Jake's View

Lok Ma Chau Loop has nothing to do with hi-tech – it’s all about profit

A deal with Shenzhen to jointly develop an innovation and technology park is more about property development and making big money from transferring the land to Hong Kong’s jurisdiction

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 January, 2017, 2:20am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 January, 2017, 2:32pm

Start-ups in China’s IT hub Shenzhen have warned that Hong Kong might take too long to build a joint innovation and technology park at the Lok Ma Chau border, given how rapidly the sector is developing.

SCMP, January 5

Let’s get it straight. This is not about innovation and technology. This is about property development and a clever idea for making big money from it by transferring land from Shenzhen to Hong Kong jurisdiction.

The Lok Ma Chau Loop is an 87-hectare piece of land that used to be on the Shenzhen side of the Shenzhen river until a loop of the river was straightened out and it came to be on the Hong Kong side of the river. It was then transferred to Hong Kong jurisdiction.

Almost immediately there then arose a clamour from Shenzhen that it be intensively developed. At one time it was to be a heavy equipment exhibition fairground, then an office district, and now an innovation and technology centre.

Strangely, however, while our government regularly announces some new scheme to permit development, the direct owners of the land have never yet been identified, not by themselves nor by our government officials.

Shenzhen start-ups fear slow work on Lok Ma Chau Loop tech park

One is led to suspect that ownership is held by a consortium of Shenzhen tycoons who believe that they can make much more money from selling a Hong Kong property than from selling a Shenzhen one and who have become increasingly frustrated by the delays. But we don’t know for sure. All is murky, all official discussions between the representatives of the owners and our government are held behind closed doors.

There are delays because there are problems. The biggest one of them is that the loop was earlier used as a dumping ground for about one million cubic metres of dredged mud that was contaminated by various toxic metals and other hazardous materials.

Doing nothing about it is not an option. This is Hong Kong. We have more environmental strictures than Shenzhen. But we also cannot dig it up again and dump it at sea. Hong Kong is signatory to the London Convention on marine pollution which very clearly prohibits this sort of thing.

There are more problems. The only road connection is a one-lane track, there are no power connections, no water, no sewer, no services of any kind and getting them all in would cost a great deal of money.

Thus when the future of the Lok Ma Chau loop came up in public consultations more than 10 years ago for the big Strategy 2030 planning exercise, the public response was that the loop should be left as is.

Transparency key to success of hi-tech park at Lok Ma Chau

This was the public response, as I say. The owners, whoever they are, do not show themselves in public. They deal in private.

But the public response was surely the right one. Why should the Hong Kong public purse be put to considerable expense to service a remote and uninhabited piece of land on the border under the illusion that this is somehow the ideal place to foster hi-tech creative ideas?

Answer: Because it’s not about hi-tech. It’s about low tech. It’s about pouring concrete and selling the resulting square footage at a big profit, either to private speculators or to a Hong Kong government if that government can be duped into the illusion that there is hi-tech in mud.

And now we have “start-ups” in Shenzhen (as ill defined a group as the loop’s owners) clamouring that we had better build this new hub quickly or it will be too late. Too late for what? Is the whole hi-tech sector to come to an end next year?

I think rather that what the “start-ups” want is quick access to office space at heavily subsidised rents and then the right to dip into our public purse for innovation and technology grants that Shenzhen won’t give them.

Which is just all the more reason for saying this project is all wrong.