformation that is shifting the city’s dynamics and role in the Greater Bay Area, the district in northwest New Territories is set to become the apex of a new ‘golden triangle’ of flows to and from Hong Kong, Shenzhen, and Macau and Zhuhai.
Today, Tuen Mun is comparable to Quarry Bay before its regeneration. Since the 1970s, a wave of urban transformations swept over Quarry Bay – the former Taikoo dockyard became Taikoo Shing, the Swire Coca-Cola bottling plant transformed into the Kornhill Apartments, and the Taikoo sugar refinery, which fed Asia’s sweet tooth for 90 years, was redeveloped into Taikoo Place.
Tuen Mun is currently occupied by a coal-fired power plant, a cement plant, a steel mill, a jet fuel storage depot, an eco-park recycling area, and the Tuen Mun River trade terminal; however, it’s on the edge of undergoing a transformation as profound as the one that swept Quarry Bay over 50 years ago.
Quarry Bay experienced the obsolescence of labour intensive manufacturing industries and the emergence of a middle class aspiring to improved housing conditions and growth through white collar jobs. While Tuen Mun might experience similar changes, it is now emerging as the key staging ground in creating closer physical strategic links critical to Hong Kong’s integration with the Greater Bay Area.
The period between 2007 to 2010 was a turning point in the acceleration of Tuen Mun’s development, the district acquired the status of being a gateway to mainland China through the opening of the Shenzhen Western Corridor, and the highways department issued a formal proposal to undertake the Tuen Mun – Chek Lap Kok Link. Elsewhere, Tuen Mun’s Waterfront Site 46, designated to be used by the funeral industry, was rezoned into a modern logistics hub through local lobbying and support from organisation like Heung Yee Kuk.
By 2012, many of these changes were compounded by the strong turnaround of Hong Kong’s residential market, which led to a growing interest by local developers to purchase and invest in Tuen Mun, and the opening of the Harrow International School in So Kwun Wat. Interest in the Tuen Mun market persisted through 2015 to 2018, during which three major mainland Chinese developers and more recently the Goodman Group decided to take a stake in the area.
The completion and commissioning of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge, followed by the Tuen
Mun – Chek Lap Kok Link, will continue to provide a powerful stimulus to the district’s housing market while shortening the travel time between Tuen Mun and the Hong Kong International Airport.
This future improved connectivity to Hong Kong’s international airport, already the world’s busiest air cargo port, means that areas reserved for development of ‘modern green industry’ near the waterfront, will see increased potential to accommodate forward looking, increasingly automated logistics industry.
The Western Express Link project is a planned express rail linking Hong Kong’s and Shenzhen’s international airports, it will allow rapid transit of bonded passengers between the two airports, with proposed stops in Tuen Mun and Qianhai. However, it is currently listed as ‘under assessment’ in the railway development strategy 2014 report. Budgeted at HK$110 billion (US$14 billion), some detractors believe the project is not economically feasible, while others fear that ‘fusing’ both airports may dilute Hong Kong’s premier international air hub status. Still, some of the project’s advocates note that joining the complementary strengths of the two airports, Hong Kong’s global connectivity and Shenzhen’s domestic connectivity, could result in a greater win for both parties.
Reportedly, the Shenzhen government, a keen supporter of the Western Express Link, has begun the foundation of the station housing the express link terminus. Hence, it’s reasonable to assume that the project will eventually be built, as the project is well aligned with the Greater Bay Area strategy.
Within the course of the next decade and propelled by all these enhanced links, it’s hard not to see Tuen Mun’s emergence as a kind of new core urban area. One that is already attracting both Hongkongers and mainlanders, and that is drawing its main vitality from a greater connectivity with international flows and an increasingly porous boundary with China.
Nigel Smith is managing director of Colliers International Hong Kong